Bandwidth: Casualties of rock at the City Link Music Fest

 City Link's Music Fest is supposed to be a blast. After all, this block party for local bands in Fort Lauderdale's bars-'n'-clubs district is about the best concert the city can count on each year. And even though crowds swell to claustrophobic levels, it is fun to cheer loud bands packed in close quarters and drop-kick cups of beer down Himmarshee Street. In theory it could almost be a religious experience: Let go, let rock.

Alas, this year's Music Fest was fraught with problems, with multiple arrests (including a well-known local music promoter hauled to the slammer), several bands ordered to stop performing mid-set, and other performers unfairly denied the chance to play at all. One source of the friction is certainly the collision between the plastic-surgeried fashionable flatliners who ordinarily prowl the district and the more "normal" people (meaning "more like me") who attend the festival. Granted, the T-shirt­and-sneaker crowd can expect snickers and sneers from downtown's platinum set. But this is one night of the year when it's supposed to be about the music, stupid.

A pretty simple concept to grasp -- unless you're one of those art-gestapo types who simply hates music. That would seem to sum up Tarpon Bend's manager, Chuck O'Connor, who booted at least two groups off-stage during his venue's so-called "hosting" of the event December 8. The first victims were the Trash Monkeys, originally slated for 10 p.m., who were instructed to perform an hour earlier if they wanted the chance to play at all. But when they did, they received such a poor response from Tarpon Bend's management that the Monkeys bailed about halfway into a planned 13-song performance.

After a drunken night at the City Link Music Fest, the Reverend Felcher's Ex-Cretins bandmates put him on "double secret probation"
Tom Verlain
After a drunken night at the City Link Music Fest, the Reverend Felcher's Ex-Cretins bandmates put him on "double secret probation"

"They came up and harassed us after every single song," says guitarist Mark Feehan. "They treated us really bad. We could just tell we were about to get thrown out, and then the manager came over and said, "All right guys -- you're done for the night.'"

Feehan acknowledges that Trash Monkeys' abrasive punk wasn't exactly connecting with the apathetic audience but notes the crowd wasn't booing or throwing tomatoes, either. "I'm sure it was busier in there than on a normal Friday night, but all [the management] did was bitch and complain."

Evidently soft-rocker Amanda Green met Tarpon Bend's interpretation of the festival's by-laws, because she was allowed to perform without interruption, as was the excellent Britpop-leaning quartet the New Graduates. However, when Fort Lauderdale's quirky, angular (but far from strident or dissonant) trio Neptune B took the stage, Chuck Barris... sorry, O'Connor, decided to turn the Music Fest into The Gong Show once again.

"We had played four songs," relates singer-guitarist Javier Caballero, who describes the venue as packed. "After that the manager walked in front of the stage and said, "We're cutting you guys short.' I just stood there in total shock. When they dimmed the lights on stage, I said over the microphone, "Hey, they're kicking us off.' Then, boom, they cut the stage power."

Fortunately the throng of fans appeared thoroughly satisfied with Neptune B and, emboldened by liquid courage, began to voice their disapproval -- loudly. Without amplification, drummer Dave Coleman began to pound out a tribal beat that helped stoke the crowd's rebellion but infuriated the venue's bouncers, who attempted to disassemble the drum kit, then roughly escorted the rowdy fans out the door.

The next day Caballero sent an e-mail apology to the band's mailing list of friends and supporters, offering to refund their $5 admission charge. "We thought it was a "Music Fest' at which we were scheduled to perform," he wrote. "The venue thought it was a "Music Fest' where the band would play four songs and then be asked to leave. We were also unaware that attendees would be removed from the premises in a chokehold."

Reached for comment a few days later, Caballero reports that no one took him up on his refund offer. But he's still smarting from Tarpon Bend's mistreatment of his band, which he readily admits is "not mainstream. Maybe they took offense because it's not something that you'd normally hear on the radio."

O'Connor admits that things "got kind of out of hand," but insists that his reasons for bum-rushing the Trash Monkeys and Neptune B were economic, not artistic. "Friday is our biggest night of the week," he says. "There were a couple bands who were clearing out the restaurant, bands who wouldn't normally play in the neighborhood. It was affecting my revenue greatly. So I'd let them play for 20 minutes or so, and then I'd say, "Thanks a lot, guys.'"

He maintains that he did a favor for every band that played his joint, but he ain't runnin' a charity over there. "I gave the bands some exposure," O'Connor asserts. "But I get paid to make the owners of the restaurant money. We did our thing for City Link and for these bands, but I can't sit there and watch the restaurant empty out." The bands and other witnesses contradict O'Connor's reports of a mass exodus.

Across the street at Tavern 213, the Ex-Cretins were also asked to stop playing mid-set, and management and police escorted both band and audience out the door. But that's because of a bit of drunken on-stage rowdiness. The Reverend Felcher, the band's singer, explains: "Something about a monitor, beer on the floor, some cables, and some falling down. I got my head bashed in that night." The incident didn't deter his bandmates from continuing the set. But as Felcher sat on the edge of the stage holding his bloody head, management decided they'd endured enough Ex-Cretins for one evening. "It was mostly our fault," the wrong reverend admits sheepishly.

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