When I visited New York several days ago, the streets were mostly abandoned. A few revelers braved the winter breeze, a prelude to the snowstorm that was about to hit. Until I made my way to Times Square, where holiday shoppers crowded the sidewalks and stood in lines that snaked around the block for hours just to enter Toys R Us, I found little evidence of the sleepless city I have encountered before and will likely meet again.
Nevertheless, I did notice some things that reminded me of Miami. Which makes sense: When you travel abroad, you carry the memory of home with you.
I visited APT, the hot Manhattan nightclub that has recently replicated itself in Miami Beach as Buck 15. Indeed, it was elegant, plush, and refined. The first room I entered after walking into the club was furnished with love seats and couches, as well as a small nook, for smartly dressed people to drink cocktails and prepare for the night's affairs. Downstairs was a cavernous bar where a DJ spun hectic dance music; this, I was told, was where the guest DJs usually performed.
Hours later, after my friend and I had made our way to Tribeca Grand Hotel and were looking for another place to hit, I suggested going back to APT. "I don't want to deal with the drama of getting back in there," he said.
"Why wouldn't they let us back in?" I asked. He told me that we were two guys unaccompanied by women. Since we didn't happen to be toting along a harem for other guys to ogle and molest, we had to have a password to get in.
Granted, the password was relatively easy. All we had to know was which specific event was taking place and/or who was the headlining DJ for the night. Still, the incident reminded me of how much nightclubs love exclusivity.
I often write about the problems I have with South Beach nightlife, but I now realize that it is only a leader in a national trend trumpeting nightclubbing as elitism, class warfare, and upward mobility. This is why you'll find working-class kids who struggle all week only to blow their entire paycheck on a table and some bottles of vodka at Club Red or Club Deep.
Across the water, deep in Coconut Grove, it's the same thing, even though some promote CocoWalk as a friendly alternative to South Beach. I once called Oxygen Lounge because I was fact-checking an event listing there on Tuesdays. I wanted to know what the general admission was. I was told that the club discourages door-paying patrons on that night. "We have a high-class, bottle-buying crowd," the woman told me. Translation: If you aren't buying a bottle of Grey Goose, you probably won't get in.
Thankfully, for much of the year, you didn't have to endure such a chilly atmosphere, since there were so many great live concerts to go to instead. The University of Miami's Convocation Center hosted several hip-hop package tours, most recently the Baka Boyz' Bakapalooza jam. To participate in this year's pop-politics collision, Soho Lounge and Revolver held a Swing the State concert on October 1 with LA buzz acts such as Metric, Midnight Movies, and Busdriver.
But special mention must be made of the Poplife crew, who programmed a series of concerts with both national and local bands, from an amazing concert with San Diego outfit Pinback on October 28 to a memorable jam with local pranksters Finesse and Runway, Doormouse, and Otto Von Schirach on September 10. It was Poplife's successful run of indie-rock shows that led the Miami Herald's Evelyn McDonnell to call the South Florida rock scene "an oyster bed waiting to be harvested."
More than two months after that October 10 story, McDonnell's assessment seems both accurate and premature. Perhaps I'm reluctant to endorse it because of all the e-mails I received after the Miami Throwback Tour on December 12. The concert was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event featuring old school rap legends Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, KRS-One, Kool G. Rap, JT Money, and MC Lyte. I even previewed it in our December 9 issue, which I now wish I hadn't done.
This lineup was too good to be true, and the tip-off should have been the flyer used to advertise the event. The flyer reads, "BMW Presents." In another corner, it listed logos for BMW, BET, MTV, Puma, and a host of cool corporate brands. Yet I never received an announcement from a national publicist for any of these companies, which would have surely happened if they were actually affiliated with this event.
I suspected that the concert was a hoax, so I didn't go. In the end, only JT Money showed up. The day after the fiasco, I received some e-mails asking if I was going to write about how hundreds of people were essentially ripped off. "I can't believe it's legal to advertise all the acts that were supposed to be there, and then none of them show up," wrote one angry attendee.
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I prepared to make some phone calls to Phatman Promotions, which organized the concert, as well as some of the sponsors listed on the flyer. But, in the end, I did nothing. Call it self-defeatism.
Yes, the Miami Throwback Tour is something that makes you throw up your hands and cry, "How can something like this happen?" Unfortunately, this city is full of hucksters and con men, self-styled hustlers who consider it their birthright to get over on somebody else. No matter what I write, I am just one of many voices in a tourist town that prides itself on an uncanny ability to cater to rich people and perpetuate celebrity culture. All I can suggest, based on the scant evidence I have, is that people no longer patronize Phatman Promotions' events. But I know that if they were to announce a similar concert in the future, my warnings wouldn't be followed.
Am I a pessimist? No. I've had fun at Mynt, Skybar, and even Mansion (though the bouncers at Mansion tend to be a little too surly for my taste). Sometimes, I'll kick off an evening at one of the South Beach clubs such as Amika, and then finish up the night at a more casual downtown Miami spot such as The District. Other nights, I'll check out a show at Churchill's Pub, then hang out with friends at Marlin Bar.
When I first arrived here two years ago, I was both impressed and cowed by the utter strangeness of South Florida. Today, I still find it a unique and beguiling place. But I am learning how to navigate it as I would any other urban area, full of talented people and unrepentant assholes, which has a lot of growing up to do. In Miami, you have to be an optimist to survive.