Boca band Stonefox's performance really shone at the Miami Music Festival last weekend. But that only underscored the amateurish quality of much of the rest of the event. Planned as a three-day set of simultaneous showcases à la SXSW, the inaugural edition of MMF was poorly planned and mostly poorly attended. As a whole, the lineup didn't provide an accurate picture of the South Florida scene, nor did it bring in any real out-of-town buzz bands to entice the general public.
First, though, the good: I spent most of my MMF Saturday night at the 93 Rock Showcase at Tobacco Road, which drew a healthy crowd. The promotional pull of the station seemed to help. So did the attendance of the bar's regulars. The sound at the outdoor stage was good, and Stonefox's rousing, professional performance earned some courting from a big-label A&R type. (Yes, there were a few of them at MMF, so it delivered in that respect.) A few other hometown staples also played — Ghost of Gloria as well as Miami's Music Is a Weapon, so this showcase had the feel of a typical decent local show.
Now, the bad: Admission prices for the public were laughable. Nobody in South Florida is going to pay $50 for a three-day wristband to see a bunch of bands they've never heard of; ditto for $25 for a one-day band. An individual showcase price of $10 was reasonable, except that the lineups were put together hastily and randomly. That $10 didn't let you hop between shows, so it wasn't worth it to pay and sit through a bunch of crap to catch a band you like.
The festival was also underpromoted. I heard local radio commercials touting it as happening "this weekend" — too bad they were played a week early.
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And finally, the downright unacceptable: The bands had to pay inflated demo submission fees and then play without pay. That's crappy, but standard. What's worse, though, is that they were allowed no guests — not a single friend, wife, or whomever for free. On top of that, most had to pay for parking, which ranged from metered spots far away from clubs on up to $10 lots. That policy is cheesy at best, money-grubbing at worst.
So, no parking, no guest list, and — most insulting of all — no sound checks. Seriously. Bands had to sign an agreement accepting this, and many had to use a house-provided backline. Some venues lacked little things such as, oh, bass amps. Sure, SXSW doesn't allow sound checks, but come on — this ain't SXSW.
The Miami Music Festival was a good idea, but it has a long way to go to improve for next year. Organizers should extend an olive branch to the city's other venues and promoters. Shutting out the Vagabond, White Room, and Churchill's, while promoting entities such as Poplife and Sweat Records, was suicidal.
They should curtail the length of the festival and number of showcases on any given night, and eliminate the pop-up tents, which were almost always vacant. Instead, they should stick to actual bars and venues with built-in crowds. They should reduce the admission charges for the general public and drastically reduce or eliminate the entrance fees for bands. And, finally, they should treat the bands right. Then, maybe, we would have a local music showcase to be proud of.