As the coronavirus spread globally at the beginning of the year, cancellations of some of the most anticipated and large-scale festivals followed in disappointing droves. Every facet of the entertainment industry took a giant hit, as events large and small were shelved.
Local music-and-arts event the Black Market Festival was no exception. Originally planned for July at Las Rosas, a third edition looked doubtful when it became clear the venue would be unable to host acts for the long haul. Organizer Panther Cordts was well aware of Miami’s music scene's uncertain future and took it upon himself to find a safe alternative.
On Saturday, November 21, the Black Market — which has become known over the years as a flea market/drag show/music emporium on speed, highlighting Miami's varied alternative subcultures — will go ahead with its annual event. Instead of scaling down or going online, the Black Market is moving forward with an outdoor but socially distanced festival at Basecamp in the Magic City Innovation District.
“It’s the biggest production I’ve ever done," he admits. "Because it’s not at a bar or club, the whole infrastructure, security, everything, is on me.”
This includes enforcing social distancing and facemasks — a challenge even old hands at running big festivals have yet to face. Nevertheless, Cordts is confident festivalgoers will be willing cooperate, given that this new format is the only option for live music for the foreseeable future.
“We have to set a precedent that this can be done," he explains. "This is a test to see if we as a community can do it. If it goes well, we can open the floodgates to put on an event like this again. If it doesn’t, then we’ll know where we stand."
The list of checks and balances in place is long. Temperatures will be taken, along with tickets, at the door, and hand-sanitizer stations will be located throughout the venue. Onsite bathrooms will be cleaned regularly throughout the event.
Indeed, as much as Cordts has put his trust into the live-music fans in Miami, so have the 13 bands, the 50 vendors, and the drag performers on the lineup — many of who haven't performed for a crowd since the start of the pandemic.
Tommy Strangie, AKA Shelley Novak, whose drag act has been his primary source of income for 28 years, says he hasn’t worn makeup since March 12 and is looking forward to taking the stage as the festival’s MC in a safe environment.
While Strangie commends his fellow performers who took to livestreaming to continue performing throughout the pandemic, at 53, he hasn’t found it easy to translate his skills to the digital realm.
“They’re younger, and they’ve kept themselves going and got their art to the masses on Facebook Live. But I haven’t got it in me to dance around my living room to Kate Bush singing into a can of baked beans. I’ve lived off all my facelift money,” Strangie says with a self-deprecating laugh.
He insists that part of protecting the community is creating safe ways for artists to continue to generate a revenue stream. He praises Cordts’ effort with the Black Market Festival — especially in light of the fact that the responsibility has seemingly fallen to small-business owners and promoters to create new avenues for live music.
“I feel like the COVID pandemic is analogous to the AIDS epidemic, which I also lived through,” says Strangie. “At the beginning of the AIDS crisis, we didn’t know how it was transmitted. We didn’t have any leadership from the government, so there was a lot of uncertainty and fear. And here I see it all over again.”
With COVID-19 cases surpassing 10 million in the U.S., the return of large social gatherings seems inconceivable. But Strangie prefers the long view.
“I think people can't wait to get out, and I think this event will mark the beginning of a new era, a new dawn for nightlife,” Strangie says.
The festival lineup features some of Miami’s best-known acts, including bands Donzii, Palomino Blond, Astari Nite, Ordinary Boys; DJs like Rippin Kittin and Lamebot; and drag performers Karla Croqueta, Adora, and Yoko Oso. Otto Von Schirach and Bermuda Family will headline.
Speaking to New Times about performing at the festival, Schirach feels the time is right to try something like this. Given the months of preparation, he believes people are ready for a New Normal of live music festivals.
“Wearing a mask is cool — it’s fashion," Schirach adds. "People just want to be safe and support their bands and their favorite artist now."
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