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Jared Cole presides over Ray's Downtown Blues bar with Hugh Hefner-like authority. He sips straight Jim Beam from a highball glass; a cigarette dangles from his hand. His smile is three times the size of his head, not because he's surrounded by half-naked Bunnies -- unless you count the girl shooting pool in her bra and undies -- but because his grand experiment is finally under way.
Up on stage, a jazz fusion band called Prototype is playing. The singer's voice is so plush, it makes Norah Jones sound like Kermit the Frog. A couple of guys watching from the bar are already mesmerized when they look more closely at the musician who's sitting down. "Damn," says one. "He's playing a fretless bass."
Up next are two hip-hop kids who prefer to perform in the middle of the room. Even though they have a CD out, this is their first live gig. They dance like they're beating up Tupac's ghost, and when they finish, red-faced and sweaty, the whole crowd claps supportively as if it were a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Which is kind of appropriate, because the performance ends with one MC proclaiming, "Thanks! We're the Crack Heads!"
Every week, Cole books a schizophrenic lineup of ten or so acts -- hip-hop crews, rock bands, DJs, break dancers, jazz musicians, "anything that's psychedelic and cool at the same time," as he sees it -- for his Schmoorgisboard Sundaysparties. "We spelled it wrong, and we realize that," Cole says. "But we felt like if we went with smorgasborg" -- yes, that's how he pronounces it -- "which is the correct spelling, with the j at the end" -- yeah, he said j -- "that we'd just confuse people. Because I don't think anyone knows how to spell smorgasbord."
One word that Cole, 24, does know how to spell -- and conjugate -- is toke. He's recorded five albums with the Tokeable Object Project, which he describes as "psychedelic music. Nothing to do with the Grateful Dead, just bands playing their best and me adding my psychedelic production to it." He also launched the Toke1.com website and started a promotion company, Toker Productions. "I'll be lucky if I made $30 tonight," he says. "But we don't care about money. We care about smiles. I'm the brokest, most talented person you'll ever meet."
At the west end of West Palm Beach's Clematis Street, Ray's is precisely the type of hangout you can settle into for a night. With its scattered couches, mess of pinball machines, and stacks of amplifiers, it feels like a low-rent Playboy Mansion for the unpretentious set. The vibe tonight is like a house party -- a legal, peaceful, and rather surreal house party. Soon a nicely dressed woman settles in at the bar with a matronly smile. But instead of grounding us, mom cracks open a beer. A band called Cutback plugs in and grinds out some jangly surf licks, and it's like our crazy uncles just crashed the party. Ray Carbone, the ponytailed bar owner, serves drinks like an encouraging hippie dad.
When Cole first had the idea for these once-a-week variety shows several months ago, he says, "I went to every bar in Broward, and they said, 'No! No! No! No! We're cool -- we got karaoke on Sundays. We don't need your shit. '" So he worked his way northward until he found Carbone. "At first, I thought he was crazy," says the club owner. But unarguable economics have convinced him otherwise. Normally, the bar would draw 25 regulars on a Sunday night, but tonight, while nearly every other club on Clematis has its lights off, Schmoorgisboard has brought in about 100 customers.
Cutback drummer Joe DiDonna also sees the savvy businessman hidden beneath Cole's stoner exterior, and he bets the kid's charisma will pay off. Normally, he says, his band doesn't play for cheap, but tonight is an exception. "[Cole] was so happy and so believing in what he was doing," he says. "In the meantime, he's getting all these other jobs for us. He's a real good kid. He's gonna go somewhere."
As we slide into the wee hours of Monday morning, DJs Lexus, Immortal, K-Razor, and SPS tag-team on the turntables; somehow, they flip Men at Work's "Down Under" into a modern scratch anthem. Three barely legal hip-hop heads in basketball jerseys show up and ask if they can jam. Of course they can! John Vinazza, a 25-year-old cutie, has been sitting in the corner all evening, hunched over a canvas. Now he's putting the finishing touches on a painting he calls Making Love to Music.
At the end of the night he auctions it off, and the sound guy buys it for $30. You wonder if all this collective creativity is going to end up with everybody dancing around a maypole or involved in a group hug. It feels like "We Are the World." "Yeah," Cole says, clearly stoked on the thought. "'We are the World' meets Dark Side of the Moon."