Come and Get Your Love

Nowhere in the owner's manual that came with South Florida music promoter Chrystal Hartigan does it say, "She can't do that." If those words ever did appear, somebody must have torn out the page long ago. And it wouldn't be wise for anyone to scribble it back in, either. It would simply be untrue. Hartigan doesn't understand the word can't. She refuses to hear it. Won't accept it.

Hartigan is known in some circles as the irresistible force pushing Songwriters in the Round, an organization that provides local tunesmiths potentially enlightening career advice, contacts within the music industry, and a monthly audience for which they can audition new material. She also books live music, sometimes informally, often more officially, into several nightclubs in burgeoning downtown Hollywood. She writes poetry -- award-winning stuff, as far as the International Society of Poets is concerned -- and song lyrics, too. And for the past nine years she has worked as a full-time bookkeeper at Tel-Air Interests, a bustling television and video production facility in Miami.

So in her spare time the past four months, Hartigan has been lining up the musical acts and sound systems for LoveFest '98, the Hollywood-based charity event that is quickly becoming -- if it isn't already -- one of Florida's largest annual showcases for local talent.

"It's grown," she reports with a hearty laugh and a wide-eyed expression that suggests disbelief of her own accomplishments. "It's almost tripled from what it was the first year, when we had thirteen clubs and 54 musical acts. Last year we had fourteen clubs and 74 acts, and this year we've got 21 venues and more than 100 acts."

Closer to 120, to be accurate. And Hartigan -- trim, tan, and much too youthful in appearance to be a grandmother, though her grandson isn't confused -- booked them all. She knows a lot of the musicians from years past, of course. But she also credits ZETA-FM (94.9) DJ Kimba with steering several dozen bands her way through her ardent promotion of LoveFest on her Sunday-night ZETA Goes Local show. Hartigan says she listened to every one of the demos and CDs sent by the many diverse performers that called her after Kimba announced the event. Most of them, along with many Hartigan had already seen, are playing LoveFest '98, which takes over Young Circle Park (at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and U.S. 1), and nearly all of the bars and restaurants within several blocks, beginning at 4:00 p.m. this Sunday, July 19 (O'Hara's Jazz Cafe will host live music beginning at 10:30 a.m.).

LoveFest is not just the endeavor of one incredibly motivated woman, however. There are actually three. Hartigan shares her passion for the event with Angel Spence and Mary Bitume, owner and manager, respectively, of the Now Art Cafe, a hallowed sanctuary for poets, musicians, and new-age spiritualists. The enigmatic hideout is decorated in a surreal fashion; the Young Circle cafe is bedecked with flowing swaths of fabric that trail over branches foraged from nearby trees. Fantasy women in sensual paintings look down on patrons stretched across plush couches and lounges. One regular performer on the club's small stage is an instrumentalist named Michael Bianco, who plays two guitars at once.

The Now Art Cafe was opened as an art gallery in 1990 by Spence's late soul mate, James Morlock, who, along with a handful of other entrepreneurs, was a pioneer in the rejuvenation of downtown Hollywood. He was a transcendent artist, a music lover and a believer in methods of alternative healing. In 1995, at the age of 35, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Medical bills soon mounted, and Spence came up with the idea of hosting a fundraiser at the cafe. After several local musicians and neighboring business owners found out, however, the event became somewhat larger.

"It just blossomed," says Hartigan. "Word of mouth. The whole community wanted to get in on it. The first LoveFest, in July 1996, took six weeks to plan. Our goal was $4000 and we raised $15,000. The whole community pulled together for James."

The cash infusion helped, but four months later Morlock succumbed to the disease. Something truly inspiring had happened, though. To celebrate Morlock's life, the women decided that LoveFest would become an annual charity event to benefit needy local individuals and organizations, especially those involved in the arts. Last year the event raised approximately $12,000, which was split between a local community activist who suffered from ovarian cancer and CHARLEE Group Homes, an organization that works with troubled teens.

Most of the money comes from the sale of wristbands. The five-dollar bracelets are not required for entrance, but they do earn the bearer freebies and discounts, and, some say, better service at most of the music venues and in Young Circle Park, where a variety of massage therapists and holistic healing proponents will provide demonstrations and distribute information. (This year additional revenue is being generated through a $50 donation made by each live-music venue.)

Spence organizes these participants and oversees the wristband sales. Bitume recruits volunteers and coordinates an art auction, which will be held at 6:00 p.m. at the Hollywood Art and Culture Center. The center will use the proceeds of the auction to fund art programs for underprivileged kids. A substantial but as-yet-undetermined portion of the wristband proceeds will go to a local jazz bassist, Rabecca Boyko, who was partially paralyzed several years ago when a sidewalk umbrella blew over and hit her on the head. At the time, Boyko was a working musician with no insurance; she has since been unable to make a living in music.

Hartigan, Spence, and Bitume -- who take no pay for organizing LoveFest and who forgo reimbursment for most expenses -- will put the remainder of the proceeds in an interest-bearing account. They will decide how and when to disburse funds throughout the year to musicians and artists. They hope the fund will grow and endure, apart from the festival. The goal this year is to raise $20,000 from the expected 15,000 festival attendees.

The musical performers at LoveFest '98 range from rock acts such as Sixo, Humbert, Eve to Adam, and Atomic Tangerine to blues artists such as Dr. Slide and Outta d' Blues to folk, jazz, pop, reggae, and world-beat musicians. Last year Hartigan caught at least a few moments of every performance. She'll be making the rounds again this year, carrying a couple of cell phones for emergencies, checking in at Now Art every hour or so, and, with any luck, relaxing for the first time since planning for the festival began last March.

"Everyone thinks it's insane that I do this for free," she remarks. "But I have a love for the music, and I have a love for the local scene. Why I do this I don't really know, but it happened, and I'm here, and I'm doing it. And I love it. I guess maybe I just want to make a difference."

LoveFest '98 begins at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, July 19, at Young Circle Park, Hollywood Boulevard and U.S. 1, Hollywood. See "Concerts," page 91, for a complete schedule.

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Adam St. James

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