Will Miami Ever Be Able to Maintain a Mid-Size Music Venue?

Fans dance at the now defunct Grand Central.
Fans dance at the now defunct Grand Central.
Photo by Alex Markow

Grand Central and I reverse-synced our time in Miami. I left to New York City for college the same year Grand Central opened. And of course, about a month before I returned, the venue shuts its doors. But, at least I enjoyed it while I could. Every break included at least one Grand Central night, whether planned or on a whim.

When I finally made the move back to my hometown, I, like most Miamians, was heartbroken to hear that the one place this city could count on for consistent quality and intimate concerts of basically every genre was closing. Now, almost three months since Grand Central (GC) shut its doors, many in the Miami music scene are still left wondering: can a mid-size venue ever survive here?

Many believed that GC’s true reasons for closing were solely fiscal. With the imminent doom that is Miami Worldcenter, who can afford downtown anymore? And while the Worldcenter surely delivered the fatal blow to GC, as we’ve heard before, Miami’s fickle culture can’t cultivate gray space.

“One of the things we found was Grand Central was either too big or too small,” former GC partner Brad Knoefler told us in an interview this week. “It'd be too small and we'd lose big concerts to the Fillmore, and then you'd have a 200 person event and it felt huge.” Knoefler, along with some other members of the GC family, is opening a new bar and venue called 1306 in downtown Miami. The new concept, though, is a far cry from Grand Central. It will be decidedly more intimate and not attempt to fill the musical hole left behind by GC. 

It’s hard to find a place like GC: 1,000-person capacity where you can mosh and chill in the same night. Webster Hall in NYC and Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale immediately come to mind. Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom fits about 1,500 and was designated a NYC landmark in 2008 for its impact on the city's culture. Revolution Live has been around since 2004, which, by South Florida standards, should make it a bonafide landmark as well. But, in Miami’s rapidly changing nightlife scene, the artist is more important than the venue.

Miami’s millennial music culture is a flexible and mobile one, ebbing and flowing with the transient nature of its people. GC and Tobacco Road might be gone, but event producers Poplife and III Points work from the cloud, bringing the music we crave despite inconsistent space. In our post-modern Miami, idols are alive; it’s our altars that are defunct and buried. 

Travi$ Scott performs at Grand Central.
Travi$ Scott performs at Grand Central.
Photo by Alex Markow

“It all depends on the individual event and the friends you’re with,” says Oscar Sardinia, GC devotee and lead singer/guitarist for local band, Clovis Points. “I’ll go to a show wherever they host them, as long as it’s an act I like.”

This was abundantly clear during Art Basel, when the Brooklyn bar and venue, Baby’s All Right, had a three-day popup event. The shows, which Poplife organized, were originally supposed to be hosted at Knoefler’s latest, the smaller 1306.

"It was just so cozy," Knoefler says. "You feel like people are just hanging out, a totally different vibe than you find in Miami. I find that vibe all the time in New York and Paris. It wasn't a bunch of crazy people.”

Unfortunately, we were only able to break in 1306’s new dance floor on the last night. Due to technical difficulties, the first two shows relocated to next-door neighbor, Steam. But, that didn’t really matter. Names like Juliana Huxtable, Jacuzzi Boys, and Plastic Pinks were enough to bring in the large crowd Brooklyn’s venue is used to seeing.

“I don’t think it’s so much that there’s that one local hangout. Now it seems like it’s becoming pretty vast,” says Sardinia. “There’s a lot of different things going on — Wynwood outdoorsy things, bars and lounges. There’s more diversity. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

Miami has a revolving door of live music venues.
Miami has a revolving door of live music venues.
Photo by Alex Markow

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And maybe it’s not. Art Basel also saw the re-emergence of Mana Wynwood’s 36,000 square foot event space. The venue, in collaboration with III Points, has repeatedly hosted some of the best shows this city's seen in years. But, Mana’s isn’t a weekly thing. Even worse, Mana’s space may not even be in existence this time next year. The lot's plans for renovation include residences, a hotel, retail, restaurants, office space, and towers reaching a potential of 24 stories.

We should probably heed DJ LeSpam’s advice and venture outside the overpriced and ephemeral sidewalks of downtown. A trip to Shenandoah/Little Havana will take you to one of Miami’s longest-standing live music venues: Hoy Como Ayer. At 15 years, the venue is still churning out packed shows of local Miami favorites like Willy Chirino. But, I don’t think Jamie XX or Phantogram will be playing a gig there anytime soon. They are simply two different worlds.

As Miami continues to grow beyond its unruly teenage years, hopefully the influence of Poplife and III Points will carve out a permanent physical space for genres beyond Latinx and EDM. Or maybe we’ll grow into a nihilistic abuelita, hyperaware that the corporeal is fleeting. After all, we will be underwater in, like, 20 years.

At least there’s always Fort Lauderdale. 


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