Best Activist 2018 | Emma González | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
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From the moment Emma González took the stage at the Rally to Support Firearm Safety Legislation in Fort Lauderdale — just three days after 17 people were gunned down at her school — she has been a model of compassion and activism for people around the world. In her speech, she called "BS" on those who would dismiss her and her peers and asked politicians in the pockets of the NRA how much the lives of students were worth to them. From speaking to a few hundred people in front of the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale to addressing 800,000 in front of the U.S. Capitol during the March for Our Lives, González has not let tragedy harden her heart, nor fame diminish her integrity. Instead, she's been humbled by her platform, and she's ceded it to students of color in communities across the country who have traditionally been ignored in the gun reform debate.

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Initially, Robert Ramos set out to make Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club as an homage to the shark fishermen he grew up around, and to the Miami Beach that once was. That passion project expanded into a 17-minute documentary while Ramos and producer Pedro Gomez studied film at Miami Dade College. The short film received the Faculty's Choice Award at MDC before going on to win five awards at Miami Film Festival's CinemaSlam, including best writing, best director, and CinemaSlam Champion. The documentary explores the life and legacy of Rene De Dios, a heroic figure to many locals with a devoted following of angling acolytes eager to stand alongside him on the South Beach Pier or take fishing trips to the Keys with him. But the movie also offers a look into the South Beach of the '60s and '70s and its development over the years. Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club is a love letter from Ramos to his city's past and present. Now, Ramos and Gomez are crowdfunding to expand the movie into a feature-length documentary in time for festival season.

Photo by Naza Quirós

César Paniagua is not exactly new to Miami, but he's a noticeable recent addition to the city's musical landscape. Paniagua moved back to his home country of Costa Rica in 2010 after graduating from Miami Beach Senior High School in 2008. He began to flourish as a musician in his hometown of Sarchí, eventually playing around the country with his band, Camelolloide. Paniagua returned to Miami with his blues guitar, harmonica, and a book of original songs featuring a brand of "tropical rocanrol" that blends eclectic influences from musicians such as Muddy Waters, the Beatles, and Jack Johnson. Paniagua has quickly carved out a niche for himself here, playing gigs all over Miami from Las Rosas in Allapattah, to Kill Your Idol on South Beach, to Churchill's in Little Haiti and the Wynwood Yard. He's also collaborated with local musicians such as Rick Moon and filmed a music video for his song "Nobody Knows." In May, he released Del Sol y La Roja Juventud, a five-song EP featuring tracks recorded and produced in Miami, Mexico City, and Sarchí.

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Miami-based folk singer Keith Johns flipped the script on the traditional folkie origin story. Just two years ago, he was a physicist working at a carbon dating lab by day and writing and recording music by night. His efforts resulted in the 2014 EP Maps and Plans, and by the time he released his full-length album Grateful Fool in 2016, he'd quit his day job for an earnest shot at a music career. Johns has earned a faithful audience around town with solo acoustic and band performances at festivals, and particularly through his ongoing First Fridays residency at the Wynwood Yard, where he performs original music and invites other local folk artists to showcase their talents. He's also earned a sizable streaming audience outside of Miami with his lyricism, which leans as heavily on the transcendentalist and naturalist writings of Henry David Thoreau as it does on the scientific spiritualism of Carl Sagan. "Come, won't you look at the stars in the night/And the people on the street/They're one and the same and I'm certain in time/They'll switch places and repeat," he sings on "Isn't It Grand?" "How bland, if it always went as planned," he continues. If anyone can rhapsodize on the joys of surrendering to life's unexpected turns, it's this physicist-turned-folk singer.

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It's difficult enough for most rock bands to find success in 2018, when hip-hop and electronically derived music rule the day, and particularly in a DJ mecca like Miami. The men of Venezuelan band Viniloversus know all about the daily grind necessary to grow an audience. They'd built a sizable following in their native South American nation and were already Latin Grammy winners by the time economic and political turmoil forced them to emigrate to the United States. The band channeled its experience into the 2017 English-language album Days of Exile, which they supported with an East Coast tour that culminated in a set at Okeechobee Music Festival. While the pangs of extrication linger in kiss-offs like album opener "So Long School Boy" and the raging, distorted guitar of "Broken Cities," it is ultimately the optimism of a song like "So Many Stars" that makes Viniloversus a compelling listen. "Can you believe it?/Fate has conceived it/Of all the places we could be/We are here, we are free."

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The acrylic studded claws are out at Miami's monthly Celebrity Deathmatch lip-sync battle, and these queens are out to snatch wigs. Celebrity Deathmatch takes the cartoonish aggression of its late-'90s stop-motion MTV namesake and combines it with all the urgency of two drag queens lip-syncing for their lives in the final minutes of RuPaul's Drag Race. The battles are held inside an actual wrestling ring, so queens are free to death-drop on their nemeses until a winner is declared by the audience. Participating drag queens craft their looks based on monthly themes. Cardi B battled it out against Nicki Minaj on pop-star night, and Mario and Luigi hit the ring at the Mario Party-themed edition. Admission to Celebrity Deathmatch is always free, courtesy of the LGBTQ-focused anti-tobacco organization This Free Life, and there's an open bar during the first hour of each event. Drag Race veterans such as Seasons 2 and 3 star Shangela have also been known to guest-host.

A bridge removed from the traffic and wallet-busting LGBTQ tourist traps on South Beach and comfortably sandwiched between Little Havana and Coral Gables, Azúcar Nightclub has long been a haven for Miami's local Latinx LGBTQ community. Rather than relying on the tourism that sustains Miami's world-famous gay clubs and bars, Azúcar has made its name as the spot locals frequent for dance nights and some of the most elaborate drag shows in town. At the bar's must-see weekly event, contoured, padded drag queens emerge from behind flowing red curtains, backlit by the LED screen monitor on stage for the Viernes De Glamour drag show series, an extravagant stage production that sometimes includes backup dancers and has all the hallmarks of the set design of the pop stars the performers set out to emulate. Hours are 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday through Sunday and midnight to 5 a.m. Monday.

Sometimes bumping Invasion of Privacy in your car just isn't enough. You know all of Cardi B's verses on "Get Up 10" and you want the whole world to know it. Whether you're looking to perform for strangers or want to keep it between friends, this South Beach bar has perfected the art of karaoke. They know even the person who's most game to sing gets cold feet sometimes, so they offer $7 Liquid Courage shots for individuals or five- to fifteen-shot specials ($30-$75) for the entire party. If you'd rather ease into the festivities, cocktails cost $12 to $14 each. While many karaoke bars charge for songs and drinks separately, at Sing Sing any drink over $5 comes with one song ticket for the main stage on Fridays and Saturdays or two song tickets the rest of the week. And at a standard rate of only $8 per person per hour, their private karaoke rooms are an affordable option for birthday parties, girls' nights out, or bachelorette parties, with party packages including drinks beginning at $42 per person. Best of all, Sing Sing updates its song lists frequently, adding about 50 songs per month and listing them by song title and artist for maximum search efficiency. Hours are 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar is open from 8 p.m. to close.

Photo by Alissa Christine

Latin pop/rock hybrid Elastic Bond has been making music in Miami for a decade and has received its fair share of international recognition, but the group fine-tuned its sonic identity this past year with its latest album, Honey Bun. The band has never been bound by limitations of genre or language, which could have made it more difficult to find a sound uniquely theirs as opposed to an amalgam of separate and ill-fitting influences. Instead, Elastic Bond created an album that opens with the instrumental Caribbean dance flair of "Dorada," bops through the pop funk of "In a Perfect World" and "Quédate," and slinks effortlessly into the synth tickles of "Alone Together." The album leads listeners along the many musical roads Elastic Bond has traveled, but always with the hip-swaying strut that makes the origins of its sound immediately recognizable.

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Millionyoung has been making waves as a DJ and producer around town for most of the last decade, but his track to the top of the local crop has accelerated as he's gained a sizable following outside the Magic City the past couple of years. Most DJs and producers in his position might have ditched South Florida's burgeoning art scene for the security of a fan following in a city like Los Angeles. Instead, Millionyoung has stuck firmly to his commitment to cultivate the scene that birthed his blend of sparkling, sun-kissed dance gems, equally fit to soundtrack a low-key night out at an out-of-the-way bar or a beachside picnic with friends. His latest album, Rare Form, recalls the blissed-out, reverb-laden vocals of Tame Impala filtered through springing house beats and New Order-style synths.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®