Spirit of ‘The Place’ lives on thanks to UTC benefit show

Beatles tribute band The Impostors will perform at Friday’s benefit show for the Unified Training Center. (Suzanna Mars/Submitted photo)

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 10:20 a.m.

Gainesville’s music history includes no shortage of stories about the late ’60s when local bands featuring the likes of Tom Petty and future Eagles members Bernie Leadon and Don Felder played dances, sock hops and other gigs in a multitude of venues around town.

The spirit of one of those — the late ’60s teen club “The Place” — lives again Friday thanks to a celebratory benefit concert for the UTC, or Unified Training Center, as the multi-use venue at 809 W. University Ave. is more formally known.

The concert by Beatles tribune band The Impostors and the roots/Americana rock band The Couch Messiahs starts Friday at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the event also features a bake sale to benefit the UTC during the summer doldrums.

Today, the UTC is a community resource building best known for classes featuring everything from fencing and dance to martial arts, yoga and more.

In its earlier incarnation as The Place, however, the location hosted many of Gainesville’s then-current bands and a noteworthy list of touring, national acts.

The Place’s first show, in fact, on March 31, 1967, featured The Maundy Quintet, a band that included future Eagles members Leadon and Felder.

And the venue also hosted The Epics, which included a teenaged Petty on bass and vocals.

Gainesville guitarist Tom Holtz, who plans to sit in Friday with event organizer Mick Marino and the Couch Messiah’s opening set, performed at The Place in a band that also included guitarist Tom Leadon (Bernie’s brother and a future member of Petty’s Mudcrutch).

Holtz remembers seeing all sorts of other bands performing at The Place at the time.

“I remember the Swinging Medallions played there, and the Candymen, they were Roy Orbison’s backup band,” Holtz says. He also remembers seeing The Outlaws, which was still in its cover-band days at the time, and another group from Tampa, The Tropics.

Kathy McCauley, whose father, A.D. Chambless, opened the teen club and operated it through 1970, says the venue featured such other touring acts as the James Gang, which included future Eagles member Joe Walsh, and Cherry Hill Park singer Billy Joe Royal.

“Billy Joe Royal actually had him (Chambless) build a little dressing room before he would come,” McCauley says. “I had my picture taken with him.”

Lilli Wiggins, founder and owner of the Unified Training Center for the last 14 years, says the location, which still features the wooden dance floor from the late ’60s, has a special vibe that permeates the building today.

“You walk in the building, and it’s just got the best karma,” Wiggins says. “It’s just a really special building. It really is.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at bill.dean@gvillesun.com.

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