It's a problem Carlos Aybar knows all too well. As CEO of production company Mishu Music, Aybar launched House of Creatives Music Festival in 2016, attracting the likes of MGMT, Washed Out, M.I.A., and others to the North Beach Bandshell and Virginia Key Beach Park in its inaugural and sophomore iterations. But before its third lineup was announced, HOC fell prey to some of the same factors that have doomed local upstart festivals for years — high costs, delays, and, eventually, the COVID-19 pandemic. Aybar's team was forced to do what millions have had to do over the past year in isolation — pivot.
"It was during quarantine that we kind of took a beat and figured out that it's better for the market to do smaller shows consistently than one big show in a year," Aybar tells New Times.
His team is forgoing another House of Creatives festival and focusing on its next music project: the Escala Sonora concert series.
Aybar has booked an impressive lineup for what he hopes will be the first of many seasons. First up is Mexican band Little Jesus — best known in the States for being handpicked by the Rolling Stones to open for them in 2016 — followed by Colombian rapper and singer Nanpa Básico and Puerto Rican singer iLe, who closes out the series with a show at the North Beach Bandshell on Thursday, September 30.
Spanish for "sonorous layover," Escala Sonora's name attempts to reframe Miami's location as a favorable one for Latin indie artists looking to break into the U.S. market. Little Jesus and Nanpa Básico were tapped for the lineup because they were already on their way to the States for Ruido Fest, a Latin alternative music festival held in Chicago in August. Both acts scheduled tour dates around the Chicago appearance, and the Escala team jumped at the chance to have them perform in Miami.
Aybar calls bringing Latin indie acts to Miami "a no-brainer." He says Miami's expat communities want to see artists from their home countries, and these artists long to find new audiences in the U.S. That double dose of enthusiasm from underserved audiences and eager artists could yield unique opportunities for the city.
"[When] I book Washed Out and MGMT and all these fucking awesome indie bands, other than saying I booked them, there's not much more. I'm just another promoter," he says.
Conversely, when he books bands like Little Jesus, for whom he already produced a show in 2019, Aybar says, there's fertile ground to build a durable, creative relationship.
"They help me with content and credibility and opportunities, but I'm helping them to open up a market that maybe they don't have available to them, or [where] there are not enough options for them," he says.
While Aybar's optimism is encouraging, Escala already encountered one major setback before it got off the ground. The series was set to launch Saturday, July 24, with a show by Chilean-Norwegian band Boy Pablo. But the show was canceled when the North Beach Bandshell became a staging area for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Surfside condo collapse.
"It was an easy [decision]," Aybar says. "A show is — on the priority list of life — it's the least of our worries."
Still, Aybar has big plans for Escala Sonora, barring major future roadblocks. He aims to book one show per month during future seasons, recruiting headliners who count their fans by the hundreds of thousands in Latin America.
"We want to be that marquee Latin indie event that helps bring the U.S. and Latino market together," he says. "We want Escala to be synonymous with quality Latin artist representation. Hopefully, there's an audience here for us and for all the artists that we're championing."
Escala Sonora. With Little Jesus and Gus. 8 p.m. Friday, August 13, at Oak Garden, at Gramps, 146 NW 24th St., Miami; 855-732-8992; gramps.com. Tickets cost $15 via seetickets.us.