For the Record opens in Florence

Emma Tanner, Managing Editor

A new music venue and bar, For the Record, has opened in the growing Sweetwater area of Florence.

Owners Dylan Johnson and Wesley Hendon announced the planned opening on Instagram on Nov. 4. Opening weekend began on Jan. 13.

Johnson is a member of the Shoals-based band Yes Trespassing and has known Hendon since middle school. Both grew up in Birmingham and attended Berry Middle School. They knew they eventually wanted to “go outside the norm” when it came to employment, but did not know how.

Hendon works as a software developer. Before COVID-19, he lived in Cleveland, Ohio. The pandemic gave him the opportunity to work remotely. He also plays the keyboard and was a part of his high school’s drumline. One of the things Hendon and Johnson bonded over was their shared love of music. 

Johnson invited him to move to Florence. When Johnson considered creating For The Record, Hendon was his first choice of a business partner. Johnson handles marketing and Hendon handles the business side of things. 

“I moved to the Shoals a couple of years ago and was surprised that there was nowhere to see live music,” said Hendon. “I saw an opportunity and wanted to help out the community.”

For the duo, this is a dream manifested into real life. The smallest thing — even floor mats with their logo —  is enough to excite them. Their original vision of For The Record followed a speakeasy model. In addition to being a concert venue and bar, they would also sell vinyl records. The front half would be a record store, and the back would be a speakeasy-style bar.

For The Record has been in the works for nearly a year. The original location was going to be 116 E Mobile St., but the current location is 1401 Huntsville Road, located in the same areas as local favorites like Staggs Grocery and Sweetwater Bakery. The location was originally a distillery.

Being a concert venue, Johnson and Hendon faced zoning issues for a downtown location. For The Record would not have been allowed to operate as a bar without being a restaurant. That was not the vision Johnson and Hendon had. Between affordability and location, they would have likely faced the same fate as past venues.

While records never fully went out of style, artists like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles have created a vinyl resurgence. Florence only has two record shops (All The Best and Vinyl Junkie Record Lounge), so it is a relatively untapped market. With the idea of being a record store, the name For The Record was born — mostly due to Johnson.

Despite the original plan falling through due to their current venue not having enough space, the pair kept the name. One of many reasons was for marketability and merchandise purposes. However, they also kept it because of its connection to music as a whole. 

“Everything we do is, quite literally, for musicians and for people who enjoy music,” said Johnson. “I know we’re not a studio recording records, but people who record records will want to come here for their record. They’re creating music ‘for the record.’”

There have been concert venues in the past, but the COVID-19 pandemic mostly eradicated them. 

“There’s a lot of DIY spots, but there’s no dedicated live music venue,” said Johnson. “There is [a venue] in Sheffield, but it’s only open during shows.”

Johnson has over a decade’s worth of experience as a professional musician. Through that, he has made many musical connections both in and out of the Shoals. While he wants For The Record to be a hub for local artists, he would also love for it to bring in more outside acts. 

“The Shoals is just not a touring stop right now,” Hendon said. “Artists will go to Huntsville, Birmingham and up to Tennessee. They skip the Shoals.”

Like Hendon, Johnson wants to see the Shoals – particularly Florence– become a new stop on any tour. In bringing new artists, he hopes that they see the musical potential of the area. The Shoals has many recording studios and options for collaboration. He also wants these new artists to “breathe new life” into Florence. While Grammy-winner John Paul White (who also co-owns a record label called Single Lock Records) resides in the area, he is one of few that venture to Florence.

Outside performers are important to For The Record, but they also want to focus on local, up-and-coming acts. UNA is home to a whole world of creatives. Johnson considers himself lucky to have the venue connections he does and wants to help new artists have a good rapport with business owners. 

He himself briefly attended UNA, studying in the music program. UNA was his third college. While he eventually dropped out, he does still have a fondness for young artists studying in college.

The opening night of Jan. 13 was a full house. Tickets went on sale for $10 on Dec. 1. Musical acts featured were Coffee Black, Thad & Company and Fishman Aquadome. Opening weekend continued through to the next day, Jan. 14. Performers that night were Yes Trespassing, Gary Nichols and Eli Hannon.

The venue was announced to be 21 and up in order to serve alcohol. Even still, UNA students and locals flocked to Sweetwater opening night. 

The most lively part of the night was Thad Saajid’s set — concertgoers were dancing whether they knew his songs or not. Tracks like “friyay” and Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit” were on the setlist. The next day marked the one year anniversary of the release of the EP “Trash Talk.”

The best thing for artists who want to perform at For The Record to do is to directly message the business on Instagram. From there, Johnson will assist them in booking a show and showcasing their art to the local population. Johnson also plans to place UNA artists as openers for bigger artists to gain exposure. He wishes to book two to three months in advance.