Live Music: Dead on Arrival

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

That UM's music students don't go out more frequently to see live music seems unusual, though admittedly most nightclubs -- rock, jazz, or otherwise -- are off-limits to those under 21. But equally strange is that local promoters are not besieged by bands made up of area college students moonlighting in rock bands. In other cities, plenty of aspiring musicians cross genres at the university level. In fact, they're often encouraged to do so by professors in the hopes that such experimentation will enrich their playing. But apparently not these students. And the area's other institutes of higher learning, which, combined, have student bodies approaching that of the University of Texas at Austin, don't seem to bolster live music audiences or band membership in Miami much either.

Renyel Rivero, a jazz bassist in UM's studio music and jazz performance program, says he knows of only a handful of classmates who contribute to the local rock scene. "It's usually the best guys who are the ones doing all different kinds of work. There might be maybe twenty guys who are doing rock, and a lot of that is, of course, experimental, so they probably don't book a lot of gigs. I never got too much into the rock scene myself because it doesn't produce any income."

But the problem is more fundamental than an apathetic college crowd. The value of live music, after all, is something kids should be learning from elementary school onward. It's no secret that student exposure to live music and music education has suffered tremendously in the past decade or two, not just in Miami but nationwide. That fewer and fewer young people show an interest in live music -- let alone in learning to play an instrument -- is part of the legacy of curriculum cutbacks.

The dearth of all-ages live music venues also hurts. As any teenage musician or fan can tell you, there's no place for teens to play or listen in Miami.

"A big part of it is that club owners are more interested in selling alcohol," suggests Amanda Smida, president of Dalin Promotions, a locally based company that promotes independent records to college radio. Smida says she is considering putting on all-ages shows in her own Kendall warehouse if no one else steps forward. "I don't know why nobody has gone into that market. Liabilities, maybe. But I think there needs to be an all-ages club. An all-ages club that really promoted itself heavily would probably do really well down here. These kids have disposable income. They're spending $40 and $50 on Nintendo games, hanging out at video arcades, going to movies and major concerts."

"When Cheers was open, every high school had about ten different punk and rock bands," explains 24-year-old local musician and music promoter Alfredo Galvez. "Cheers gave them a place to play, to make fools of themselves, and to grow as musicians. All the kids got together on weekends and would do something far more positive than whatever the hell they're doing now."

But the club, which was located on SW Seventeenth Avenue just off U.S. 1 and which welcomed musicians and fans under eighteen, closed a little more than a year ago, in part because of complaints from residential neighbors about the behavior of the club's patrons. No other all-ages club has stepped in to take its place.

Add to this the aggressive marketing in high schools by rave promoters who are eager to draw teens away from live music and into that scene. Dance clubs along Washington Avenue in South Beach, and others throughout South Florida, also promote regular events at which teens, even those younger than eighteen, are welcome. Nobody can afford such promotion when it comes to live music.

"Miami, though I love it, is in the end a shit town when it comes to culture," says Galvez, who, along with his brother Rafael, runs a popular rehearsal and recording studio near Bird Road and the Palmetto Expressway. They also promote bands through occasional live performances at their facilities and run a record label called Space Cadette. "People just don't care. It's such a brand-new city. It has no age. You leave Miami for a year, and when you come back to the neighborhood where you were, to the house where you lived, that house is probably gone, and instead there's a couple of neon signs. It's very plastic. It doesn't lend itself to any mood. There is no place where you can enjoy the ambiance and take it in, and stop the boom, boom, boom, and the lights flashing, and let your thoughts process.

"This is a fast-paced town," he continues, "where things are always changing. It's the beach, the glamour, and everybody wants to be better and to appear prettier and faster. People don't want to take the time."

This dynamism and vibrancy can be inspiring, as the work of local artists such as Nil Lara, the Goods, and Quit attests. Unfortunately, without a solid fan base -- one that's educated in the joys of live music -- the hustle and flash can overwhelm a live rock scene, even push it to the brink of extinction.

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