Most of the politically caffeinated abuelitos loitering around Little Havana have no idea what they're missing when the Heavy Shtetl Klezmer Band plays Miami Beach. And the typical Ms. Bal Harbour doesn't drive the Benz to Overtown nearly enough to absorb the seductive rhythms of Afro-Caribbean folkloric dance. That's because Miami's collection of cultures never seems to pay much attention to each other -- unless they're pissing one another off.
There is no excuse for them now as the second annual Music Fest Miami, three days of multicultural celebrations, kicks off this weekend. Organized by city and county officials, the event intends for all of us to hear each other's song and dance. Aside from local talent, international entertainers will perform in the name of unity and cultural awareness. Festivities open with a ball at the Miami Arena, featuring singer Al Jarreau, and then culminate with a concert Sunday at Bayfront Park headlined by Patti LaBelle and Puerto Rican pop star Gisselle. One star of the weekend: Saturday's Community Experience Tours -- free bus rides offered to five sites throughout town for presentations showcasing African-American, Caribbean, European, Haitian, Hispanic, and Jewish cultures.
The colorful menagerie of a Bahamian junkanoo rush and the enraptured percussion of the Iroko Afro-Cuban Dance Theater, among others, will give a shot at instilling a bit of harmony to Miami's cultural mèlange. At least that's the hope of local officials who admit ethnic fissures have expanded since a boy named Elian skipped town. Festival director Michelle Spence is positive "events like this can cut across agendas." And echoing pop tart Madonna about music, Spence points out such a sound-filled extravaganza "opens people up and allows them to come together."
In tune with the celebration of differences, opinions on what's best about the revelry differ as well. But it's guys like Chacho in the beat-up Camaro who know what's up. In this economy, he says, the free admission to most of the events is what rules. He hasn't always had enough change to get to the opera, but at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday he plans to be front row when the Coral Gables Chamber Symphony & Opera offers highlights of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor gratis for everyone.