Not all Miami music venues are created equal.
There's the historic Fillmore Miami Beach, which despite its gilded legacy as a subtropical escape for Frank Sinatra and other legends, finds its fate in a perpetual state of uncertainty.
There's the luxurious, cash-injected American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, with its expansive bayfront views and a rotating roster of A-list talent drawing thousands to its stands.
Then there's the North Beach Bandshell, a sand-wisped open-air amphitheater mere steps from the ocean. In the five years since taking over operations at the 58-year-old venue, Rhythm Foundation — the world music-focused promoter that's been putting on events around town since 1988 — has gifted the city with an eclectic schedule of more than 75 events annually. From free community and civic events, cultural programs, and concerts to larger-scale festivals, the Rhythm Foundation has created a space at the bandshell that welcomes loyal locals and curious visitors alike.
While Miami's venues, along with so many around the world, have found themselves eerily silent over the past six months, the North Beach Bandshell has managed to keep the music alive through the shutdown with a steady output of virtual productions.
When Miami-Dade County declared an emergency in mid-March, the bandshell was just two days away from hosting a touring group from Venezuela. In the face of adversity, the bandshell streamed the band's performance live in its entirety on its Facebook page.
"The challenges brought on by the public-health crisis forced us to get creative," says Rhythm Foundation deputy director Benton Galgay.
The bandshell has remained closed to the public, but Galgay and his team continue to program virtual concerts and have modified the venue so that other presenters can host livestreamed performances too.
In all, the Rhythm Foundation has had to cancel 30 performances at the bandshell and other South Florida venues. On the other hand, more than 50,000 viewers have tuned in to eight performances streamed in high definition.
"We're excited by the creation of new forms of media, focused on supporting our arts ecosystem, and honored to be connecting Miami artists to global audiences," Galgay says. "People are grateful to have a chance to hear the music they love, and the performers embrace the outpouring of support from their audiences."
To re-create the magic of its IRL cultural programming, the Rhythm Foundation held a Zoom salsa dance class enhanced by a live musical performance from Nic & N'taya. The North Beach Social show hosted Richie Hell, who performed against a backdrop of custom motion graphics. And to introduce its samba concert, the foundation organized a quick class in how to make a caipirinha.
With more extensive programs like Make Music Miami and, more recently, Afro Roots Fest, the Rhythm Foundation wove in international video performances to create a full-length concert from the bandshell.
"What we learned will carry on into the in-person experience at the venue," Galgay says, noting that many may still opt to view online rather than attend in person.
As restrictions have begun to ease, Galgay says, the team has begun planning events with a limited-capacity audience. In the meantime, though, the bandshell has a stacked virtual fall season ahead.
Upcoming programming includes theNorth Beach Social, which returns in November as a variety-show format. With five programs scheduled, the eclectic orchestra Nu Deco Ensemble will perform the bulk of its season at the bandshell this year. The colorful celebration of the Miami Broward Carnival will take place as a virtual event from the stage. Also on deck are the Arsht Center's Free Gospel Sundays, a new work focused on life during COVID-19 by Dance Now!, and a socially distanced performance by Orchestra Miami.
"All of the events have been reformatted to better engage with online audiences, and we will continue to innovate ways to connect," Galgay assures.
With continued funding from its supporters, along with emergency support offered by the county, the City of Miami Beach (which owns the bandshell), the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and funds from the Knight Foundation, the North Beach Bandshell has managed to carry on, but others have not been as lucky. It remains to be seen whether smaller independent venues, largely left out of the conversation, will weather the storm.
"Gathering places like the bandshell are critical to a healthy community as a forum for free thought and expression," Galgay says. "We feel it's necessary that arts and culture remain a voice in the public dialogue, now more than ever."
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To support Miami's live music scene, Galgay recommends becoming a member of the Rhythm Foundation or other local groups that are striving to create platforms for artists.
Buy music, make art, take in a performance.
As Galgay puts it, "Besides living in paradise, we can't forget that we have the most incredible cultural scene right in our own back yard."
North Beach Bandshell. 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; northbeachbandshell.com.