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.
Check out crossfademiami.com for a schedule, previews, interviews, live reviews, and other ongoing coverage of the Miami Music Festival. Learn more with our MMF event listing.
Miami Music Festival: Thursday, November 11, through Sunday, November 14, at various venues. Four-day passes cost $25 online at miamimusicfestival.org, and single-day tickets cost $10 to $15 at the door.
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.
And though not packed with Miami bands, the Saturday-night powwow organized by Magic Leap Records will probably be another prime moment. Oddly, it's scheduled to go down at swank Lincoln Road spot Gemma Lounge (529 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach), but there's at least one guarantee: Out-of-town headliners the Vivian Girls will kick some indie-boy ass. And let's hope local duo the State Of won't pass out trying to match the Brooklyn babes blow-for-blow.
Of course, our own New Times shows this Saturday should be solid. In the afternoon, we'll bring a foursome of Miami's most fearless spitters to Bayfront Park (301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami). The whole thing will begin at 1 p.m. with rap rips by Ramzez, Ghostwridah, and Rich Kidd before the day's main man, Iceberg, twists the top back on.
Then later, at 9 p.m., visiting son of jam-band royalty Devon Allman will take his Honeytribe to Charcoal Studios (2135 NW First Ave., Miami) for another New Times bash. This one will be heavier on the blues, rock, and freeform influences. Expect NYC's Auctioneers, countrified Orlando crew Thomas Wynn Trio, Miami groove disciples Juke, Boca psych rockers Blond Fuzz, and extra-thick riffs.
Still, several key locations have been left off the list — namely Grand Central and other Second Avenue corridor clubs such as the Electric Pickle and the Vagabond. Why? Kornfeld insists negotiations simply fell apart. "Grand Central is a very large club. Making a large club work is a business challenge and one that we weren't able to get over this year," he explains. "But it has nothing to do with the politics of Miami or music or the music festival.
"We worked very hard on [Grand Central, the Electric Pickle, and the Vagabond], and we were turned down by each. It was unfortunate. We very much wanted them to be a part of it this year. We would love for them to be a part of it next year."
Will Lopez of Homestead punk outfit Guajiro has become one of MMF's most visible critics after making a sarcastic seven-minute animated YouTube video titled "Miami Music Festival: A Primer." "There is a serious disconnect between the local Miami music scene and the MMF," Lopez says. "Yes, the scene is Transit Lounge, Suenalo, and ArtOfficial [which are involved in the festival]. But it is also Beings, Rachel Goodrich, the Postmarks, Guy Harvey, and many, many more [that aren't]."
Ultimately, it's premature to expect the Miami Music Festival to come anywhere near showcase standard bearers such as SXSW and CMJ in terms of scope and quality. It's only the sophomore edition. But 2010 will be a critical test. All that can be said right now is that MMF fully intends to return in 2011 and every year after.
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"I think it's important for the community to understand that this is a long-term project," Kornfeld says. "Some are early adopters who come on quickly. Others take a show-me attitude and will take time to join. But we've seen, in our first two years, a tremendous coming-together of those in Miami who are interested in what we're trying to do. And almost all of them understand that this will take time."