What happens when the denizens of Miami's punk-rock underground enter the historic halls of Tobacco Road? Well, a lot of yelling and screaming, for starters. None of it, however, came from the club's second-floor stage.
Star Crunch Records, an independent label based in Miami, was invited to hold a February 8 showcase at the venerable blues venue for its four-artist roster, which includes Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Los Canadians, Stun Guns, and Cavity. Although all of the bands perform regularly at Cheers and Churchill's Hideaway, this would be the first time any of them had played at the 80-year-old Tobacco Road. "We thought it would be really cool to do a show at the oldest blues club in Miami," says Star Crunch co-owner Chris Lelugas. "A lot of us like the blues a lot, so it seemed like a good idea."
But before the first guitar was even plugged in, the bands decided to walk out of Tobacco Road after a series of conflicts with the club's doorman, Coles Cormier. (Cormier was unavailable for comment at press time.)
"He was just very aggressive, almost to the point of being violent," recalls Los Canadians vocalist Ivy McClelland. "He would ask for people's ID's like ten or fifteen times, always in a really rude, confrontational way. He must have checked my ID about ten times -- he just refused to believe I was in one of the bands. It was like he felt that we were all trying to put something over on him. I guess he was just doing his job, but he was really acting like a jerk."
Lelugas admits that before the door was being watched, some underage people sneaked into the club. Once they were ushered out, however, the problems persisted. "Once these kids were cleared out, the doorman said something like 'I'm going to be watching the door tonight and I'm going to be keeping an eye on you. Don't make me have to kick some ass.' And he kept on and on asking the bands to show their ID's. After dealing with this guy for a while, the bands started to feel threatened by him." Not long before the 8:00 p.m. showtime, the bands decided they'd had enough. "It got to a point where they didn't want to deal with the harassment anymore," Lelugas states. "They just decided they weren't going to play."
Meanwhile, Tobacco Road show booker Mark Weiser was downstairs having dinner with local disc jockeys Stephen "Beast" Alvin and Greg Baker, hosts of the Beast and Baker Show on WAXY-AM (790). The pair were on hand to emcee the Star Crunch showcase. "People in the bands were already leaving before I even finished my meal," claims Weiser, who adds that he knew nothing of the brouhaha upstairs. "They never went to the club owner or me or Beast and Baker to say anything. They just left. Even when the club's manager offered to send the doorman home for the night, it wasn't good enough for them. That's just not the way you do business. I don't care what kind of problem you have."
"It was just too late," Lelugas says of the manager's offer. "They had already put up with too much of this guy's shit. And [Weiser, Alvin, and Baker] hadn't seen anything that had happened upstairs. They didn't know the whole story; they only heard bits and pieces."
The yelling and shouting began as the groups started hauling their equipment outside, when Alvin heard that the bands weren't going to play. "He got really pissed off and started yelling at the bands out in the parking lot," Lelugas remembers. "He was calling them all prima donnas and pussies, saying he would ruin these bands and see to it that no Star Crunch bands would ever play in this city again. It was just bizarre."
Alvin denies making such threats, but admits he did become "belligerent" when he found out that the bands refused to accept the club's offer to send the doorman home for the night. "That's when I just went nuts," Alvin confesses. "I said that's not rock and roll, that rock and rollers don't get upset when a doorman asks to see their ID's. They were just totally unprofessional. And now they've pissed off everyone at Tobacco Road, lost a potential audience for their music, and lost Baker and I as their friends."
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Lelugas believes Weiser was anticipating problems with the bands and their audience, this being one of the club's first punk shows. "Mark called me the day of the show and said he had heard that the bands were violent and that their fans could be destructive," Lelugas explains. "I told him that there's never been a problem at any of these bands' shows. The most violence I've ever seen is people throwing paper wads at the Stun Guns. But that always happens: They always get various kinds of garbage thrown at them, but never anything like bottles. Mark seemed okay after I told him this, but I still think someone was trying to get our show canceled."
Weiser notes that he was warned by a South Florida club operator that there had been problems at past shows by Star Crunch bands, but that he wasn't anticipating any trouble: "Chris said don't worry about it, so I didn't."
For the Star Crunch bands, at least, February 8 came to a happy close as the groups moved the event to Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti -- a long-time haven for Miami groups who fall left of the mainstream. According to Lelugas, the ensuing free show went off without a hitch. "There were no problems and nothing got destroyed," he says somewhat proudly. "It was one of the best nights any of the groups have had."
Kreamy 'Lectric Santa vocalist/violinist Priya Ray agrees: "It was a great night and a lot of fun. You know, we aren't prima donnas. We've just never played someplace where people have given us so much shit. We've all played in different places and toured the country, and we've never had a problem like that. We're very cordial people. It just seemed like the people at Tobacco Road freaked out. Maybe they're just not ready for this kind of scene yet.