Stuck in the Meyer

West Palm Beach gets a Soulfull of big names.

All right, so after last week's rueful column about the state of West Palm Beach ("Clematis Street Blues"), it's time for an about-face. That's not to say the city turned into a musical metropolis overnight; that just can't happen. But the first step, this weekend's debut of Soulfull Saturday at the Meyer Amphitheatre, is happening. Al Green, the Roots, Ms. Lauryn Hill, India.Arie — those are names that can give the Meyer a booster shot of local cred and, possibly, some national cachet too (see India.Arie article above for the full schedule). Problem is, every time I tell someone about the concert, I get the same response: "Hell yeah! But, um, where's the Meyer Amphitheatre?" So after explaining for the hundredth time where it is (105 Evernia St., just off Flagler Drive), I tried recalling the last big event I saw there. Jesus, could it have been... the protests after the 2000 presidential election? Yep, the last big "performance" I saw at the Meyer was the Rev. Jesse Jackson riling up a crowd of angry Democrats. Ah, but Incentric Entertainment Group — the four young guys behind Soulfull Saturday — aims to change that.

"We're on a mission to bring the Meyer Amphitheatre to life," says Bryan Silber, one of Incentric's three partners. "It's the city's crown jewel that's not being used."

Until now. While Silber's been handling issues with the city, his two partners — Chase Tureaud and Marc Jules Wright — have been working the entertainment industry, spending loads of time in Los Angeles (where Wright has lived since '99). Meanwhile, Mike Pontide, Incentric's official "right-hand man," helps with anything and everything, including fliering.

"We were fliering downtown Fort Lauderdale one week when a cop told us to leave," Tureaud recalls. "A week later, the same cop caught us fliering again. He was pissed. But then I showed him the flier. When he saw the lineup — Al Green, the Roots, Lauryn Hill — he totally shifted directions. He was impressed."

The next thing on Incentric's schedule is the launching of Full Moon Fridays this November. Unlike Soulfull Saturday (which they're hoping to do again in a year), Full Moon Fridays are monthly... and purely rock 'n' roll, daddy-o. Tureaud's wish list includes the White Stripes and Franz Ferdinand — bands that have traditionally ignored South Florida. Though I'm probably jinxing him by mentioning it. Bad Fats. But no matter who's headlining in November, I doubt getting an interview can be any more stressful than it was this time.

"Hello," I answered, trying to sound as friendly as possible.

"This is Ms. Hill," said the voice at the other end.

"Hey, how are ya?" I said, laying on an extra coat of niceness.

"......" was her nonresponse. I'll take that as a, "Shut up, you phony dipshit."

"O-kay, um..." I started.

"I really don't like the press," she finished.

And so began my 40-minute phone chat with Ms. Lauryn Hill, whom I'd been hoping to interview for this week's feature story. Her publicist told me she would grant an interview but only if I wrote a straight Q&A, without "editorializing." That's no problem, I said. However, before that could happen, I had to undergo a "screening," a pre-interview conversation with Ms. Hill to make sure I was worth talking to in the first place. So when she called me at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, I thought it'd be brief. Though I lacked a recorder, I had my pen and notebook ready. It was a good thing too; she told me I'd better be taking notes. I knew this would be my only chance.

When I finally moved past that difficult introduction, I asked her about where she likes performing, asking if she prefers smaller, more intimate shows off the industry radar.

"It's about figuring out where love is and finding my context, finding my group," Hill said. "There's a serious regime to keep info from the artists, to keep the artists as blind as possible. There have been literal conspiracies to keep me in a dependent dynamic."

I tried to steer the conversation toward her career, starting with a few transitional questions before asking about any current projects she's involved with — basically, things her fans would like to know about. I didn't get very far.

"Have you played with Al Green before?" I asked.

"I'm not playing with Al Green," she said.

"I mean, have you ever played the same concert as Al Green?" Bad move, Fats.

"Now, why did you do that?" she shot back. "Where was the natural segue into that question?"

"I was just trying to bring the conversation back to music," I limply offered.

She went on to chide me for thinking this was more important than everything else she'd been talking about (though I didn't).

"My context is broader than that," Hill said. "Music is just a device. Bob Marley and Bob Dylan were not just about the music. Even the Beatles — their art was instrumental."

And that, I'm sad to report, was the gist of our musical conversation.

It's not often that Fats has to defend his credibility to a pop artist. I usually won't even entertain the notion. But I went out of my way for Hill, knowing full well it might bite me in the ass. And I was conflicted. On one hand, I agree with a lot of what she has to say, namely about the music industry's disdain for high art. And while I knew she was no fan of the media, I thought maybe I'd be spared some of the scorn. It's not like I'm some mainstream gossip columnist. I work at an alt-weekly. I do most of my reporting at bars — bars I've performed in with my own bands. I'm not trying to commodify anyone. I explained this to Ms. Hill. But it didn't matter. I never got a call back for an interview. I must have sounded like a part of the machine.

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