Frost Art Museum's New Series Celebrates Coconut Grove's Rich Music History

Photo courtesy of the artist
When the exhibition "Place and Purpose: Art Transformation in Coconut Grove" opened at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU, the organizers knew they wanted a musical aspect to the art show.

"Coconut Grove has this rich musical history. A lot of people from the Sixties speak about the music in Coconut Grove the way they talk about the music from Greenwich Village in New York or the music from San Francisco," explains Emily Afre, the museum's education specialist.

When New Times interviewed David Crosby in 2019, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and former Grove resident seconded that assessment. He recalled Coconut Grove in the 1960s as a paradise for a budding musician, namechecking the talent as he spoke.

"I was living in New York when someone told me there were coffee shops down in Coconut Grove," Crosby said. "I put my clothes in a cardboard box, took that box and my guitar on a Greyhound, and stayed on Bobby Ingram's couch. Fred Neil and Vince Martin became my mentors."

Crosby said Coconut Grove was also where he first discovered Joni Mitchell playing at the Gaslight and became her mentor.

"I met Joni in a coffeehouse, and she blew me away. I was stunned. I fell for her, which was like falling into a cement mixer — very turbulent girl. I brought her to California, and that was the start."

There is a photograph of Jim Morrison in Place and Purpose, but the staff sought a way to fill the musical gap in the exhibit. And so they came up with the idea of ARTransforms Digital Summer Series, a trio of videos of current Miami artists playing songs by music legends who played in the Grove in the '60s or '70s. It started with folk collective Pans covering the Doors' "People Are Strange," followed by Frankie Midnight performing Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" and Rachel Angel doing Neil Young's "Harvest."

"We're into connections of art, music, and technology. We think that's the way to gain the interest of students. And with the pandemic, we had to think about social distancing, so we thought we'd try something along the vein of Tiny Desk," Afre says, referring to NPR's series of intimate performances. "So we had staff members flip our museum classroom into a studio with black tape and string lights. We hired a videographer and audio engineer and gave each act two hours to record as many takes as needed."
Pans frontman Adrian Garcia says it was the seventh of nine takes of "People Are Strange" that wound up being used. Still, it took him and his bandmates much longer than nine takes to decide which artist they were going to cover.

"I've always liked the Doors. I saw the movie when I was a kid, and it always stuck with me. I even had an AP history teacher in high school who talked about going to their concert in the Grove."

Not all the members of Pans were keen on doing the cover.

"One of our guys isn't a Doors listener. He wanted to do Leonard Cohen. But Leonard Cohen played in Coral Gables, not Coconut Grove, and they were very specific they had to have played in the Grove."

The band settled on "People Are Strange" because they thought it was simple enough to learn and recognizable enough that most people have heard it. It also gave Garcia the chance to break out a brand-new instrument he'd been experimenting with: an electronic keyboard called the ondes Martenot.

"Pan is normally a six-piece band, but we figured we'd strip it down to three," Garcia says. "At first, I sang and played guitar, Jack Le Sante on guitar, and Keysel Pelaez played mandolin — but it was too much guitar. I figured the song had a carnival sound to it. I thought I could replicate the guitar slide with an ondes Martenot. I thought it came out pretty cool and made the song more special than if I played guitar."

Afre is hopeful that this can be the start of a musical tradition for the Frost Art Museum.

"We do have an exhibit of Bob Dylan's art coming this fall. He is known for the rich imagery in his lyrics. So we might have something planned for that."

"Place and Purpose: Art Transformation in Coconut Grove." On view through September 19, at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; Admission is free.