When Gideon Plotnicki moved to Miami from New York City in the summer of 2019, he couldn't have known that starting his life in a new city would be derailed by COVID-19.
Plotnicki, 33, had parted ways with his longtime home with the larger vision of bringing his decade’s worth of experience in the concert industry — specifically within the jam-band, funk, and jazz-fusion genres — to a city already rich with culture and a world-famous nightlife reputation to match. With the launch of his own company, GMP Live, Plotnicki is banking on the potential for Miami music fans to embrace the funk sounds native to New Orleans and the openness of jam-band culture in the same way they’ve embraced electronic music and hip-hop — and he’s doing it at Miami Beach’s open-air North Beach Bandshell.
“People know [Miami] historically as a market for electronic music, Latin music, and hip-hop,” Plotnicki tells New Times from his home on Miami’s Upper Eastside. “There is certainly a live-music community that exists. It just lacks infrastructure that a city like New York or San Francisco or Chicago has, where there are tons of small clubs all over the place for it.”
Plotnicki’s recent résumé includes overseeing several late-night shows at the legendary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and taking on the role of talent buyer — the person who books or “buys” the artist to perform — for Brooklyn Comes Alive, an annual jam band-focused festival in Brooklyn.
“I used to drive by the North Beach Bandshell all the time,” Plotnicki says, explaining that he'd first noticed the venue on family vacations to South Florida when he was a teen. “I would see it from the road and ask myself, ‘This venue looks so cool. How come I’ve never seen a concert here?'"
A chance meeting years later with Karla Arguello, the former communications director at the Rhythm Foundation — the local nonprofit cultural organization that has managed the Bandshell since 2015 — was the coincidental start of a working relationship.
“I had a meeting with the venue two days later, and myself and the team and the Rhythm Foundation really hit it off," he says. "Since then, they have basically been my Miami music family.”
In April 2019, Plotnicki booked Turkuaz, a nine-piece, national touring power-funk band, for a bill at the Bandshell that also included local dance duo Afrobeta. The event was the first of many Plotnicki had planned in hopes of capturing a jam and funk audience around which concert promoters like Peter Shapiro have created an empire along Eastern Seaboard with major jam band-friendly events like Virginia’s Lockn’ Festival and Pennsylvania’s Peach Music Festival.
Plotnicki’s next show after Turkuaz was supposed to be the Motet, a band from Denver that specializes in blending funk, soul, and jazz styles, scheduled for May 2020. The concert was canceled after the emergence of COVID-19.
In addition to the obvious hurdles the ongoing pandemic has presented, Plotnicki and like-minded young entrepreneurs must overcome Florida’s unique geography and pre-existing standard travel routes for concert tours, twin factors that have long been barriers to entry.
“A lot of music that would be popular here goes to Fort Lauderdale. That’s been one of the big challenges for me as a promoter trying to bring music to Miami — that Fort Lauderdale has an established music scene,” Plotnicki says, citing just one example. “If you’re coming through Florida on a tour, you’re likely to play at Revolution Live or Culture Room [in Fort Lauderdale]. A lot of bands that come to Miami play at the Fillmore in Miami Beach, which is not always the right fit for them because it’s a 2,500-person venue. A lot of times, bands play there and [the venue] puts a curtain up and they play in front of 50 percent capacity.
“So that’s one of my goals being here, to show artists, agents, and managers that Miami is a viable market for other genres — for funk, for jam bands, for jazz,” he goes on. “I’ve definitely heard from more than one booking agent, ‘Who routes to Miami?’ People expect Fort Lauderdale because it’s 45 minutes closer, and typically when [an artist] plays Florida, they have to do a combination of Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and then you come down here.”
The jam-band genre, which also blends into psychedelic-rock and various forms of jazz, is not new to Miami’s eclectic music scene. Following the emergence in popularity of the style among younger audiences in the mid-1960s, artists including Santana, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, and Cream all performed at the pioneering Miami venue Thee Image before decade's end.
More recently, Miami Beach’s GroundUp Music Festival, which launched in 2017 and has returned to the North Beach Bandshell over the three years preceding the pandemic, has played a key role in bringing more funk, jazz, and open-ended performance styles to Miami each winter. The event’s diverse, world music-inspired programming has booked artists ranging from funk band Lettuce to jazz collective Snarky Puppy to bluegrass-meets-jazz band Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
“It was definitely cool to see Lettuce play there last year. The crowd was extremely receptive, and I saw a bunch of familiar faces who are from the Miami jam and funk scenes,” Plotnicki says of GroundUp, which has offered something of a preview of how Miami’s live-music community receives jazz and jam artists.
With jam-band culture once again spreading through the culture at large and being embraced by even the most unlikely of music fans and trendsetters heading into the 2020s — even NBA superstar and former Miami Heat player LeBron James has been spotted wearing Deadhead fashion recently — Plotnicki’s GMP Live aims to parlay the growing interest into financial success as the concert industry commences to reboot in 2021.
“Right now is a different time,” he says. “[COVID-19] has created a little window of opportunity for Miami to prove itself because Fort Lauderdale, for the time being, is off the map.”
With concert events finally beginning to return to the North Beach Bandshell, Plotnicki has been involved in reopening the outdoor venue with the same goal he had coming in.
With COVID-19 guidelines in place — the venue’s 1,300-max capacity in normal times has been dropped to roughly 320 to 330 at any given event, and guests must adhere to social-distancing/pod-style seating — Plotnicki booked New Orleans funk apostles Dumpstaphunk for a two-night run (one of which sold out) at the Bandshell back in February. He'll present shows from Dead & Company/Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge (April 23-24) and livetronica duo Big Gigantic (both shows scheduled for May 6-7 have sold out).
“For the concert with Dumpstaphunk, we had people drive in from two to three hours away. I think for these Oteil shows, you’ll see the same thing. You know how these Deadheads like to get in the van and travel. I think there is a vibrant market of people who love live music here that’s tappable.”
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