By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
By Kat Bein
By Abel Folgar
By Laurie Charles
For decades, if you happened to be a live-music junkie, wannabe rock star, or drummer for hire, it was a poor career move to choose Miami as your base of operations. The opportunities were limited and the industry seemed to think Dade County was a dead zone.
Moreover, our remote peninsular outpost was nothing but a big blank spot on the established U.S. tour map. For most bands, arena rock or not, it just wasn't worth the four-hour trek from Orlando for a single show. Let's face it: Gas and Big Macs can get pretty expensive.
In the past couple of years, though, things have changed. The January 2010 merger of industry monoliths Ticketmaster and Live Nation has filled Bayfront Park Amphitheater and the Fillmore Miami Beach with metalheads, indie crews, and pop stars that might never have made it this far south in 2008. During the past month alone, Slayer, MGMT, Massive Attack, Phoenix, and Robyn have all gigged these subtropical shores.
In more Miami-centric developments, new downtown club Grand Central has finally given touring hipster hoppers and brainy experimentalists, such as Ninjasonik and Caribou, a midsize venue to play if they're willing to drag ass down the interstate. Plus the stage is accessible to ascending local acts seeking opening slots. And that's essential.
Another big blip on the local scene's recent timeline is the Miami Music Festival. Unlike Live Nation or Grand Central, however, this annual showcase, now in its second year, hasn't yet made a positive impact. It surely has the potential to overhaul this city's music calendar, turning the second weekend of November into a free-for-all of live tuneage, booze, and industry schmoozing.
And for the 2010 edition, MMF has ballooned to twice its previous size. During four days and nights, the fest will fill 45 clubs, bars, cafés, hotel lounges, and scuzzy pubs with almost 200 bands performing approximately 400 sets. It's an epic endeavor that gives local musicians and record labels — including Locos por Juana, ArtOfficial, Slip-N-Slide Records, Juke, Arboles Libres, Forward Motion Records, Ghost of Gloria, and City of God — a chance to perform for larger-than-usual crowds and industry types such as club owners, record company reps, and TV execs.
Also on the bill are national acts like '90s throwbacks the Spin Doctors, Brooklyn garage poppers the Vivian Girls, and St. Louis blues rock crew Devon Allman's Honeytribe (yes, the band is fronted by the son of Gregg), as well as John Legend's little brother, Vaughn Anthony.
The music will kick off Thursday night at Cafeina in Wynwood, with ten bands each playing one-hour sets indoors and out. It continues Saturday at bars from SoBe Live and Transit Lounge to the Globe Café & Bar in Coral Gables. Dozens of bands on three stages will take over Bayfront Park Saturday and Sunday.
Will it work? After 2009's problematic debut, a lot of skepticism lingers about MMF. In the days following last year's fest, then-Miami New Times music editor Arielle Castillo wrote, "Planned as a three-day set of simultaneous showcases à la SXSW, the inaugural edition of MMF was poorly planned and mostly poorly attended." Among the major problems listed in her postevent assessment, Castillo cited the cost of festival wristbands, bad venue choices, and lackluster lineups.
Dreaming in Stereo frontman and Forward Motion Records label head Fernando Perdomo puts a more positive spin on the inaugural edition. "I had three shows last year, and they ranged from the best show Dreaming in Stereo has ever played to the worst show Dreaming in Stereo has ever played," says Perdomo, whom the festival has recruited as a local music liaison. "But instead of being negative, I decided I wanted to take the initiative to help make it better, because Miami needs this festival."
One definite sign of progress is that the wristband price has become a nonissue. After dealing with thin crowds and unhappy customers, all admission fees have been slashed. A 2009 three-day MMF pass cost $50, but the 2010 wristband is only $25. That's a deep, 50 percent discount.
When it comes to the venues, there have also been some changes for the better. Pop-up tents, which were used to create an artificial main drag between Transit Lounge and Tobacco Road, have been eliminated. "Last year, we looked for an area of Miami that had a tight cluster of clubs so people could walk from club to club," says In Tune Partners CEO and Miami Music Festival organizer Irwin Kornfeld. "We put up tents in a parking lot where you couldn't sit down. It didn't work."
Other positive moves: MMF will harness the magic of behemoth promoter Live Nation by booking showcase stages at Bayfront. And the fest has added Miami live music institution Churchill's Pub, which had been left out last year.
One especially stacked local showcase is Perdomo's Forward Motion Records party at Tobacco Road (626 S. Miami Ave., Miami) this Friday night. Beginning at 9 p.m. on the Road's parking-lot stage, the label will present eight acts in five hours. But make sure to stick around till after midnight because that's when the label boss's band, Dreaming in Stereo, will break out the proggy pop-rock alongside Spanglish psychedelicists Arboles Libres.