As of 2017, it’s Huntsville’s best little venue to see original music, from touring artists to local bands. Unfortunately, at the end of this month, SideTracks Music Hall is closing.
In a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon, venue manager Eddie Yessick wrote, “The rumor mill is hard at work today, so I’m letting you know. SideTracks is closing soon. It’s been a great run for over five years with all the great people I’ve met along the way.
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In a post on Monday, Brandi Burgess, who helped book SideTracks, added, “Unfortunately that’s not how we wanted to announce it as we still have details to work out with upcoming shows and we have some really cool things in the works, but the word is out.
As “Sidetracks Productions,” talent buyer Shane Bickel has previously turned to promoting shows instead of hosting them. On Monday afternoon, some shows previously booked for SideTracks were moved to other local venues.
For example, an Oct. 7 bill featuring 90s rockers Brother Cane and former Motley Crue frontman John Corabi will now take place on the outdoor Furniture Factory Bar and Grill stage. On Monday, Bickel released information for a Sept. 16 show by all-female Nashville rockers Thelma and the Sleaze at Rocket Republic Brewing downtown.
Furniture Factory owner Mark Comara also owns SideTracks. As for the reason for SideTracks’ closure, an insider told AL.com that Comara is considering restarting this space as another club. SideTracks is housed in a space that once housed the closed Lee Ann’s Bar and Grill, in a strip mall tucked away on the outskirts of downtown at 415 Church St. As the name suggests, there are lanes nearby railways. The capacity is about 400.
Yessick and his wife Meredith Carlton Yessick, beloved service-industry lifers, opened SideTracks, with Comara’s backing, in hopes of filling the void left after Crossroads Music Hall closed in 2013. Unfortunately, Meredith, who ran the SideTracks kitchen and designed the menu, has died. in 2018. But the couple and their staff poured their hearts and souls into the venue and it showed.
Between 2013 and 2017, touring club level bands finally had a place to play again in Huntsville. And they played. SideTracks performers included American notables like Lucero and Shovels + Rope. Longtime bands like Southern Culture on the Skids, Reverend Horton Heat and Cowboy Mouth too.
Retro rock phenoms Greta Van Fleet and Dirty Honey played SideTracks early on. Americana superstar Jason Isbell performed a solo acoustic show/fundraiser there. SideTracks is where many 80s hard-rock/heavy-metal artists like Sebastian Bach, LA Guns, Enuff Z’Nuff and Faster Pussycat performed. So does blues prodigy Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. EDM and hip hop. Even ’90s hitmakers Crazy Town of “Butterfly” fame.
Emerging regional talent on the SideTracks scene included Southern rock bands like Them Damn Roses and local rockers Rob Aldridge & The Proponents. This is where Sluice Fest, which highlights the best underground music in Huntsville, took place. During the restrictive early days of the pandemic, SideTracks was reconfigured for all table seating and welcomed singer-songwriters like Travis McCready.
In 2020, when Mars Music Hall, a 1,600 capacity venue, opened at the Von Braun Center, it also significantly boosted tour-level music in Huntsville. There was some competition between Mars and SideTracks for shows, but in general, due to their difference in capacity, they were two different but equally important strata in the local music mix.
When the Orion Amphitheater opened in Huntsville this year, it filled another missing piece in Huntsville’s room options. A whole different group of artists who have passed through Huntsville in years past, including Stevie Nicks, Dave Matthew Band and Jack White, have booked shows here.
In February, the group behind Orion, tvg Hospitality, announced plans to relaunch the closed local spot AM Booth’s Lumberyard into a 350-seat venue, called Meridian Social Club. Having tvg, which is well-funded and made up of big players in the music industry, as a direct competitor didn’t seem like good news for SideTracks.
As exciting as the Mars and Orion shows are, in today’s market, high concert ticket prices are often out of reach for middle- and low-income fans to attend regularly. However, most SideTracks shows were $25 or less. And for some fans, seeing a hot show in a small club is the pinnacle of live music experiences.
As news of SideTracks’ impending closure spread, several people from the local music scene took to social media to express their sadness. Rock musician Steven Whaley wrote, “As much as everyone is bragging about Huntsville’s music community lately, there are really only a few venues that regularly book artists playing original music and are actually open. to present different sounds/genres. SideTracks is one of the best places to play or see a show in the area and the people who run it are great. I hate to see him go.
Sluice Fest founder Ashleigh Jackson recalled how she and her husband got married at SideTracks. And how during times when she needed extra money, Yessick let her take shifts. “Sidetracks are a second home to me,” Jackson wrote. “Eddie Yessick is a crown jewel in this community and SideTracks will be sorely missed, but I’m excited to see what’s next.”
Photographer Stephanie DeFreese said it poignantly: “Man, the memories that were made inside and outside of these walls,” DeFreese posted. “Music that has been shared. I can’t really explain to someone who wasn’t part of it. It was just really special.