A seemingly very sad boy dressed in a black sleeveless hoodie belts out the lyrics to Box Car Racer’s 2002 single “I Feel So” in front of the DJ booth at Mama Tried in downtown Miami."'Cause I feel so mad, I feel so angry,” he cries out while clutching a can of Rolling Rock in one hand and raising the other above his head as he gesticulates aggressively in time with the song. “Let’s start over! Let’s start over!”
At 11 on a Sunday night, such behavior might raise an eyebrow or two at any other Miami bar. But at Mama Tried's Emo Nite, a monthly party dedicated to one of the most maligned music genres, none of the predominantly dark-cloaked patrons huddled under the bar's twinkly ceiling seems to mind. Most of them are singing along too, including the bartenders — vocal cords be damned.
The recurring gathering is believed to be the first and only party of its kind in Miami.
“I wanted this to be a thing in Miami for so long,” says Emo Nite organizer Jessica Fernandez, who, under her DJ moniker Jessica Who, provides the party's soundtrack. “I get to scream with all my friends the way we did in our cars in 2002. It’s nostalgic and a little bit cathartic.”
Fernandez and Mama Tried managing partner Domingo Murillo are longtime friends and have been huge fans of emo music since high school, when they adored everything from Brand New and Taking Back Sunday to the recently reunited My Chemical Romance. “I was really into the emo scene, and I dressed the part,” Murillo admits. “I’m glad we didn’t have camera phones back then.”
They knew they couldn’t be the only ones longing to jam out to the same songs they listened to as teenagers, even if just for one night each month. Fernandez, who primarily plays hip-hop at clubs such as Basement, LIV, and E11even, was looking for a change of pace. The first Emo Nite was last December, and more and more people have shown up dressed in era-appropriate attire — band tees purchased from Hot Topic, Doc Martens, and all — at every edition since. Beginning at 10 p.m., the party often doesn’t wind down until closing time at 5 a.m.
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“Everybody is dressed in black, and I easily confuse them with security,” says Mama Tried doorman Robert Hester, who has worked every Emo Nite thus far. Perched on a stool outside the bar, he's checking IDs when a Brand New song comes on. “That’s another thing about the night,” he says while shaking his head, “the decibel levels!”
Although emo-themed nights have existed in Brooklyn and Los Angeles for years, Miami is new to the, um, scene. No one believed there was a demand for emo music in a city known for its warmth, sun, and after-hours clubs that play Top 40 hits or underground electronic music.
“People didn’t expect this to work in Miami,” Fernandez says. “But no matter where you grew up, we were all listening to the same stuff and going through the same things at the same time — even if it was just ‘I’m a teenager and the world is against me and I hate everything.’”
Fernandez and Murillo slowly lured the now-grown-up high-school emo kids out all these years later by repeatedly blasting Fall Out Boy and Paramore tracks. Now it’s one of Mama Tried's busiest nights.
“I was the most excited about Emo Nite because I’ve loved the music since middle school,” Mama Tried bartender Lauren Valdes says. “I’ve worked every single one, and even if I didn’t, I’d still be here with everyone singing at the top of our teenage-angst lungs.”
Most DJs aren’t thrilled about requests, but Fernandez wholeheartedly encourages them. For more obscure cuts, she simply asks that people comment on Instagram (@emonitemiami) in advance so she can track down records. “A lot of our crowd avoids the South Beach club scene and mostly hangs out in dive bars,” she explains. “I want everyone to feel that this is their night.”
The party can get pretty raucous. A group of sweaty guys once took off their shirts, stood on the bar Coyote Ugly-style, and sang at the top of their lungs. Another time, as the crowd was singing to My Chemical Romance’s “Helena,” Fernandez experienced a technical malfunction and the speakers cut out.
“Everyone was singing so loud for the whole minute it took me to fix it that no one even noticed the music wasn’t playing,” she says with a laugh.
During an air guitar contest, one competitor famously mooned the crowd. Another participant once jammed out so hard his sandal flew off his foot, hurtled across the bar, and landed behind a limited-edition Bacardi bottle on the bar's top liquor shelf, where the shoe still rests today.
“Some of these lyrics we couldn’t relate to at 14, but we were screaming them anyway because we loved the music," Murillo says. "What did we know about heartbreak then? It’s a little more relatable now.”
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Murillo is always surprised by the people who come to Emo Nite. Sometimes he’ll spot a cohort of suit-clad businessmen and cringe, thinking they’ll bolt as soon as the event begins. Oftentimes, he'll find them later singing alongside regulars. “I see people here that I never thought would’ve listened to emo music sing all the words to a Senses Fail song,” he says. “I think everyone has a little secret emo part of them.”
Murillo and Fernandez guarantee that even if you were a chonga or jock or preppy in high school during the 2000s, there will be songs that everyone will know. Fernandez switches it up sometimes and plays tracks that wouldn't be considered emo but are definitely sad and angry, including Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” and Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper.”
“Emo music has this façade that everyone’s angry and mean, but it’s the exact opposite,” Fernandez says. “Everyone feels superconnected because you realize all these years ago that we were all experiencing this together.”
Emo Nite. With Jessica Who and others. 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, November 17, at Mama Tried, 207 NE First St., Miami; instagram.com/emonitemiami. Admission is free.