Longform

A Cameo Role

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De Onis and owner Zori Hayon closed the Cameo in late 1989 for renovations. Two vestiges of its movie-house days would disappear: the tattered seats and the bubble-gum-covered floor.


The Cameo reopened in March 1990 with a concert by the Sugarcubes. But DJs were gaining momentum. The old movie theater was cruising into the electronica universe.

Michael Capponi was one of a group of young promoters who approached de Onis that year about leasing the theater on weekend nights. He and DJs Ruben Pagan and Carl B. Dread called themselves Global Tribe and transformed the Cameo into a fashionable dance club. They called their party "One." "It was about 70 percent African Americans and 30 percent models," Capponi remembers. "It was a very different time here in Miami. But it was a very cool vibe. It was like an African-hippie movement." The mellow, Afrocentric hip-hop music of A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers was in vogue, he adds. "It was really a down groove."

But as One became more popular, gangs joined in. "And then a lot of fights started breaking out and it wasn't so much about peace anymore," he says with a laugh. Another party was called Industry; DJs played music ranging from heavy metal to hip-hop. "That was a really packed night," Capponi remembers. "There would be 1000 people waiting outside. It was incredible."

Then there was Disco Inferno, an idea that Capponi and DJs Bobby Starke and Gary James borrowed from Texas nightclubs in 1992. De Onis was skeptical. "These guys came up and told me they wanted to do a disco night on Sunday," de Onis remembers. "And I thought, Oh well sure. And I felt kind of bad for them. I thought, Yeah, they're going to lose a lot of money," de Onis recalls. "I was so wrong. This turned out to be the absolute biggest night that we had there."

Meanwhile the Quinlans left Crossover Concerts and the Cameo amid financial difficulties. "The revenues [for live shows] weren't coming in fast enough so some of the partners pulled out," says James. By the end of 1992 de Onis had also left, still marveling at the staying power of disco nights, which lasted five years. The disco madness ended in June 1997 after federal, state, and local undercover agents repeatedly bought cocaine inside the Cameo. Authorities closed the club. A few months later they allowed owner Zori Hayon to reopen after he paid $35,000 in fines and agreed to end the theater's under-21 events, including disco nights.

Since then a steady, predictable stream of musicians, ranging from Bob Dylan to Tricky to Top Vice, have performed there. Occasionally the theater has presented bursts of cutting-edge music. This past March internationally acclaimed MCs Fat Boy Slim, Daft Punk, John Aquaviva, and Todd Terry played the Cameo during the Winter Music Conference.

But for the most part, the Cameo has never regained its creative charm, especially when compared to the experimentation of the Eighties and early Nineties. "If you visited Miami Beach any time in the last five years and you asked people about the Cameo they'd give you a weird look if you said you were going to go there," observes Joe Delaney, who now heads Bar Group, a company that runs Iguana Cantina and Martini Bar, two Coconut Grove clubs. "It has been a hangout of gangbangers for too long now. Before that it had the potential to bloom into a nice kind of cultural thing."

Laura Quinlan is still inspired by the experimental spirit of the theater's pre-1990 denizens. "The Cameo always attracted a certain kind of person who was creative and entrepreneurial and interested in things going on," she says. "Even our die-hard audience members, I still run into them and they're all still up to cool stuff."

Paco de Onis, for instance, is now an independent producer currently working with PBS documentary king Bill Moyers. Michael Capponi is a promoter at Bar Room, a popular (though VIP-heavy) dance club located in the building that once housed the 600-seat Flamingo Theater on Lincoln Road. (The Flamingo became a luggage store in 1979.) Several of the DJs spin regularly at area clubs. Frank Falestra runs a recording studio and still performs his inimitable noise rock as Rat Bastard. Today Laura Quinlan manages the Rhythm Foundation, which specializes in presenting concerts by foreign bands. "A lot of people discovered South Beach through the Cameo," says James Quinlan, now director of the City of Miami Beach's office of art, culture, and entertainment.

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Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen