A few months ago, we got the heartbreaking news that one of Miami's most beloved nightclubs, The Vagabond, was no more.
The closing, which pretty much happened overnight, left downtown Miami's hipsters and cool cats looking for a new place to party.
Meanwhile, many people feared that the end of The Vagabond may also mean the end of Stone Groove, the club's long-running Tuesday-night open mic.
For years, Tuesdays at The Vagabond were nights of free expression, creativity, and passion. A place for musicians to inspire and be inspired, for poets to let their hearts flow for complete strangers, for comedians to lighten the mood and remind everyone, it's O.K. to laugh.
"Stone Groove is one of Miami's strongest social-networking scenes. It's a place for artists to express themselves and fine-tune their craft amongst their peers," as former Vagabond owner Carmel Ophir once said. "And it is the soul of The Vagabond."
But what exactly happens to a soul when its corporeal form is destroyed? Well, in the case of Stone Groove, it just keeps on floating.
For the past month and a half, ever since The Vagabond closed down, this beloved open-mic night has continued to exist, thanks to the work of long-time host, Marcus Blake.
From the beginning, Blake has been the face of Stone Groove. He is an eccentric, talented musician and poet with a killer sense of style, who kept the artists flowing on and off the stage. He just couldn't bear to let the popular open-mic die with The Vagabond.
"The Imperial is the continuation of Stone Groove," says Blake. "It still remains true to its homegrown roots, but now it's bigger and better. It's like version 2.0."
The Imperial, the new name for the Tuesday-night open mic hosted by Blake, is now a weekly happening at The Stage Miami. Besides the obvious change of venue, the Stone Groove spirit remains pretty much intact in this new incarnation.
"Stone Groove was birthed at Vagabond. It was more than just a name," says Blake. "And even though The Imperial picks up right where Stone Groove left off when the Vagabond closed its doors, it didn't feel right to keep the name the same. But the ambiance is still there.
"It still feels good and it's a really beautiful night. We've got an awesome sound guy, and now we have a bigger stage and great lighting equipment. We stepped it up all around. Even the bands and performers have stepped it up. Everything just feels more polished. But of course, people are still comfortable."
While many of Stone Groove's regular contributors and spectators have followed the open mic to its new location, The Imperial has also brought in a whole new crowd.
"We definitely still see a lot of the same faces," says Blake. "But there's tons of new faces and we've been blown away by some of the talent we've encountered. This is a family, and we want people to feel free to be as expressive and creative as they want to be. We're all about let's be here, let's enjoy the moment, let's be artists and musicians. Let's create."
Above all, The Imperial remains a platform for Miami artists to come together and collaborate, where everyone is welcome and first-timers can share the stage with veterans of the scene. An open-mic night unlike any other. A staple of the Miami underground.
"We're open to the whole Miami rainbow spectrum of artists," says Blake. "We get singers rappers, poets, acoustic acts, full bands. Other open-mics are so skewed towards one genre or style. We're not about that. We do it all, whatever someone feels like doing on any particular night. We're just providing the space for artists to create."
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The Imperial. An open mic, hosted by Marcus Blake and Rod Deal. With the 3rd Party and DJ Wasabi. Every Tuesday, at The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. The performances begin at 10 p.m. and admission costs $5 before midnight, $10 after. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-576-9577 or visit thestagemiami.com.