Live Music: Dead on Arrival

Welcome to Miami-Dade County, where the clubs play disco, the musicians whine, and the rock fans languish

Of course, the most common type of nightclub in Miami-Dade, the dance club, rarely has live music. South Beach's Washington Avenue -- the hub of Miami's local rock scene long ago -- is now a dance marathon. Tourists and natives alike flock to the Beach's disco ballrooms, with their boom-booming excuse for music and discriminatory velvet ropes. And that's just what the owners like to see. After all, these folks are in business for the love of money, not for the love of art. It's much cheaper, and more lucrative, to hire a DJ than a band.

Not only is Miami-Dade a tourist mecca, it's full of passers-through. Some point to this transience as a key factor in our failure to cultivate a live rock scene. If more people stuck around, the argument goes, local bands could stabilize and develop loyal fan bases.

More often, observers point to the area's cultural melange as a culprit. According to this theory, the prevalence of Latins, Haitians, West Indians, African-Americans, and other minority groups severely limits the potential audience for rock shows. This notion is absurd on at least two counts. First, rock bands and fans come in all varieties, particularly in Miami, where so many musicians are Hispanic. Second, the potential fan base for rock shows, even disregarding all minorities, is still large enough to support a dozen clubs. At least on paper.

Education. That's the key to turning the withering scene around, says Steve Alvin, a die-hard local-music supporter known throughout South Florida as the Beast, half of the duo Beast and Baker -- former New Times music editor Greg Baker is his partner. Since 1994 Beast and Baker have run a weekly event for local bands at Tobacco Road. Hundreds of groups have appeared at the Thursday-night concerts, the most consistent, professional, and well-promoted series in Miami. Alvin and Baker publicize the performances on the Beast and Baker Show, a radio program they host Saturday nights at midnight on WAXY-AM (790). Alvin and Baker regularly spin music by local artists, invite band members to be guests on the show, and broadcast live performances.

And if exposure to locally produced rock is key to the public's education, the Beast and Baker Show is not the only outlet for enlightenment. Not to be ignored are the contributions of WZTA-FM (94.9) music director Kimba, with her 10:00 p.m. Sunday ZETA Goes Local program, and the Locals Only show, broadcast at 7:00 p.m. Sundays on University of Miami radio station WVUM-FM (90.5). These stations also sponsor and promote various live performances.

Alvin, among others, says that despite these efforts, the people of Miami are simply not exposed to enough live rock to truly have an appreciation for it. Fans, he explains, need conditioning. They need to be taught to like live rock music. That doesn't seem necessary in most other large cities, especially those in which large universities propel the scene. In Miami, however, college students, and just about everyone else their age -- those vast flocks of sheep people, or sheeple, as Alvin likes to call them -- seem far more interested in the dance scene.

"We all know what's happening," he says. "Take Austin. It's only a minute size compared to Miami. And in Austin you have the University of Texas, with 50,000 students. And during the year all 50,000 of them, or a large percentage, go off-campus and support 36 or 40 clubs in town. So what does that tell you? That tells you University of Texas people value live music -- even if it's cover, but it's mostly original, of all different types -- more than these bozos at the University of Miami. Most UM students weren't raised on live music; they were raised on disco."

Strong words; fightin' words, in fact. But he's not contradicted by Eric Rasco, music director of the University of Miami's WVUM and cohost of the station's local music program. "Miami college people are different from people at typical colleges," reasons Rasco, an eighteen-year-old sophomore who graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in southwest Miami-Dade. "Most of the people who go to college in Miami are from Miami. And people who are from Miami, for the most part, grew up in an environment that was not supportive of local music. Except for a few select kids, most of these people have never even been to a live music show. And the out-of-town students that we have aren't here for music. They're here for the sun and the beach. Music is not a primary concern."

The university's enrollment of 14,000 students has little effect on the local music scene at all. Even UM's vaunted music school, which has produced national stars such as Pat Metheny, Jon Secada, and Bruce Hornsby, doesn't supply much fresh blood.

Many of UM's 700 to 800 music students are studying jazz and classical, and are more likely to seek out those types of entertainment, according to WVUM DJ and freshman Melissa Alvarez. "The horn players, for example, like funk and jazz clubs," says Alvarez, herself a classical pianist. "They like to go to the Van Dyke." A rebel by comparison, Alvarez says she frequents shows at venues such as Club Q in Davie, Fu-Bar in Fort Lauderdale, and the Hungry Sailor in the Grove, which books local original bands, many of them ska or punk, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

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