New York had its Cafe Wha? and Bottom Line. Los Angeles had the Troubadour. And while South Florida could never match either of those cities in terms of star power and mystique, it did have a venue that helped foster South Florida's burgeoning folk scene in the 1960s and '70s.
That place was known as the Flick, an unassuming little club and coffeehouse located on the outskirts of the University of Miami campus where the Titanic Restaurant and Brewery now stands.
In those halcyon days, when South Beach was mainly a retreat for sun-starved tourists and its elderly inhabitants, and when a still nascent Coconut Grove was a gathering point for hippies, beatniks, and the radical underground, the Flick represented one of the few locations for live music between the Grove and the Keys.
Although the Flick had a relatively brief life span, lasting only about a decade between 1964 and 1974, it hosted an impressive array of performers, including Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dion, Tom Rush, and John Sebastian, among many others.
The Flick regulars scheduled to participate in the club's 50th anniversary celebration later this month -- from comedian Gabe Kaplan to veteran folk singer Vince Martin, and seminal South Florida musician, writer, and filmmaker Peter Neff -- still overflow with recollections of a time and place nearly forgotten.
One such memory that remains vivid in the minds of all three is the disastrous first appearance at the Flick by a young Joni Mitchell.
"When I brought Joni Mitchell to the Flick, the people loved her," Martin recalls. "But Max Launer, the owner -- after watching and listening to Joni's wonderful set -- mused sincerely, not unkindly, 'How can she expect to be successful only singing her own songs!'"
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"I told her not to listen to him," Neff remembers. "But she started cry. I tried to encourage her but she was obviously distraught." Kaplan recalls one night when the small crowd she played for left in droves, leaving only two people in the audience by the time her set was finished. "She walked off stage, packed up her $400 guitar and walked all the way back to Grove all by herself. She felt so bad about that she just had to get out of there."
Launer, who had grown up in an era of Vaudeville and the New York club scene of the freewheeling '50s, was hardly the savviest proprietor, but those who knew him insist he was quite a curmudgeon. Despite his ambitions, the onetime show store owner from Newfoundland Canada apparently didn't always have the tact needed to be a show business entrepreneur.
Max had this strict rule about keeping the performers' sets limited to twenty minutes, and he's start waving a flashlight if the musician ran over" Neff says. "Of course, Vince Martin resisted that and when he saw that flashlight, he'd simply start another song. Apparently Launer was also short on savvy. When Steve Goodman, by then a famous folksinger and the composer of the classic "City of New Orleans," played the Flick, he was denied headliner status and relegated to an opening act. Kaplan recalls Launer taking offence at his use of profanity. "I'd say the word 'shit' in my act, and at one point Max comes up to me and says, 'If you have to use that word, okay. But only one 'shit' a show."
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Kaplan, who helped organise the upcoming Flick anniversary celebration, worked the Flick several times between 1966 and '69, and it was there that he launched his comedy routine that eventually became the inspiration for his hit TV series "Welcome Back Kotter." Kaplan claims that when he heard there was a place called the Flick, he assumed it was a movie theater. "I started testing stuff you couldn't do on Miami Beach or any other place," he maintains. "Those three years might have been my most creative period."
Kaplan also describes a night when Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary paid a visit as he was doing his traditional late night improv routine. when it came time for the audience to suggest a topic, Paul called out "existentialism." I did this bit about the German philosopher Nietzsche. Paul was the only one that was laughing."
The Flick's 50th Anniversary. Benefitting the Dolphin Project. With Gabe Kaplan, Estrella Berosini, Bobby Ingram, Vince Martin, Chuck Mitchell, Michael Smith, and Barbara Barrow. Friday and Saturday, March 28 and 29. Titanic Restaurant and Brewery, 5813 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. The shows start at 7 and 9:30 p.m., and tickets cost $25 to $40 plus fees via eventbrite.com. Call 305-668-1742 or visit titanicbrewery.com.