Last night, what was essentially a one-day music festival with an eclectic mix of about 20 artists rocked Fort Lauderdale’s Revolution Live for six hours straight. The lineup included veteran Miami outfit Saigon Kick, popular newcomers Austin Mahone and Jack & Jack, and local favorites such as AnastasiaMax and the Goddamn’ Hustle.
It was a show that never should have happened.
This was the benefit for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Jeff John, owner of Revolution, America’s Backyard, and Stache, tells New Times that, after a period of mourning and digesting what had happened on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, the idea came together “right away.”
His thought process was simple: “We need to do something for the community.” That something has included donating and distributing all proceeds from ticket sales, concessions, and a silent auction (which runs through the rest of the upcoming week) to the families of the 17 victims. It also meant each artist donated time, performing for free. That included Ben Sparaco, a recent MSD graduate, who flew down from Nashville for the fundraiser.
“The main point,” John says, “was to fundraise for the families and the victims, but we also wanted to give the community one night of fun, music, and enjoyment in a terrible time. That was our message.”
In paraphrasing the film Troy, John found the spirit of the event's focus. “You can always find peace in war,” he says. He was adamant about not politicizing the event and instead maintaining a balance of revelry and respect, of respite and remembrance, for both the people who were lost and those who remain behind.
Musical acts from across generations and genres united for one weird night of music. And it was weird, albeit a good weird, simply because it was a giant contrast of people and styles, all there for one very normal reason: to help.
That help arrived in a multitude of ways, many of them financial. The numbers aren’t in, but according to one of the organizers, Gregg Snowden, attendance “exceeded all of the expectations.” Snowden is the account director for South Florida Ford, one of the many partners and sponsors, including iHeart Radio, the Gray Robinson Law Firm, Saigon Kick frontman Jason Bieler, and many others who participated in assembling the benefit concert in only a few days.
He is also a Stoneman Douglas graduate, class of ’95, which has made the cause even dearer to him.
“This has rocked me,” Snowden says. “For a week now, all I’ve been thinking about is what I can do.”
His message was about embracing a new tone when discussing what happens next, a tone that’s been set over the past week by the brave students of his alma mater.
“So many people I talk to go, ‘Well, this feels different, and I hope it brings about change.’ I’m like, how about we change the way we talk? I know this will bring about change! Be confident when we say it. Things are going to be different. [With] these students and this movement, we are going to see change happen,” he says.
Much of that change is being spearheaded by a chorus of voices unable to vote or legally buy beer at rock clubs like Revolution. AnastasiaMax, an incredible brother/sister indie-rock duo from South Florida, is part of that revolutionary generation. Anastasia, a 15-year-old high-school freshman, and Max, an 18-year-old college freshman, are precisely the people in need of the most protection, but they simultaneously show the most passion.
Like every other group on the bill, the pair received a last-minute invitation. “We were so down to play,” Max says. “On this stage, for this good of a cause, there was no way we could turn this down.”
“One of my best friends lost people,” Anastasia adds, a sentiment echoed by many.
“It’s really scary,” Max continues. “I’m not in high school anymore, so it’s less scary for me, but my sister is. The laws aren’t getting changed. No one is doing anything about this serious issue that we have in this country, about how easy it is to buy weapons used for killing. Knowing that she’s going to school every day, having to worry about this kind of issue, is insane to me.
“I can’t wrap my mind around how the people that were there must feel. So many emotions.”
Like the organizers of the benefit, AnastasiaMax is looking toward the positives of nights like these.
“Tonight,” Max says, “I hope that Douglas and everyone affected gets some kind of contribution from this event, monetary or otherwise, and I hope that everyone here is here for the right reasons, to celebrate the lives of these beautiful kids and adults.
“We need to all come together and agree that there needs to be change. I don’t care what side of the issue you’re on. There needs to be a meeting in the middle.”
Anastasia gets to the heart of the issue with a statement short on bullshit: “We need love. We need more love and less hate, because fuck that.”
Throughout the evening, instead showing band names or flashy graphics, screens across the various stages projected the phrase “MSDSTRONG” with a ribbon and the school’s eagle mascot replacing the “o” in the word "strong." It was a reminder of what the Friday-night festivities were really all about.
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A tragedy brought South Florida out to Revolution and the benefit, but music brought people together. It was a celebration of life exemplified by audiences dancing, singing, shouting, laughing, smiling, and kissing while they still can.
It was a truly all-ages, all-encompassing event. Families, older couples, teenagers, children, pop fans, hardcore rock fans, and people who simply came out to show their support and donate mingled together, often sporting maroon "MSDSTRONG" shirts.
As a way to continue aiding the community in healing, John announced the benefit was far from a one-and-done. “We are going to continue a Thursday night here,” he says. “It’s going to be an open night, an open stage, inviting musicians in, raising money and awareness for this cause.” The details are still being worked out, but what is clear is this: He wants unity, not divisiveness. The Thursday nights he describes are therapeutic more than anything else.
He adds once more, “There’s still peace in war.”