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Gram’s Place at Tampa, Florida
(noun) An act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration
It was exactly two decades ago that a young man built a tribute in Florida to a musician he revered. It was no statue, though – no lifeless representation of what had once been.
This young man decided to build a youth hostel as his tribute, and through the energy and vitality of the community that grew within it, he created a heaving and breathing monument that captured the spirit of his idol.
Tributes have many layers and they often say more about the creator than the hero. Four years ago that young man – twenty years older but, by all accounts, light of heart – took his own life. The hostel didn’t close, though.
It still remains today, still welcomes in visitors from around the world and still fills the night with music.
Right after that young man’s premature death, his brother took over management and ownership of the hostel and the tribute to a musician also became a memorial to his lost kin.
The hostel is called ‘Gram’s Place’, named after influential musician Gram Parsons who was known in the 1960s for his solo work and his time with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
It’s set out in the suburbs of Tampa, a city often overlooked in favour of the theme parks of Orlando or the clubs of Miami.
Not many backpackers pass through here, which is why there aren’t many hostels, but most young travellers who stop for the night find their way to Gram’s Place.
Mark Holland had the original idea for the business during a visit to Amsterdam in the late 1980s. He hadn’t experienced hostel life until then but what he found was a dynamic environment where a place to sleep at night could be more than that alone.
Mark brought back his newfound passion and energy for hostel life to Tampa and the doors have been open for 20 years now.
The Gram Parsons tribute
The dorm rooms at Gram’s Place are small. The private rooms are a bit larger and offer more comfort. They are all decorated and themed with music.
There are murals on the walls of famous guitarists; framed album covers from The Monkees or The Rolling Stone; photos of Elvis; a piano; and street signs hanging from the rafters.
The recording studio in the basement was once operational and many a song has been made there.
The hostel has an organic and unstructured feel to it. The main outdoor common area has a wraparound deck, a small bar with a beer fridge and a Jacuzzi that steams when the temperature drops.
The inside areas are a random collection of couches, tables and music memorabilia. Above one of the buildings is a wooden treehouse-style platform, accessible by a newly built wooden staircase, where the guests can relax.
Since Mark’s brother, Bruce Holland, took over, there has been about $35,000 worth of improvements to Gram’s Place.
It’s not going to stop there, though, because Bruce has more plans. He’s going to change the layout of the kitchen to create a bit more space, for instance.
But he’s not going to touch the small balcony that borders one of the garden courtyards. That balcony is where bands come to play on most Friday and Saturday nights.
Sometimes it’s local Florida bands, sometimes groups that are passing through, occasionally people that Bruce has booked specifically to come and play at Gram’s Place.
They perform for the visitors who are staying there but also for the locals who wander in from their nearby homes to enjoy the music and the atmosphere. They can bring their own drinks or buy them from Bruce – he really doesn’t mind.
There is nothing to worry about on those nights when dozens of people are relaxing in the courtyard and the tunes continue well into the early morning.
Bruce does have an interest in music, but it probably couldn’t be described as a love. There’s a deeper emotion that keeps him going.
One evening when I was sitting and chatting with him, he played me some of his brother’s music. There weren’t many words exchanged between us – he just put on the album and told me who it was.
Then he let it play as he stood on the wooden deck and drank a beer and smoked a cigarette, staring out across the courtyard with the voice of the dearly departed filling the house they built together.