The 15 Greatest Moments in Miami Music History

With so many epic moments to choose from, who will make the cut?
With so many epic moments to choose from, who will make the cut?
Photo by George Martinez

What do you think about when you think about Miami music? Loud nightclubs on South Beach? Latin beats pulsing from Calle Ocho? The Churchill's bathroom? 

Like the rest of Miami, it's an overwhelming pot of diversity. But it's easy to forget just how important Miami has been to music history. Without us, the world might — nay, wouldn't — sound the same. You owe us, America. We've influenced your ears more than you'll ever know.

It's important to take a step back every once and a while to reflect on all the important moments of music history — both local and national — that have taken place in the Magic City. And that's just what we're doing. Here are the 15 greatest moments in Miami music history. 

15. When the internet sent Pitbull to Alaska as a joke but he went anyway because ¡dale!
Corporate online contests rarely go according to plan. There was that time Mountain Dew let its fans vote on a name for one of its new flavors. "Hitler did nothing wrong" ended up winning that one. Or what about that one time internet hooligans voted for Taylor Swift to perform at a school for the deaf? But perhaps the greatest internet contest gone horribly wrong/right was when Sheets-brand Energy Strips held a contest to have Pitbull visit whichever Walmart in America got the most Facebook likes. Once the internet got wind of this, they all flocked to the Facebook page of a Walmart in Kodiak, Alaska, in an effort to send Pitbull as far away as possible. But what the internet didn't understand is that Pitbull never turns down a gig. Seriously. Whether it's a Bar Mitzva on Pluto or a concert at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, say his name three times, and Pitbull will be there, like a shiny Latino Beetlejuice. Pitbull not only accepted the invitation, he did it with style and a smile on his face, proving once and for all that he is rubber and you are glue. Also he is rich and you are poor. Pitbull even flew the organizer of the "prank" out to Alaska, and upon meeting him allegedly said, "Keep bullshitting. Next thing you know we’ll be on the moon.” — Ryan Pfeffer

14. The filthy birth of Blowfly.
Henry Stone, boss of the iconic TK Records, passes his staff songwriter, Clarence Reid, in the hallway as Reid is giggling to himself while singing dirty words to the tune of Otis Redding's biggest hit, accompanying himself on an out of tune piano. Stone orders Reid upstairs to record "Shittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" immediately, corralling TK musicians James Knight & The Butlers to back him up. Four hours later, The Weird World of Blowfly LP is recorded. The album, filled with filthy and absurd parodies of soul hits, is an immediate smash and helps define the X Rated "Party Record" genre. Stone didn't realize that Reid already had a fully realized dirty parody alter ego and mistakenly thinks he has invented Blowfly. The success of the Weird World of Blowfly, along with that minor delusion encourages Stone to put out eight more Blowfly LPs in the next 11 years. Stone is further rewarded in 1980, when Blowfly's Party spawned both the classic "Rap Dirty" and was ruled legally obscene by a judge in Pineville, Louisiana. — Tom Bowker

13. The star-studded Miami Pop Festival.
Before there was Woodstock, there was Gulfstream Park. Yes, the Hallandale Beach racetrack where your grandma plays the slots while grandpa bets on the ponies was home to rock and roll history. The two Miami Pop Festivals held at the site in 1968 were the first major rock festivals held on the East Coast. The one on May 18 and 19 featured Frank Zappa, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The December 28-30 edition was a three-day monster with tickets going for only seven dollars a day. It had so many headliners that it was the first festival to have two main stages playing simultaneously. The diverse line-up included The Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Richie Havens, Jose Feliciano, The Turtles, a pre-Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac, and Chuck Barry even showed up again. While it has since been overshadowed in the annals of history by Woodstock, Monterey, and Altamont, the Miami Pop Festival got great reviews from Rolling Stone in its February 1, 1969, issue, calling the fest, "a monumental success in almost every aspect, the first significant — and truly festive — international pop festival held on the East Coast." -- David Rolland

We got him.
We got him.
Photo via Miami Beach Police

12. Miami Beach Police finally arrest Justin Bieber.
On Thursday, January 23, Miami Beach awoke to helicopters and frantic news crews rushing through the streets. We had finally done it. We finally arrested Justin Bieber. After a string of particularly bad behavior, included but not limited to peeing in a bucket and telling a photo of Bill Clinton to go fuck itself, the Biebs good luck finally ran out when Miami Beach Police pulled him over in his yellow Lamborghini and charged him with DUI, driving with an expired license, and resisting an officer without violence. Though he only spent about an hour in jail, for one brief and glorious moment, Miami Beach police had captured the most-hated pop star in America. Since then, Bieber has cleaned up his act (for the most part) and appears to have straightened up. And while drunk driving is never a laughing matter, Miami might very well be responsible for getting Justin Bieber to change for the better. That new haircut, though? We do not claim responsibility for whatever the hell that is. That's on you, Diplo. — by Ryan Pfeffer

11. Daft Punk performs at Bang! Music Festival.
Contrary to misinformed belief, Daft Punk never played Ultra Music Festival, but they did in fact deliver a life-changing performance of the world-rockin’ Alive set, complete with the pyramid, for thousands of wide-eyed dance fans in downtown’s Bayfront Park. The now-defunct Bang! Music Festival boasted that booking in November of 2006, and it was exactly the kind of inspirational performance that leads to a complete shift in generational tastes. “EDM” wouldn’t be a thing if it weren’t for this tour, end of discussion. Modest Mouse was slated to play the same slot, and their set got all kinds of fucked up and delayed. In the end, the band only played three songs before making way for headliners Duran Duran. You should feel bad about yourself if you missed the festival, but you should feel even worse if you were there and missed arguably the greatest live musical moment of this century. Seriously, it was the most unified and cheerful dance party I’ve ever experienced. Just thinking about it makes me cry. — by Kat Bein

10. Keith Moon trashes the Fontainebleau.
As any fan of the Who will tell you, incidents involving over-indulgence by drummer Keith Moon occurred on a regular basis, and indeed, these bouts of excess are part of the band’s lore and legacy. While Moon had collapsed onstage twice previously — most famously at the Cow Palace in 1973 when guitarist Pete Townshend had to recruit a substitute drummer from the audience — fans tended to accept the fact that Keith’s self-destructive behavior was locked into his DNA. Moon didn’t pass out on stage in Miami but he did make an equally spectacular exit two days later on August 8, 1976, during the band’s South Florida layover. After trashing his hotel room at the Fontainebleau Hotel, Moon reportedly became delirious and had to be rushed to Hollywood Memorial Hospital where he was admitted and treated for eight days after. It was a particularly telling incident because it marked the beginning of the end as far as Moon was concerned, foretelling the inevitable. The ’76 tour would be his last. On September 7, 1978, Moon died due to an overdose of prescription drugs. — by Lee Zimmerman

9. The Beatles come to get a tan in Miami Beach.
In the 1960’s, Miami wasn’t the sprawling, urban metropolis that it is today. That came later with the drug money. However, Miami Beach had already become a destination hot spot for the rich and famous, particularly those in the music industry. Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra filmed a TV special at the Fontainebleau in 1960 and Old Blues Eyes returned in '67 to film Tony Rome, celebrate his 50th birthday, and party his face off with friends. However, there's one working vacation in Miami Beach that stands out because of the low-key nature of the visitors: The Beatles. Their arrival in America in 1964 was, to put it tamely, a big deal. After their historic first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Fab Four flew south for a second taping of the show, this time among sunshine and palm trees. After being greeted by thousands of teenage banshees at the airport and being shuttled to the Deauville hotel, the band decided it needed an escape from the lunacy and found one in the form of 13 year-old Billy Pollak's house. During a time period where the all-invasive creature known as “social media” hadn't even been imagined, John, Paul, George, and Ringo spent a nice couple of days playing basketball, swimming in a modest pool, and reading comic books for what was probably the coolest celebrity sighting never to make it to TMZ. — by Angel Melendez 

8. Los Van Van causes an uproar among Miami Cubans. 
On Saturday, October 9, 1999, Los Van Van — one of Cuba's most popular bands — traveled to Miami for a show at the Miami Arena. Upon arrival, the band was met with over 2,000 anti-Castro protestors waving signs, flags, and verbally berating any ticket holder who walked up the steps of the arena. The protestors, many of whom were Cuban exiles, saw Los Van Van as a symbol of pro-Castro Cuba, a band who flourished on an island where so many struggled to even survive. The protest was passionate to say the least. At one point, a group of protestors broke through metal barricades, storming the steps of the arena. They were met with pepper spray and handcuffs from Miami police. Los Van Van did play its show without interruption, but the incident hardly flew under the radar, receiving national coverage from outlets like the Los Angeles Times. Regardless of where you fell on the issue, the protest highlighted a conversation that needed to happen. And our city was giving people no choice but to have that conversation. — by Ryan Pfeffer

7. Chuck Loose lights himself on fire in Churchill's.
There was a time when rock and roll was dangerous — like, really, really dangerous. Case in point: Chickenhead, Miami’s venerable smash and grab punks. The band was known for wild antics both onstage and off, like when lead singer Chuck Loose was banned from Churchill’s for life for riding his motorcycle onstage. Or, the time he was banned for life from Churchill’s, again, for lighting himself on fire on stage. Loose practiced the maneuver at a friend's house who had a pool. Some say that he hadn’t thought the whole thing out beforehand. However, anyone who knows Chuck Loose knows he ain't no dummy. This was an act of pure punk rock and roll abandon that makes perfect sense when considering the music it was accompanying. Even people who were there and had heard rumblings of the night's festivities didn’t believe it would happen. Then, in the blink of an eye, Loose was engulfed like the Human Torch, flailing around in flames. It's a story that would be hard to consider anything but urban legend if it wasn't for the fact that someone got it on film. "At a certain point, I realized, 'Oh, this isn't good.' So I pulled my flaming shirt over my head, scorching off my eyebrows," Loose told us in an interview last year. "I ended up with a few third-degree burns on my body too." — by Tim Moffatt

6. Nirvana makes their Miami debut. 
November 27, 1993, Nirvana made its only Miami appearance ever. It was the Saturday night after Thanksgiving so the crowd, clad in flannel and smelling of turkey, had plenty of time to get good and wasted. The teenage rebellion and angst Kurt Cobain so wonderfully provided a soundtrack for was present in the night air. Long-haired kids hopped the fence instead of paying admission and it was hard not to get a second-hand high from all the joints being passed around. The moshpits were violent from the time the openers, The Breeders, took the stage all the way to the final song of Nirvana's encore, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Cobain — flanked by Krist Novoselic on bass, Dave Grohl on drums, and the brand new second guitarist Pat Smear — were at the top of their game both musically and comedically. Cobain urged the crowd to throw rocks at the giant guitar of the Hard Rock Cafe at Bayside, he poked fun at Miami's daughter Gloria Estefan, and talked about going to Churchill's later that night to see Harry Pussy play (though there's no verification that he did go). When I attended, I thought it was just another great concert to hit Miami in my high school years, like Radiohead opening for Belly at the Cameo Theater or the Beastie Boys playing with Cypress Hill, but an unforeseen tragedy would etch this show in Miami music history. — by David Rolland

5. Trina breaks into the boy's club with the dirtiest verse in rap history. 
It didn't take long for Trina to break into the boy’s club of Miami hip-hop. Her verse on Trick Daddy’s track “Nann Nigga” was so fierce and so vulgar that my prepubescent self – who, up until this age, was careful not to rap a female’s line for fear of being derided by my friends – didn’t care if she was female, male, or hermaphroditic. Trick’s machismo melted under Trina’s feminine fire. When she rhetorically asked Trick who the fuck he thought he was, she simultaneously broke into the boy’s club and broke a bunch of boys free from their heteronormative constraints. Echoing Trina’s intensity, we'd rap over her verse with the same vigor we'd give to her male counterparts — difference is, Trina had guys rapping about acts that weren't exactly, uh, gansta. Before we knew it, we were screaming about how we were “quick to deep throat the dick." We'd boast about how we’d "ride the dick on the dime” and even brag about how willingly we’d “lick a nigga’s nut sack." With this verse, Trina branded herself as the nastiest bitch in the game, and redefined our comfort zones in the process. — by Dyllan Furness 

4. Gloria Estefan premieres "Conga" and teaches white America how to move its hips. 
Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine are responsible for thirty year's worth of white people looking extra ridiculous at weddings. Although brought over to the States from Cuba in the late '30s and early '40s, the conga line didn't really take until it got its own theme song. “Conga,” the band's first major crossover hit was such a massive success, that it topped charts in the Netherlands and won awards from as far away as Japan. Perhaps nowhere is the song more beloved than in Estefan's hometown of Miami, as evidenced by the gigantic conga line formed in 1988 during Calle Ocho. Over 119,000 people participated, a feat entered into the Guinness Book of World Records. And as far as guilty pleasures go, “Conga” is culpable for countless instances of awkward hip shaking at parties all over the globe. It's hardly surprising though because “Conga” is painfully catchy. Trying to resist the tropical twinkling of the piano at the start of the song and the effusive horn section punctuating every beat is a futile struggle. Only people who hate joy and watching old folks move quicker than they have in years deny the power of the “Conga.” But then again, nobody invites those miserable bastards to weddings anyhow. — Angel Melendez

Scene from the very first Ultra.
Scene from the very first Ultra.
Courtesy of Ultra Music Festival

3. The very first Ultra.
Nobody suspected that a little beach party would turn into massive global dance music brand, but that’s exactly what happened when Russell Faibisch and Alex Omes decided to bring everyone together on March 12, 1999. The headliners were Rabbit in the Moon along with acts like Josh Wink, Baby Anne, and Paul van Dyk. That first Ultra, put together with a paltry $200,000 budget, attracted 10,000 people, many who had been coming to Miami every March for the long-running Winter Music Conference. That event, however, would eventually lead to the Ultra we know today, with festivals in Japan, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, South Africa, and more. Still, Ultra’s crown jewel remains the three-day Miami event in Bayfront Park, and you’ve got this little beach party to thank for that. — by Jose D. Duran

2. Jim Morrison allegedly pulls out little Jimmy. 
Just about every old-timer who grew up in South Florida in the sixties claimed to be at Coconut Grove's Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969, the night where Jim Morrison might or might not have taken out his Lizard King. The Doors frontman was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior in public, indecent behavior, open profanity, and public drunkenness. By unanimous consent, Morrison was blotto. He yelled from the stage, "Adolf Hitler is alive and well and living in Miami.” He forgot the lyrics to the songs he wrote and threw a cop's hat into the crowd. But over the course of his 16-day trial, every witness told a different story. The late movie critic Bill Cosford wrote in the Miami Herald in 1991 that he saw Morrison's mojo risin', while Doors drummer John Densmore swears it never happened. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek had further proof that Morrison kept his little Jimmy in his pants since there's no photograph of it. The court felt differently, convicting Morrison of exposing himself. After the brouhaha, promoters stayed away from The Doors. The band only played one more concert before Morrison's death in 1971. — by David Rolland

1. 2 Live Crew fight for their right to be nasty, and come out on top. 
In 1988, the rap game changed forever with the release of Straight Outta Compton, the landmark record by N.W.A. The following year, while the wave of “gangsta rap” rushed from west to east, the state most shaped like a dick was busy trying to keep a group of rappers from saying what they wanted to do with their own. As Nasty As They Wanna Be, the third album by Uncle Luke's unapologetically raunchy 2 Live Crew, was both a commercial triumph and a legal, social, and political shitstorm. With song titles such as “Me So Horny,” “If You Believe In Having Sex,” and “The Fuck Shop,” there was little doubt regarding 2 Live Crew's mission statement. Simply put, they were here to fuck. A U.S. District court deemed the album to be legally obscene and therefore illegal to sell in shops. Several people were arrested, here in Florida and in Nebraska, for ignoring the ruling. In June of 1990, two members of the group, including Luke, were arrested by a zealous Broward County sheriff at a nightclub in Hollywood, Florida, for performing their own songs. Four months later, it took six jurors hardly no time at all to find them innocent of all charges for what was a watershed case in the fight for our First Amendment rights. It paved the way for artists such as Eminem, Marilyn Manson, and even this very story. — Angel Melendez


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