The Flick Coffeehouse's 50th Anniversary - Coral Gables

The Flick's 50th Anniversary and Benefit for the Dolphin's Project

Titanic Restaurant & Brewery, Coral Gables

Friday, March 28, 2014

It was a night of music, memories and nostalgia. Fifty years since the Flick opened its doors across the street from the University of Miami, many of the patrons and performers who once frequented those unassuming environs gathered to remember the club's glory days and share their reflections on a place that once ranked among the best folk venues the country. By the mid '70s, its doors were closed, only to be replaced by the Titanic Restaurant & Brewery which occupies the location now, but this past weekend, the sounds celebrated by an earlier generation of Miami musicians came to life once again.

See also: Interviews: The Flick, Miami's Legendary Music Club and Coffeehouse Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Billed as a benefit for the Dolphin Project, it was in fact an opportunity for reconnection between the audience and the artists who practically called the place home in the latter part of the '60s and early '70s. "I remember seeing Steve Goodman standing right over there in the corner," said Phil, one of those who came to the club on many such occasions. "It was the first time I ever heard him play 'City of New Orleans,' and there wasn't a dry eye in the place. The level of musicianship that came through here is something you don't see anymore. Tom Rush played here, Tim Buckley too. Joni Mitchell. It was pretty incredible."

Naturally, the musicians had their memories as well. "I once saw Tom Rush do a forty minute set of nothing but tuning up," singer Estrella Berosini joked.

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Berosini was one of nearly a dozen performers who returned to the former Flick to mark the anniversary. Comedian Gabe Kaplan -- he of "Welcome Back Kotter" fame -- was among the many who credits he Flick with propelling his career and he helped organize the weekend's tribute. No longer the long-haired young man who became a television mainstay, he joked about a pair of women who thought they had him pegged after sighting him in a local Walgreens. "Are you Ben or Jerry?" they inquired. Yet, despite an absence of several decades from the television screen, it was clear he had lost none of his comedic acumen. "I would be the perfect spokesperson for some of these products that they put out for the elderly now," he joked. "Like Viagra. I could take a pill and an hour later look down and say, 'Welcome back!'"

And so it went. Playing the role of emcee and entertainer, Kaplan replayed favorite routines -- a monologue called the "Geriatric Dating Game" was not only hilarious but also especially relevant to a crowd that was generally of sixties and seventies vintage... both in age and in era. Likewise, the musicians, many of whom are also getting up in years, performed with a passion that clearly reflected their fondness for a place that helped shape their show business careers, sharing both its reward and its realities. Flicking the light switch by the stage, singer/songwriter Bobby Ingram noted that owner Max Launer -- a man mentioned frequently throughout the evening -- could be brutal in pushing his performers off the stage. "That was the hook," Ingram noted. "You'd have one song left and he'd turn out the light. There was no mistaking the message."

Vince Martin, now in his late seventies, followed Ingram to the stage, but despite his use of a cane, his voice, initially unaccompanied, was as impassioned as ever. Martin, who once recorded with the legendary South Florida singer Fred Neil, seemed clearly moved in the flood of memories. "This is probably the best night we've ever had at the Flick," he suggested, looking out over the rapt audience. "I haven't seen this place in so long, My heart is very full. I'm so glad I can be here to do this."

As the other artists followed -- Chuck Mitchell, Estrella and Billy Berosini, Michael Smith and Barbara Barrow among them -- past and present seemed to merge into one. The tacky red wallpaper that was once a hallmark of these dimly lit environs was again pasted on the wall back behind the stage. Likewise, a photo taken at another Dolphins Benefit -- this one in the early '70s, picturing Ingram, Martin and a young David Crosby -- hung in sharp contrast to the creased faces evident at this evening's gathering. Chuck Mitchell reminded those present that they all shared a certain folk legacy, invoking Stephen Foster and reciting a lengthy prose once uttered by Woody Guthrie as he expounded on his muse. Still, the most moving part of the concert came at its conclusion, when the performers paid tribute to those who couldn't be there -- Florida folkie Gamble Rogers (who, it was noted, died twenty years ago trying to save a man from drowning on St. Augustine Beach), Fred Neil of course, and Steve Goodman. Their songs -- "The Dutchman," Everybody's Talkin'" and "City of New Orleans" among the better known -- were sung with a mixture of sentiment and sobriety, a salute to the tunesmiths whose careers were, in some significant way, nurtured in Miami and later handed off to the world.

Likewise, despite the fact that many of those on the bill hadn't seen each other in nearly 50 years, many expressed regret that other veterans couldn't come -- Crosby (who's on the road touring in support of his new album), Dion (who was on a music cruise), Ron Kickasola (who was supposedly the first musicians to play the place but has since retired), and, perhaps most perplexingly, Jimmy Buffett, who allegedly never responded to Ingram's attempts to reach out even though he too was a Flick regular.

"I was the one who tried to discourage Jimmy Buffett from moving to Key West," Ingram noted. "Clearly that was the wrong advice."

Mike Smith seemed particularly offended that some artists chose not to attend. "There were two people invited who chose not to attend," he remarked, "And that's part of their nature. They could have come if they wanted to, and to them, I'd say, 'You are a mother fucker.'" Recalling Kaplan's anecdote about Launer's admonition to limit the profanity ("Only one 'shit' a show," Kaplan recalled), Smith thought for a moment and then told the crowd, "You could only say that word once a show as well." Needless to say, it made for a good laugh.

"Most people are either really, really nostalgic or they're really, really not nostalgic," Smith concluded.

On this particular evening, it was hard to find any who were part of the latter.

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