By Jacob Katel
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By Jose D. Duran
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The invasion began in earnest four months ago, when the Grateful Dread moved into the house next door. Jahsun set up his psychedelic reggae band on the driveway of what had once been a quiet pitstop for airline personnel between flights. The positive vibrations drew more musicians to the street where the blond-bearded rastaman shares a three-bedroom house with acoustic singer-songwriter Tara Grieco, formerly of the band Ninth Floor, and her partner Tanya Velazquez, better known as Ladybug. Soon I spied Josh Sonntag, guitarist from Outdance, walking his dog along the sidewalk. Pelu Rivera, drummer from Los Gardis, hailed me from the Walgreens checkout line. By the time Jeff Rollason of the Curious Hair pulled up to my front door, ferrying pop firecracker Jessica Rosenberg (a.k.a. Bubble Girl) in her search for a room to rent, I knew there was no escape. I was living on the most musical block in Miami.
The comfortable dwellings with large yards in Edgewater used to house low-income families, says Robert Wohl, whose company Saxon Development has amassed some 150 houses and apartment units in the stretch between Biscayne Boulevard and the Bay over the past ten years. "People were happy to sell," Wohl recalls. "The neighborhood was really down in the dumps. There's been a total turnaround. All we get now are young people from the Beach, from New World School of the Arts."
Just north of the downtown campus of the arts college, Edgewater has served for several years as unofficial student housing. More recently, skyrocketing rents in the former bohemian hangouts of Coconut Grove and South Beach have sent struggling musicians scurrying up U.S. 1 and across the causeways. Lured by cheap rent and wide open spaces, established local musicians are setting up studios, rehearsal space, and living quarters in the affordable homes rented out by Wohl.
"The majority of people who go to school with me all live within a three block radius," says New World musical theater major Jonathon Lolley, who recently performed in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom up the street at the Miami Light Projectwith his housemate/classmate Heather Gallagher. The two tick off the names of fellow performers in the neighborhood. Splitting the rent at $200 to $250 per head makes student living affordable. "For an artist, the Beach is no good," says Lolley with a flourish. Surveying the high ceilings and hardwood floors in his five-bedroom house, he sighs, "We should put a sign over the door: “Safe haven for artists.'"
Four houses up, theater major Matthew Chapman agrees. "I just think it's the coolest street," he says, standing in the doorway of his two-bedroom rental home. "It's like a little community." New World put Chapman in contact with his housemate, nineteen-year-old opera singer Carrie Tyndal, who can often be heard running scales.
Chapman and Tyndal dally across the street in the eight-bedroom Neighbors House. Home to four chefs, DJ Lorenzo Peraita, and rapper Jaesun Ballard, the fratlike setting boasts a computer room, a pool hall, and a den decked out with turntables that is transformed into a disco during frequent house bashes.
"I found the house," recounts chef Patrick Lingle, over a plate of risotto and gourmet fried chicken. "This place used to be a rehabilitation center. It was part of The Village," he explains, referring to the massive substance-addiction-treatment facility on the block. "To be honest, this house was ugly," Peraita admits, "but this was the only house we could afford."
The revamped building draws constant visitors, like the New World students who share weekly communal dinners and Crazy Man, a tall, lanky islander who sleeps through all the commotion of the meal on the couch where he has been staying for a month.
When awake, the Grenadian and his brothers often rap while Peraita spins. "Who would ever think that these guys from Grenada and these two gringos would get along?" muses Peraita. "A lot of it had to do with music; I found out that they liked to rap and I like to spin." Although he has gigged around town at Fat Tuesdays, the Shelbourne, and at W6, a new club on Washington Avenue, Peraita says he's happiest at home. "I get more out of spinning here than at a club," says the New Jersey-born DJ. "I'd get 400 bucks, but I wouldn't be able to sit and figure things out like I do here."
A recent transplant from Detroit, rapper Ballard thinks Peraita has the turntables figured out pretty well. After a brief stay in Boca Raton, where he formed the hip-hop outfit Ill Minded Prophet, Ballard is excited by the prospect of reforming his group with Peraita in Miami. "Back in the day," the 21-year-old begins an impromptu history lesson, "they had communities. You go to Austin [Texas], places like that, the whole city accepted the music." Ballard sees that dynamic forming in Edgewater. "Just in this house you have so much talent," he says hopefully. "I think Miami is having a resurgence: Miami's going to be the next big place for music."
If hope springs eternal for the New World students and their friends, more seasoned performers on the block have determined to create a scene for themselves in a city seen as inhospitable to local music. "I definitely feel this place is struggling for a good supported venue for the live scene," says Jahsun, who relocated to the Magic City from Austin.