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Take heart if you've become accustomed to certain genres of music taking center stage at Alligator Alley, one of Broward's finest live music venues. Local music man Fran Snyder is bringing his Writers Night showcase to town. This monthly meeting designed to hone local musicians' chops is among one of the most innovative open-stage events in the area. Previously appearing in Cocoa Beach, Ybor City, Gainesville, and Tampa, the event had most recently taken up residence at West Palm Beach's Underground Coffeehouse. Refreshingly Snyder's operation caters to musicians and songwriters, in a region notorious for restrictive dress codes, velvet-rope gatekeepers, and canned dance music at the expense of anything based in reality.
"We try to keep it real," says Snyder, admitting he's partial to acoustic-based acts. Bands do appear, but Snyder tries to keep things flowing so spectators aren't stuck watching a drum kit being packed up. And, he adds, "There's a lot of bands who get by on having a cool sound without songs, so this levels the playing field a little bit." The move from West Palm to Alligator Alley gives Miami musicians, who weren't always thrilled about the two-hour trek to play a nonpaying gig, better access to the event. Additionally the Underground Coffeehouse's Writers Night, which charged a cover, was in direct competition with the free, outdoor Clematis by Night nearby, and as Snyder notes, "Most people aren't going to walk past a free music showcase to go downstairs and pay $3."
Here's how his Writers Night showcase works: An open-mic session starts things off, with a queue of audience members, usually from the acoustic/singer-songwriter realm, performing one tune apiece. Then a handful of more established acts takes the stage, followed by Snyder's band and a final open-mic excursion. What's cool is that Writers Night allows developing artists the chance to play professionally in a real venue -- and in the case of Alligator Alley, jam on one of the area's best indoor sound systems. With the open-mic segments and the eclectic roster of scheduled acts, you have a broad selection of genres and personalities interacting in a way that might not occur in the wild.
Tuesday, May 30, Writers Night moves into its new location in Sunrise with performances from Big Blue Sky, Jodi, Scott Avery, Trophy Wife, Zen Dog, and the Fran Snyder Band. The show gets going at 9 p.m., the cover charge is a mere $3, and amazingly, drafts are only a quarter. Snyder adds this cautionary note: "While enthusiasm and audience participation is encouraged, Writers Night is a concert environment. Please keep talking to a minimum while performers are on stage. Cell phones will explode on second ring!"
Were that the case, Bandwidth and its team of congressional lobbyists would pledge to support legislation legalizing such actions.
In our modern civilized world, you'd think warnings like Snyder's wouldn't be necessary, but this is South Florida. Decorum during Joni Mitchell's performance at MARS Music Amphitheater on May 17 left much to be desired. At the far end of Section Six, (a stone's throw from the lawn), a mix of hapless older fans and a sprightly, youthful-feeling Bandwidth were mystified by the presence of a few rabble-rousers. If they weren't sitting in $65 seats for the purpose of shutting up and listening to the music, we asked, why'd they come? Before the show started, when conversational whispers would have sufficed, two liquored-up pals were trying out for special achievement awards in the Broadcaster's Hall of Fame. And it didn't abate when the lights went down.
When Mitchell strode on stage to cheers, one of the numb nuts actually let out a boo. At another point, during her tranquilized version of "Both Sides Now," a commotion prompted us to turn around to witness one of the two straddling his row of seats like a bucking horse, with those around him trying in vain to quiet him down. Another lone fan caught in the duo's heinous sphere of influence had her cell phone welded to the side of her face -- we could only hope she was signaling security.
The constant disruptions made us choose a different location after the intermission, but even from about seven rows away, talking could be heard over the music. To be fair, we must admit the culprits did exhibit more spontaneity than the wooden Ms. Mitchell, whose rote introductions to tunes in the first half of her performance became exceedingly tiresome. Accompanied by a core group of players bolstered by members of the Boca Pops, Mitchell's voice was always perfect during the orchestral revisits to her older material and even older standards like "Stormy Weather."
Mitchell rolled surprisingly well with the unconscionable shouts from the crowd, who treated her like a jukebox prepared to dispense their favorites on request. Did they think she was going to teach her 70-piece ensemble new songs in the middle of a show? Mitchell did have a nice (preplanned) comeback for the folks who pleaded with her to strap on her acoustic six-string like the olden days: "I bought a bra and burned my guitar."
Bandwidth's advice for concertgoers: If you like to talk and spend money at the same time, just visit your therapist, who charges by the hour.