Live Music: Dead on Arrival

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

"We haven't had enough live music here, where people know it and understand it and think it's cool," affirms Patrick Gleber, co-owner of Tobacco Road, referring to the overall music scene in South Florida. "Therefore you don't expose yourself to it, therefore you don't know it, therefore you go blissfully, happily, ignorantly through life."

Gleber is both a spiritual and financial supporter of the efforts to bring live local rock to the masses through the Beast and Baker shows; his club also books other local acts directly. He concurs with Galvez's opinion that the pace of this town must be slowed if live music is to take root. Converting the dance club crowd, he says, will require a different attitude. "It won't happen overnight," he warns. "Those clubs aren't going to do it. It's a slow process of getting people to listen to music."

Frustrating as the endeavor may be, live music supporters continue to try to recruit fans from among the apathetic. A few are growing weary of the futile pedagogic exercise, however. Alvin and Baker grumble loudly about their frustrations, and talk about getting on with their lives. Woody Graber, a local promoter who has been either a co-owner of, booking agent for, music consultant to, or publicist for a host of Miami clubs, including Woody's (named for the Rolling Stones' Ron Wood), Stephen Talkhouse, and Stella Blue (all of which succumbed to a combination of apathy and poor management), paints an equally bleak picture.

"Miami needs to be educated?" He laughs at the thought. "I've spent twenty years trying to educate the people of Miami about live music, and I think that's bullshit. I don't think they want to be educated. They're very happy doing what they're doing. But I love the music, and I live here, so I do it. I guess I must be a glutton for punishment."

He's not alone. Consider Miami's rock musicians. Practicing for years; spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on instruments, rehearsal studios, and recordings; pouring heart and soul into their music; and schlepping their equipment year after year to clubs only to perform for crowds that wouldn't fill the lobby of Shadow Lounge or Liquid -- these musicians are just as gluttonous, if not more so. Remember, Graber and Tobacco Road's Gleber and promoters such as Beast and Baker and Alfredo Galvez have at least found a way to make some kind of living in this anemic industry.

For the average rock band, playing only two or three times per month, as these bands are wont to do, financial reward is minuscule. Earning $100 here, $200 there, these groups are not supporting themselves with their craft. In fact, if they support anyone, it's the music stores where they buy their gear, the recording studios where they fork over hundreds to cut a few tracks, and to a lesser extent the clubs in which they perform.

If anyone has a stake in raising awareness of and excitement about local music, it's the musicians themselves. Yet their cause seems almost hopeless. Things could always get worse, of course, but nobody wants to let that happen, so at this point local musicians have only two options: Give up or keep trying.

What to do, then? A common suggestion, particularly from many rock promoters, is that local musicians need to -- ahem -- get off their asses and make something happen, herculean though those efforts may be. Local bands must find a way to reach out to the people who won't reach out to them, to prove to the people of Miami how vital their music is. In other words, they must accept that their fate is mostly in their own hands and act accordingly.

"Artists should stop dreaming," emphasizes Space Cadette's Galvez. "Stop thinking that label in shining armor is going to come rescue you and get you out of Miami and out of your troubles. Get off your ass and post flyers everywhere. Bombard the city. Create some controversy. Record, and get demos out there. And don't play in your garage thinking someone's going to hear you someday and say, 'You guys are the next Nirvana.' Play for the passion of playing, and if you're not interested in that, then make room for people who are. If you're just a weekend warrior, then stay a weekend warrior at your friends' parties. If you truly want to do music, then you can't be a baby about it and you can't whine so much about this city."

Actually, musicians badmouth the scene in almost every city. But in a city like Miami, with its virtually nonexistent scene, the need for action is even more pressing. Instead of watching as graduating class after graduating class heads for the disco, bands need to find a way to play, regularly and often, for high school kids and on college campuses. To encourage younger musicians. To secure permits to play in parks and on the streets, wherever people are hanging out -- in the Grove, in South Beach, in some deep, dark corner of Kendall. To hook up with charity organizations and perform at their events for free; it's worth the exposure.

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