Free Music

Fillmore Miami Beach's Best Moments: Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, Sting, and Chris Rock

Photo by Jason Koerner
It has a long and storied history, first as Miami Beach Municipal Auditorium, then the Theater of Performing Arts, and later the Jackie Gleason Theater. But 2017 is the tenth year the building at 1700 Washington Ave. has been known as the Fillmore Miami Beach. To mark the occasion, next Thursday, November 9, a free party will offer music curated by DJ Le Spam. As the staff prepared for a Jon Bellion show, New Times asked the Fillmore staff for their memories of the past decade.

Sharisse Pessar, vice president of booking: It was a sit-down theater before. We pulled out some of the seats so we could bring in club acts but still have the ability to put the seats back in for The Nutcracker. We wanted to be able to bring in indie acts that would have skipped Miami before. I booked at the Edge, and it was tough to get a lot of bands down here.

Woody Graber, publicist: Ricky Martin was the first-ever show. It was totally insane. The stage production was enormous, and it was celebrity heaven. Gloria Estefan and Daisy Fuentes were here. It was a big party.

Pessar: The first show we could see what it would become was Jay-Z. That was the first time we saw the place rocking. This wasn't an older crowd coming out anymore.

Greg Johnston, director of marketing: It's nice to look back and see that we got these huge artists in their baby period. People like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper played here. It's been a chance to see someone special before they go on to do arenas and stadiums.

Bill Sisca, general manager: Since the stage was set up in the past to put on Broadway shows, we've been able to bring in big productions like Janet Jackson. A lot of the tours have an A-rig and a B-rig depending on the capabilities of the venue. They know they can pull out all their production here.

Pessar: Since they filmed The Jackie Gleason Show here, it's easy for us to film here. They filmed the BET Awards and The X Factor  because of all the spots they created to hit good shots.

Graber: Woody Allen's jazz band was really into seeing all the places Jackie Gleason filmed.

Sisca: And the comedians are into it — Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, Chelsea Handler. We had Kevin Hart play four sold-out shows in a row. Dave Chappelle played five shows in three nights that all sold out.

Pessar: Chris Rock played here, and we had to hold the show because he was waiting for P. Diddy to come. He knew Diddy showing up would bring attention to his show if he walked in during the middle. Diddy pulled up in his Ferrari in the back, we sat him down, and the show went on.

Johnston: We've had a lot of celebrities come, a lot of Heat players. Chris Bosh came out to see Mac Miller and Gary Clark Jr. Pat Riley and Magic Johnson were dancing the whole night in the third row for Earth Wind & Fire.

Pessar: Lenny Kravitz has come out. He was here for George Clinton and was telling everyone how much he loved it. Page McConnell from Phish comes out to a lot of shows.

Graber: My favorite concerts were Ray Davies and David Crosby. Seeing these important people from my youth was amazing.

Johnston: Jack White playing back-to-back shows was my baptism to working here.

Sisca: We had an event here after Justin Timberlake played a show with Jay-Z [at Hard Rock Stadium]. Justin played here afterwards at 2:30 in the morning. After that show, he rehearsed here for a week to prepare for a solo tour. They blocked the backstage parking lot with trailers so no one could see him. He rehearsed and rehearsed. He was the first to get here and the last to leave.

Pessar: He's not the only one to rehearse here. Phoenix did it twice. Probably the craziest show was Guns 'N Roses when it was Axl Rose and Dave Navarro. We prepared for it to be a late show. The show the night before, they came onstage late, but this one, it was just that they played and played. It went on until 2:30 in the morning.

Sisca: There's so much history here. Gleason had every big entertainer, like Sinatra. Then during the Democratic and Republican Conventions [in 1972], this was used as the press room. Then with boxing, Angelo Dundee had an office here when he was training Muhammad Ali.But with all the history,

Pessar: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both had events here. We got to know the whole routine with secret service. We even got presidential M&M's; they have a presidential seal on the box.

Sisca:  2016 was our most successful year as far as tickets sold. We had Chance the Rapper, Flume, Slayer. Then we had the Gleason Room in the back that fits 200 to 450 people in a black-box room. Community groups can put on a show by applying for a grant and playing there without having to pay.

As they prepare for upcoming shows such as Alt-J, Grizzly Bear, and Paramore, there has been one dark cloud hovering over the Fillmore's future. In the past few months, there has been concern the Fillmore's building might be knocked down and replaced. If the plan comes to fruition, there would be a period when the Fillmore would not exist while a new structure was being built. The Fillmore's staff isn't overly concerned about this happening in the near future.

Sisca: We want residents to be able to have live music uninterrupted forever. That's our concern and goal. I don't think anything will happen until there's a new mayor. But they had an election on this issue before, and it didn't pass. Our position with the community is tight, so if it comes to a vote again, we're hopeful for the same result.

The Fillmore's Tenth Anniversary. 8 p.m. Thursday, November 9, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; Admission is free.
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland