At Calle Ocho's famed bar and venue Ball & Chain, the sounds of today's Miami music echo through walls that once heard the greats of jazz's golden age. If these walls could talk, they'd tell stories of the time stars such as Billie Holiday and the Count Basie Orchestra stopped to play at the world-famous lounge.
Though the current iteration of Ball & Chain has been open only two years, the Little Havana speakeasy will celebrate what is technically its 81st anniversary with the second-annual Ball & Chain Music Festival, taking place Labor Day weekend. The music begins at noon Friday and runs through 3 a.m. Sunday. The festivities will feature performances by Miami's finest Latin, jazz, and Afro-pop bands, including Palo!, Spam Allstars, and Electric Piquete, along with dozens of other acts. Bands will play sets on both the indoor stage and the bar's iconic outdoor Pineapple Stage.
For co-owner Zack Bush, it's crucial to continue Ball & Chain's storied tradition as a premier live-music venue through events such as the Labor Day festival and the monthly Pineapple Sundays concert series. "We consider ourselves stewards of this amazing brand we were able to re-create," Bush says. "It's not every day that you get to bring back the great Ball & Chain or a great venue such as Ball & Chain in the exact same location where it once was. The whole idea was to re-create it but act as if it had never closed and kept up with the times."
The bar's resurrection in its original location, along with a meticulous design that has stayed true to its original style, makes it so that bands that play on the indoor stage during the weekend's festivities will stand in the exact same spot where Billie Holiday once sang.
Ball & Chain's owners and staff see the anniversary festival as an opportunity to acknowledge that history while looking toward the future. "We tip our hat to some of the amazing musicians who played there years long ago. We honor that with the jazz that we have today," Bush says. "But we also tip our hat to some of the great musicians who play here today."
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Initially, last year's festival was meant to be a one-time event for the 80th anniversary of the bar's 1935 opening. But the owners were so pleased with the turnout that they planned this year's reprise, and they hope it will continue to grow. "I am hopeful that in years to come, this will be something that spills out into the community and becomes a block party. We'd love that. Eventually, we think that will definitely be required," Bush says. "Even this year, there were bands that I wanted to end up bringing onboard but I couldn't because we'd run out of time. There's only so much music that you can fit in a weekend."
Though merely sitting in a booth while admiring the authentic Chet Baker posters and reflecting on the history of the space should be worth a cover charge, admission and all three days of music at the festival will be free.
"It's very rare you see a lineup where your customers and the people in the community are not asked to pay a cover charge or a ticket fee or anything," Bush says. "Literally, if you want to come here and drink water all weekend, you don't have to spend a dollar." It should be said, however, that with cocktails such as the delicious Miami mule, made with ginger beer, and the Calle Ocho old-fashioned, topped with a tobacco leaf, you'd be remiss not to have a few.
Ball & Chain Music Festival with Palo!, Spam Allstars, and others. Noon Friday, September 2, to 3 a.m. Sunday, September 4, at Ball & Chain, 1513 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-643-7820; ballandchainmiami.com. Admission is free.