In either an extremely clever or perhaps just a brave bit of scheduling, the inaugural Miami Music Festival launches Thursday, less than a week after Art Basel Miami Beach. Despite the lack of recuperation time, though, this event is worth checking out if you truly want to support South Florida's development as a musical nexus. Conceived by Will Edwards, owner of Transit Lounge, the MMF is designed as a multiday shebang of daytime conferences and panels followed by band showcases at night.
Think a mini SXSW or CMJ, with a Miami flair. While those other, larger conferences have long been indie-rock-centric, this jam represents a much broader spectrum of genres. Rock, Latin, jazz, Caribbean, hip-hop, and R&B acts are all represented; and while the spread is heavily local, out-of-towners will arrive too. Industry heavyweights are set to attend and lead panels, and there will be at least 20 simultaneous showcases a night in tents and venues across the lower downtown Miami/Brickell area. It's not your average rinky-dink local music festival but an impressive event with way too much going on for any one person to attend.
So here's our guide to help you pick which new acts to discover. Among the locals there will be Jose El Rey, Awesome New Republic, Suenalo, Ex Norwegian, Jacob Jeffries Band, Mayday, and the State Of, among many others worth your time. Here's a random ABC guide to other acts playing that you may not have heard of but may want to hear. For comprehensive preview coverage, check out Crossfade, New Times' music blog, at BrowardPalmBeach.com. A list of addresses appears at the end.
Autodrone: One of the most surprising out-of-town acts to be sprinkled into the festival's lineup, this quartet from New York City specializes in reverb-drenched rock and dream pop that would sound at home in a collection of early singles. In a refreshing twist for this genre, they have female vocals. Saturday, 10 p.m. at Tobacco Road, inside.
Carlos Bertonatti: Ladies will swoon for this Venezuelan-born, Miami-based crooner and guitarist, blessed with movie-star looks and extremely catchy, sunny acoustic pop rock. Imagine, perhaps, John Mayer but without all the douchiness. Thursday, 9 p.m. at Waxy O'Connor's, indoors.
The Big Bounce: Hip locals already know that the Big Bounce is one of the most original local acts that is consistently entertaining live, with Miami residencies at the Florida Room, the Clevelander, and Blue Martini. With Brendan O'Hara on guitar or keyboard and MC Komakozie on the mic, they've dubbed their genre-bending sound "hip-drop" or "street lounge." Thursday, 10 p.m. at Mecca Discotekka. Friday, 11 p.m. at La Guaracha. Saturday, 11 p.m. at Mekka Goddess.
Blank Tape: A set of four Pembroke Pines teens, the band is already a favorite on the local all-ages Solid Sound Studios/Talent Farm circuit. Their pop-punk hooks and New Found Glory-ish turns into hardcore territory, though, are surprisingly grown-up. Thursday, 10 p.m. at Transit Tent 3.
Alex Cuba: Born on the island but now based in British Columbia, Cuba specializes in a world-fusion blend of pop rock anchored by his jazz-trained guitar playing. Though he sings entirely in Spanish, his sound is still pop-oriented and could appeal equally to fans of any number of laid-back, surfy Anglophone troubadours. Thursday at 11 p.m. at Transit; Friday at 9:45 p.m. on the patio at Transit; and late Saturday/early Sunday at 1 a.m. at Gordon Biersch.
Electric Piquete: Miami New Times' Best Latin Band of 2009, this Hialeah-based sextet covers Latin, funk, and jazz fusion territory all at once. But don't worry; it never gets too noodly — the playing is always tight and high-energy. Thursday, midnight at Hard Rock. Friday, 11 p.m. at Transit Tent 1.
Empress Raw: One of South Florida's fiercest females, Raw brings a Caribbean flavor and blazing stage presence to street-level hip-hop. Friday, 11 p.m. at Transit Tent 2.
Ghost of Gloria: South Florida's best hopes for mainstream rock radio, these tireless Fort Lauderdale guys boast sharp vocal harmonies and a single produced by Don Gilmore, who gave Linkin Park its early recorded magic. Catch them on a small stage now, as they're due to get snapped up by a major any day now. Late Thursday/early Friday at 2 a.m. at Mecca Discotekka. Friday, 11 p.m. at Mecca Discotekka. Late Saturday/early Sunday at 2 a.m. at Tobacco Road, outside.
Amaury Gutierrez: One of the leading lights of the younger wave of Cuban exile musicians in South Florida, Gutierrez specializes in introspective, heartfelt tales of relationships gone sweet and sour. Not only has he scored a Latin Grammy nomination and sold hundreds of thousands of records but his support of the dissident movement on the island has earned him endless brownie points here. Thursday, midnight at Waxy O'Connors, indoors.
Mindwalk Blvd.: More out-of-towners, and more precocious teenagers — you wouldn't believe that this Boston trio's circular, tight-as-a-glove riffs don't come from seasoned studio hands. These kiddies unapologetically cite prog titans like Dream Theater and Rush as influences but rein that all in into songs to which you can still sing along. Saturday, 10 p.m. at Tobacco Road, outside.
Alex Nelson: A fast-rising one-man-band from Fort Lauderdale, Nelson specializes in hushed tales of heartbreak run, live, through a Byzantine setup of knobs and buttons. It captures the essence of both Dashboard Confessional and, say, the Postal Service, and it works — really works. Late Thursday/early Friday at 1 a.m. at the Lounge at Transit. Friday, 10 p.m. at La Guaracha.
People From Venus: Miami's previously best-kept secret, these Anglophilic indie rockers touch on glam and electro with a hefty dose of big hooks. What makes them stand out from the rest of the Brit-loving pack are the outerspacey melodies and supple, reedy vocals courtesy of frontman Paul Isaac. Friday, 10 p.m. at Mecca Discotekka.
Sol Ruiz: Local girl Ruiz plays what she calls "psychedelic Cuban blues," sometimes solo, often with a rotating backing cast of Miami's best players. With her distinct, almost jazzy vocal inflections and percolating rhythms, it's multiculti and artsy while still being radio-ready. Thursday, 9 p.m. at Waxy O'Connors, outdoors. Friday, 9 p.m. at Mekka Goddess. Saturday, 11 p.m. at the Lounge at Transit.
Cat Shell: This flaxen-haired young chanteuse recently decamped to Miami Beach from her old Boca turf. She remains popular all over the tricounty area for jazz-pop infused with a bluesy tang that's mature beyond her years. Thursday, midnight at the Lounge at Transit. Friday, midnight at Wallflower Gallery.
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Shonie: One of Slip N Slide's most recent discoveries, Shonie brings frank talk back to R&B. Rather than sing with her head in the clouds, Shonie gives it to you straight from a female perspective, as she did with her minor internet hit earlier this year, a somewhat salacious response song to Jeremih's "Birthday Sex." Late Thursday/early Friday at 1 a.m. at Ecco Lounge.
Shawn Snyder: This local rambling 20-something is one of South Florida's most preternaturally talented singer/songwriters, with a jangling blend of folk rock that lives up to the legacy of those he name-checks as influences, like James Taylor and Paul Simon. Last December, we named his Romantic's Requiem as one of the top local albums of 2008. Thursday, 9 p.m. at Mecca Discotekka. Friday, 10 p.m. at Havana Dreams. Late Saturday/early Sunday at 1 a.m. at the Lounge at Transit.
Eric Stinnett: Remember the good old days of now-classic '90s R&B, before much of the genre got slightly creepy? Stinnett does, and he does a bang-up job of bringing those good feelings back, with jazzy, soulful songwriting and instrumentation. Actually, without calling this "neo-soul," fans of artists like Musiq Soulchild should eat this up immediately. Saturday, midnight at Red Bar.
Stonefox: Imagine Led Zeppelin, Howlin' Wolf, and any number of obscure garage rock 'n' roll bands reincarnated in the bodies of four skinny kids from the Boca 'burbs. If that sounds like hyperbole, catch their live show, where hands go in the air and amps go to 11. Saturday, 9 p.m. at Tobacco Road, outside.