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Buddy Crawford can usually be found in the back of Dad's Donuts, the shop he opened in Margate almost two years ago, frying up globs of white dough. Buddy, whose bushy, graying beard befits his nickname -- "Dad" -- usually starts work at 11 p.m. and bakes until well past dawn.
"I have no experience running a club," he grumbles on a recent rainy morning, using a wooden stick to flip a fritter floating in a vat of hot oil. "Ninety percent of my business is donuts."
The other 10 percent, oddly enough, is putting on all-ages, punk-rock shows. Almost every Saturday night, bands set up their equipment on the donut shop's tile floor, plug in their amps behind the beverage cooler in the corner, and play to a capacity crowd of dancing, screaming teenagers.
"There's a big middle section, chairs on the sides, and there's space big enough to play," says Jeremy Morgan, the eighteen-year-old frontman for Pawn Rook Four, a frequent headliner at Dad's Donuts. "When there's 50 people in there, it looks like the place is rocking."
"A friend told us about it," says Marco Agiro, the sixteen-year-old guitarist and singer for the Outrights. "And we decided to play there because, hey, free show at a donut shop. How cool does that sound?"
It certainly says something about South Florida's withering music scene that a 600-square-foot donut shop without a sound system, stage lights, or a stage has become a hot spot for live bands. Because it doesn't charge admission, Dad's Donuts doesn't even pay the bands. But local musicians have limited options these days -- clubs have been folding like umbrellas after a rainstorm within the past few months -- and Dad's Donuts has a reputation for booking almost anyone with enough talent to pick up a phone and make a call. As a result it's hosted bands from all over South Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Davie, Cooper City, Boca Raton, even West Palm Beach.
"I've probably got fifteen bands now who want to play here," sighs Buddy's wife, Susan, who serves as the informal booking agent for the venue. Buddy, gesturing to a bulletin board in the back room that is virtually shingled with messages from bands, points out, "That's just this week."
The Crawfords never planned on becoming the gathering place for South Florida's mosh 'n' nosh crowd. Buddy, a Hialeah native, ran Dad's Donuts in Boca Raton for fourteen years before being forced out by high rent. His current spot in Margate, a stucco building near a boarded-up Albertson's supermarket, stands at the corner of Coconut Creek Parkway and State Road 7, surrounded by acres of empty parking lot. It's actually an ideal spot for hosting concerts, because there aren't any neighbors to complain. Perhaps that's what went through the mind of Susan's young nephew when he mentioned that a local band called the Shakers was looking for a place, any place, to play. It was a little more than a year ago that the Shakers played the first concert in Dad's Donuts, and ever since then the Crawfords have been inundated with calls and visits from other hopefuls looking for a gig.
"I heard other bands played there, so we just went in and asked them if we could play," says Jason Lustman, who leads the hardcore band Nunz Get Nun. "It's really hard to book shows around here. You gotta know a lot of people to actually get in. I guess it's all about knowing people."
Not at Dad's Donuts. The Crawfords have never heard of half the bands they book. "You don't need a promo package or anything," says Morgan, of Pawn Rook Four. "You could be the worst band in the world, and if you just want to play one show and see how you are, you can do it."
The Crawfords don't particularly care about the sound of the bands -- it's the followers that concern them. There's a moratorium on drinking and slamming inside the club, and Buddy makes it clear that he'll pull the plug on any band that can't control its audience. In fact he did so on a recent Saturday night. "You got the girls on the tables, screaming and hollering, then you got a half-dozen guys slamming on the floor," he says. "I don't want to get sued, but I don't want anyone to get hurt, either."
For the last few weeks, the Crawfords have postponed the concerts, just to let things "cool down," according to Buddy. Lustman, of Nunz Get Nun, admits to being the offending party. "We kind of ruined it for everybody," he says.
There's another reason Buddy shut down the concerts: a recent series of letters and phone calls from ASCAP -- the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers -- one of the three largest licensing organizations in North America. One letter began by thanking Buddy for hosting live music in his establishment. "You may not know, however, that music is the property of those who create it," the letter continued, "and to perform copyrighted music at your establishment you must obtain permission from the copyright owners, or their representatives, such as ASCAP."
In short, ASCAP requests that Dad's Donuts pay several hundred dollars per year in licensing fees, back-dated to last February. The payment's basically a form of insurance that will prevent the venue from being sued if a band were to play a cover version of an ASCAP song -- say, "Welcome to Paradise," by Green Day. Buddy swears the bands play only originals, and he resents ASCAP's interference.
"They're like high-pressure telemarketers," Buddy says of the representatives who have phoned him. "To me the whole thing is a crock. These are just kids trying to learn how to play."
Exactly how ASCAP discovered that Dad's Donuts was hosting live music isn't clear. The Crawfords don't advertise their shows, save a small announcement of upcoming bands taped to the front door. But Vincent Candilora, senior vice president of licensing at ASCAP, points out that his company employs about 150 people across the United States who look through local newspapers, magazines, and even community newsweeklies for potential infringers. "Who knows," says Candilora, "maybe one of them stopped in for a donut."
Candilora agrees that Dad's Donuts owes nothing to ASCAP as long as the bands play on-ly original material. He also notes that ASCAP does not willingly turn a blind eye to small venues. "If they are unwilling to sign a license, we'll say, 'You don't have to use music, and we'd like you stop using it if you're going to use it illegally.' And if they continue to use it, we'll send investigators who will literally listen to the music, and when they hear our members' music being performed, they will document it, and we will take that venue to federal court and pursue the venue under copyright law."
Buddy has no intention of paying, and this week the Crawfords will reopen their doors to local bands, albeit with a severe caveat against cover tunes. On Saturday, May 16, the rock band Harrison Bergeron will play at 9 p.m. Others are sure to follow in the coming weeks: The venue's recent hiatus didn't make a dent in the number of bands calling for gigs.
"The acoustics are not great, they don't have a PA, or a stage, or anything," says Morgan. "But it's there, it's a venue, and it's somewhere to play and get your stuff out. That's basically Dad's Donuts for you.