If a few artists' performances really shone at the Miami Music Festival
this past weekend, it only served to underscore the amateurish quality of much of the rest of the event. Planned as a three-day set of simultaneous showcases, a la SXSW, the inaugural edition of MMF was a nice concept borne of good intentions, but suffered from bad timing and middling execution.
The weekend after Art Basel hits Miami should generally be a weekend of rest. Nobody's ready to party in full gear again, as the MMF's mostly anemic attendance showed. As a whole, the line-up didn't provide an accurate picture of the South Florida scene, nor did it bring in any real out-of-town buzz bands to entice the general public into checking out the unknowns.
It's hard to write about these things because, generally, those of us with any interest in the local scene want to be boosters for it. But let's not blind boosterism get the best of us -- healthy criticism is the way things improve, and the Miami Music Festival has some major kinks to work out before it returns next year.
First, though, the good. I spent most of my MMF Saturday night at the 93 ROCK Showcase at Tobacco Road, and it drew a healthy crowd. The promotional pull of the station seemed to help, as well as the fact that the bar has a built-in set of regulars. The sound at the outdoor stage here was surprisingly good, and Boca rockers Stonefox
kicked off the night with a rousing, professional performance got them courted, afterwards, by a big-label A&R honcho. (Yes, there were in, fact, a few of these at the MMF, so it did deliver on this promise, to a degree.) A few other local staples also played here -- Fort Lauderdale's Ghost of Gloria
, as well as Miami's Music Is A Weapon
, so this particular showcase had the feel of a typical decent locals-only gig.
Attendance started off pretty badly, on Saturday night, in the temporary tents set up in the vacant lot across from the Brickell Burger King -- at one point a friend texted me to say she was one of two whole audience members. By the time I wandered over, though, just before midnight, there was a much healthier crowd in all of them (although the tents were still relatively empty). Here I caught a set by the lively Alih Jey
, a bilingual firecracker of a girl who plays really pleasant, upbeat, ever so slightly punky pop-rock. Still, this is a girl who recently had a number two hit on the Dominican charts. There is certainly no shortage of people from the D.R. here, and yet there were only about 40 people watching her.
A few steps away, the Maybach Music tent was actually relatively packed. And after a set by G-Mash
, and before a set by a group with no fewer than 11 people, what really stuck out was a quickie performance by a fellow calling himself AJ the R&B General
. Flushed with the alcoholic sweetness of a $5 mixed drink called "Swagger Juice" (a bunch of liquor, and, possibly, berry and pineapple juices), I spent the beginning of his performance giggling.
What started out as a heartfelt romantic ballad soon turned out to be a sweet homage to a pro working a pole, as AJ gently crooned things like, "All the money in my pocket, she gon' take it / I ain't never seen something so beautiful naked / Take out another $100 tell the bartender to break it." He even got the word "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" in there! Come to think of it though, it's actually far less silly than a lot of R&B on the radio, and the way the melody turned reminded me of songs like The-Dream's "In a Falsetto." And hey, here I am a couple days later still thinking about the damn song, called, of course, "Professional Dancer," so -- not a bad hustle, AJ.
After all this, around 1 a.m. I wandered over to Transit Lounge, and it was jammed -- again, though, not only was this ground zero of the festival, but it has a very loyal, built-in crowd. I didn't stick around to catch any music, though, as in the outside patio there was an overly long interlude between performers and I got bored.
Now, the bad about Miami Music Festival. Admission prices for the public were laughable. Nobody in South Florida is going to pay $50 for a three-day wristband to see a bunch of bands they've never heard of; ditto for $25 for a one-day band. An individual showcase price of $10 was reasonable, except that the line-ups were put together hastily and seemingly randomly. That $10 didn't let you hop between shows, so it wasn't worth it to pay and sit through a bunch of crap that you didn't like, to catch one band you did.
Nor was there an easy way to discover new acts, and plan to see them, ahead of time. The festival's web site had a nicely organized and easy to navigate list of each showcase every night -- but no outside links to the artists' pages, and no artist bios anywhere. Fail. Even bigger events like that SXSW and CMJ have pages dedicated to band lists and descriptions.
The festival was also seriously under-promoted. Although we tried to cover it in advance in New Times, I didn't read about it in too many other places. I did hear local radio commercials for the festival, touting it as happening "this weekend" -- too bad they were played a week early.
And finally, the downright unacceptable. The bands were made to pay inflated demo submission fees, and made to play unpaid. That's crappy, but standard for these types of showcases. What's worse, though, is that they were allowed no guests -- not a single friend, wife, whoever, in for free. On top of that, most had to pay for parking, which ranged from metered spots far away from clubs, on up to $10 lots. That policy is cheesy at best, money-grubbing at worst.
So, no parking, no guest list - and most insultingly of all, no sound checks. Seriously. Bands had to sign an agreement accepting this, and many had to use a house-provided backline. At some venues, this backline was missing little things like, oh, bass amps, as the Herald
's Jordan Levin reported in a new-asshole-tearing review of the festival's Thursday night
. Sure, SXSW doesn't allow sound checks, but, come on - this ain't SXSW.
The Miami Music Festival was a good idea, but has a long way to go to improve for next year. It was fun to walk around Brickell for a night, but that kind of walkability was forced and fake. How many of the local diehards would, on a random night, bounce from, say, Transit Lounge to "Red Bar?" (It's in the Mary Brickell Village mall, and no, I didn't know that before, either.)
Organizers should extend an olive branch to the city's other venues and promoters. Shutting out the Vagabond, White Room, and Churchill's -- and, hell, Jazid, keeping it real over on South Beach -- along with promoting entities like Poplife and Sweat Records was suicidal. When you have a music scene as small as Miami's, those kinds of exclusions burn extra hard and make people feel especially left out and resentful.
They should curtail the length of the festival and number of showcases on any given night, and eliminate the pop-up tents completely. These were almost always vacant. Instead, they should stick to actual bars and venues with built-in crowds. They should reduce the admission charges for the general public, and drastically reduce or eliminate the entrance fees for bands. This year, the non-refundable entry fees were nearly equal to that of SXSW -- and again, this ain't SXSW. Overall, they should treat the bands and fans right. Then, maybe, we will have a local music showcase to be proud of.