A group project by three University of North Florida history students started as a way for the trio of graduate school transplants to learn more about the First Coast. But after delving into Jacksonville’s rich musical history and presenting their work at the nation’s first crowd funding festival in April, they’re taking their project out of the classroom and into the community.
The goal is to create a functional smartphone application that provides an in-depth tour of Jacksonville’s diverse musical history.
“This was a learning experience for us — getting to know the city better by looking at what makes it unique,” said Josh Salestrom, one of the group members. “We initially thought we’d put together a podcast about downtown Jacksonville’s musical history. Once we did more digging, we realized we had a ton of material — enough to do something even better.”
Salestrom and his two classmates, Bryan Higham and Anthony Rossodivito, prepared the project for Dr. James Broomall’s graduate seminar class. The initial idea came from Salestrom, a guitarist who gigs around town. He figured he could meld his hobbies with his coursework while getting a better feel for his new home. As their research materials grew, so too did the scope of the assignment.
“It’s sometimes difficult for students to go beyond the limits of what they establish for their projects,” said Broomall. “But these students, to their credit, saw the potential for more and ran with it.”
Rossodivito said the months of preliminary work and project research for the podcast, which then morphed into a smartphone app proposal, was comparable to the pre-production phase of filmmaking. The app will include pictures, timelines, venue histories and artist bios for folk, soul, jazz and rock musicians.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t making a mountain out of an anthill,” he said. “If anything, there’s a lot more potential than we even realize.”
The team said Jacksonville’s musical history runs deep. Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong made the First Coast their stomping ground during the city’s jazz heyday in the early 20th century. Woody Guthrie wrote scads of songs during his many visits to Stetson Kennedy's peaceful Lake Beluthahatchee homestead near Fruit Cove. And many music historians consider Jacksonville the cradle of southern rock, thanks to the city’s native sons in Lynyrd Skynyrd. The smartphone app would stretch from the early 20th century to about 1980.
With a rich vein of musical history to mine, the team went about gaining some momentum — and maybe some startup capital ¬— for the project by presenting their research at One Spark, a five-day event in downtown Jacksonville. The April festival attracted hundreds of artists, inventors and innovators who vied for $250,000 in crowd-funding dollars. One Spark spokesman, Abel Harding, said nearly 130,000 visitors passed through Jacksonville for the event. The UNF team placed in the top 30 percent for project votes and came away with more than $800 in capital to put toward designing an app.
The team members admit they aren’t particularly tech savvy, so Higham said they plan to hire one of the driven, young tech professionals and app creators they met at One Spark to help put the finishing touches on their project. Between choosing a designer and fine-tuning the look of their app, the trio will spend the next few months wrapping up their UNF coursework while juggling their now-extracurricular project. The team said the framework for the app can encompass multiple genres and could potentially expand to other cities. The only limits they’ve encountered are self-imposed, Salestrom said.
“We’re not trying to make any money off this — it’s a free application,” Salestrom said. “Since this isn’t a profit-driven motive for us, it’s something that we could ideally hand off to the city, Chamber of Commerce or historical society. We’re just setting up the framework for others to build on. We learned a lot working on this in class, and we want others to experience the same kind of learning journey we had while putting together the materials for the app. Jacksonville’s a great city with a unique music history, and we’re lucky to have been able to document that for others.”