At Bandwidth's advanced age, recalling each and every New Year's Eve celebration or determining how a particular year stacked up in the grand scheme of things isn't always easy. That's why I have plotted a graph of my New Year's Eve celebrations, looking for spikes in the data, when I particularly enjoyed myself. Keep it in a manila folder, I do, right between the onyx elephant and the lava lamp. And after careful consideration, I decided to place this last December 31 right up there with the best, and not just because I've learned to imbibe in less amateurish proportions than I used to.
My first South Florida celebration has given me cause to reassess the reality of my situation, to ask the big question: "Why am I here?" Or more specifically, "What am I doing on SW Second Street in downtown Fort Lauderdale at midnight in front of Creolina's while all sorts of combustible lunkheaded revelers toot noisemakers, honk horns, and whoop it up? Am I being punished? Is this divine retribution? What did I do?"
Until very recently I found it hard to put South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, in any context of "cool." Coming from a land of wide-open spaces, environmentalists, and smoke-free nightclubs to a place that has bred a most unimpressive cultural milieu (on the surface, at least) has made me continually question my decision to relocate here.
Making a huge move across the country was scarier than I had envisioned. But then I remembered what a New Year's Eve celebration would have meant if I'd stayed put: a big, loud show with either the Samples or Big Head Todd and the Monsters or, even worse, both. It can't be bad to distance oneself from that, can it?
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For whatever reason, I've made the choice to stick around. In doing so, I'm deviating from the precedent set by the former occupants of my cubicle, who either wouldn't or couldn't hang with the idea of being castaways at the end of a peninsula where very, very few interesting acts from the mainland deign to tread. Admittedly those looking at this job as an opportunity to feast on the usual music-critic fare other big cities enjoy were deluding themselves. I knew that anything worthwhile down here would likely operate well underground and that finding these individuals would involve looking for them, not waiting for some publicist in Los Angeles to hand me a press kit.
There are only two kinds of music to my ears: good and bad. South Florida has an abundance of bad, owing to its geographic isolation and demographic transience. Yet beneath its vapidly glossy surface, it also has vast repositories of good, in the persons of individuals who know that waiting for something cool to happen is about as smart as waiting for cross-country skiing trails to sprout up in the Keys. Plenty of folks understand they have to do it themselves: instead of finding a scene to glom on to, they've created their own.
For evidence look no further than the two bands that entertained Bandwidth and company on New Year's Eve: Hashbrown and the Hep Cat Boo Daddies. Both bands work extremely hard. Both have loyal followings. Neither follows a commercially viable trend that smacks of sucking up. Both are extremely entertaining and exist largely to play as many shows and entertain as many people as possible. They're not known for their recorded output; their art remains an unmediated experience, without the pernicious influences of managers, flacks, and other unseemly tentacles of the industry. With the Daddies at the Poor House and Hashbrown at Lord Nelson's Pub, nothing filtered or diluted the raw experience for us. There was barely a distinction between performer and spectacle.
The Hep Cat Boo Daddies are an extremely standard-issue unit and could have just as easily been performing a New Year's Eve show in Fargo or New Brunswick or Texarkana: Their brand of nitro-fueled blues isn't unique or highbrow or artsy, nor does it reveal much more upon repeated exposure. But despite their consistency and predictability, the band is not a musical equivalent of national chains like Applebee's or the Olive Garden. The trio always enjoys itself, and audiences are ecstatic, because they know what to expect. The Daddies, for their part, never, ever fail to deliver. The formula clearly works: The Poor House was so packed, it was almost impossible to squeeze into.
Hashbrown, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. This group is one of a kind, as unique and fascinating as the Daddies are familiar and comforting. The quartet's performance at Lord Nelson's showcased a supertight foundation informed by dub, funk, old-school hip-hop, '70s R&B, industrial clatter, and street poetry. Hashbrown is a beautiful thing to witness, and Bandwidth had a blast. I'd certainly rather hear Hashbrown tear up an old Meters tune than hear the aging Funky Meters snooze through it for the billionth time -- exactly what I would have been snoring through this December 31 had I not uprooted and been Broward-bound.
So, after much debate, consternation, hand-wringing, homesickness, and whining and many second thoughts, I'm going to buck the New Times BrowardPalm Beach music-editor tradition and remain at my station. I could bitch about the Modest Mice or Stereolabs or Pink Dots or Silver Scooters that I'll never see here, but you know what? I honestly don't care. This place, like any place, amounts to what we make of it. I consider myself fortunate to live in an area claiming bands like the Rocking Horse Winner, Hashbrown, Disconnect, A Kite Is a Victim, the Tiny Show, Sunday Driver, the Curious Hair, and all the rest I haven't discovered yet.
In short, Bandwidth pledges to continue to hurl both bouquets and bile at local musical targets for the foreseeable future. There's work to be done (as long as the Metal Factory still stands), and I'm no quitter.
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