A Cameo Role

The majestic South Beach theater, soon to reopen as a dance club, has been to ruin and back

Shelter soon split for Los Angeles. But there were always entrepreneurs waiting in the wings.

Rock and roll may never die, but when Paco de Onis arrived from Colombia in late 1986 something new was born at the Cameo. The musical melting pot known as world beat began to seep into the aging auditorium. De Onis had spent much of the Eighties producing the Caribbean Music Festival in Cartagena. He believed the Miami area was ripe for presenting such music year-round. To help him with the new Miami project, de Onis hired James Quinlan, a New York booking agent who had previously sent bands to the Cartagena festival. The two signed a lease with Hayon and formed a company called Crossover Concerts. Soon they were booking African pop stars like Ebenezer Obey and Alpha Blondy for Cameo gigs. De Onis paid $250 per month for a one-bedroom flat in the Ocean Drive building that would later become Gianni Versace's mansion. Quinlan rented a one-bedroom apartment on Euclid Avenue for $245 per month. South Beach reminded him of Manhattan's East Village. "We felt like we were pioneers and felt like we had to turn the place around through the influx of artists and artistic activities."

At one time the Cameo had it all: Peace, love, unity, and skinhead fights
photo courtesy Frank Falestra
At one time the Cameo had it all: Peace, love, unity, and skinhead fights
Mosh pit survivor Chuck Loose: "Honestly it was like if you went to a show and somebody knocked you out or broke your arm, you wouldn't say  I'm going to sue you.'"
Steve Satterwhite
Mosh pit survivor Chuck Loose: "Honestly it was like if you went to a show and somebody knocked you out or broke your arm, you wouldn't say I'm going to sue you.'"

De Onis and Quinlan were fans of world beat and reggae, but maintained an eclectic mix of acts. Their first sold-out concert was performed in May 1987 by an all-American band: heavy-metal monsters Megadeth. The next month the Cameo News, a wry one-page newsletter written by Quinlan's then-girlfriend and now wife, Laura, announced June's lineup would include a series of Philadelphia soul bands, reggae groups, and a hardcore punk double-bill featuring the Descendents and Henry Rollins.

Back then the Cameo had it all: peace, love, unity, and skinhead fights. Kristen Thiele, a 30-year-old Miami native who graduated this year from the Chicago Art Institute, remembers one June night in 1987 when she was a University of Miami student. She was at the Rollins/Descendents show. Rollins was onstage. "It was my first hardcore night. And I guess I was dating somebody who must have been dating one of the skinhead girls. I didn't know he was dating somebody else. Anyway, she and her cronies saw me outside talking to this guy. And later they cornered me upstairs in the little lounge. Initially it was this one girl and she was definitely looking for a fight because she stuck her hand in my face. My brother was there. It was instinct; I knew we were going to fight. So I actually hit her first. And I guess that took her by surprise and then all the girls jumped me.... There was a pile of people on top of me. My brother put his body over mine like a turtle shell and his hands were reaching under his body to grab me. Somehow he and I jumped up and it was kind of like a movie because we hid under some stairs and they all ran past us. And then we ran outside and that was the end of it. I wasn't injured but I never went back. We went straight to Wolfie's."

Violence at the Cameo attracted Chuck Loose, who was a seventeen-year-old skateboarding gnome from a small town near Albuquerque when he moved to Miami in 1986. He had heard that South Florida punks were tough. "I had, like, dreadlocks and a nose ring and a skateboard. The environment in New Mexico was, like, all your parents were hippies so it was all, like you know whatever, you can dress as funny as you want but you can still hang out and smoke pot with your parents and it's cool. For me, coming from New Mexico where everyone was kind of mellow and got along with each other, it was really, like, oh my God, such a culture shock. Seriously, like, the big thing was there were these speaker stacks and you'd really prove your mettle if you fucking jumped off them. And they were really high. And there were a lot of cases of nobody catching you when you jumped off. I remember guys diving from the stages and nobody being there to catch them and being knocked unconscious and that's why the ambulances were out front."

Inside the Cameo punks coexisted with a growing cluster of bohemians. Tuesday nights became Asylum, a place for local artists to display their works in a clublike setting. Joe Delaney, a promoter at the Cameo, remembers it this way: "There would be mood lighting and you'd just kind of walk around and look at the art and maybe there'd be a film showing, maybe there wouldn't. There'd be some really cool music playing and there were cocktails. And it was really a cool kind of social, art thing. Something really vibrant. We probably haven't seen anything like it since."

De Onis paid DJs Ed Bobb, Howard Davis, and Frank Falestra to experiment with multimedia presentations at Asylum and on other nights. "They would do great projections," de Onis says. "All the walls of the Cameo and the ceiling and everything were covered with images that were changing all the time. It was really nice."

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