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Tip Top Cafe

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The Bands, The Myths, The Legend: Tip Top Cafe

The History of Huntsville's Most Influential Music Spot

Engage any reasonably cool Huntsvillian over the age of 45 on the subject of local live music and see how long it takes them to bring up the Tip Top Cafe. I predict a few seconds.

I’ll admit it, I’m one of these people. And on this point at least, we know what we’re talking about. The Tip Top Cafe was arguably the most influential music venue in the city’s history. To many it’s where our city’s modern music culture was born.

The building on Maple Ave was never much to look at. Aesthetics weren’t exactly a priority. You were there to see a band. You may have not even known who was playing, but music is why you went. The cheap beer and access to Huntsville’s underground social scene helped, but music was the thing.

Everyone hanging around back then has their own experiences that made Tip Top an almost religious location. For me, it happened on a warm summer night in the early 90s. I was among what felt like 10,000 or so people jammed inside to see Atlanta’s Follow For Now. Known for their high-energy, high-decibel shows, they absolutely ripped the roof off the place. I’d never seen that kind of talent and stage presence. I was maybe 16 or 17 at the time (don’t ask how I was able to slip past Lanny) and completely blown away. A year or so later, my own band was fortunate enough to land a gig at Tip Top (again, back then age requirements were a bit looser). Yes, it was a weekday night, and completely empty except for a few friends, but that didn’t matter. Simply playing at the Tip Top was huge for a local band.

Tip Top was where musical royalty (the touring bands) and those that aspired to such heights (the locals) could share a hint of equality. You’d see a well-known national act on Friday and an up-and-coming local band later that week. That was the secret sauce. A concept that’s simply unheard of now.

Closing its doors in 2010, this gritty and honest intersection of music and audience was gone.

Fast forward to Fall of 2022 when rumors circulated of a Tip Top reopening. Great news, but the question is, can the new owners put in the right ingredients to cast the same magical spell? Cities like Huntsville need places like the Tip Top Cafe - stained concrete floors, gravel parking lots, and dance floors covered in sweat. We need places where touring acts and locals share the same calendar. Is it as simple as a fresh coat of paint and new bathrooms? I really don’t know, but if they can pull it off, I’ll meet you there with a beer in hand.

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