Bring Down the Jams
Deep in the uncharted wilderness of the Wild West (we like to call it Davie), in the midst of a cluttered office strewn with concert posters, a T-shirt autographed by Phish guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio, and practically the entire collection of Simpsons action figures, many of them still in their original packages, Ethan Schwartz plots his next move. After a little more than two years, his promotion company, South Florida Jams, has created a scene where there was none.
The hippie kids who were living in South Florida B.S. (Before Schwartz) remember those days, when gatherings of the patchwork-pants crowd consisted primarily of Crazy Fingers concerts. And while a Grateful Dead cover band may be a guilty pleasure every now and again, it does not a scene make.
"I don't want to take anything away from Crazy Fingers," Schwartz, looking not-at-all hippie with short hair, a clean-shaven face, and a simple T-shirt and jeans, says as he sips a Guinness at a local watering hole. "But when I came down here, there was really nothing. I wanted to change that."
South Florida Jams
Ray's Downtown Blues, 519 Clematis St., West Palm Beach / Culture Room
Boomshanka performs at 9 p.m. Friday, July 19 at Ray's Downtown Blues. Call 561-835-1577. Mofro performs Wednesday, July 24 at the Culture Room (see Critic's Pick for details).
How many other times has some local shmuck said the very same thing? But Schwartz was serious. Like many other fans of improvisational rock, he's seen Phish more than 60 times. The amount of other shows in the genre he has graced with his presence are too numerous to name. But while similarly minded individuals might have said it would be nice if some of these bands came to South Florida, then passed the bong and forgotten about it, Schwartz got up off the couch and actually did something. Together with his partner, Scott Langer, Schwartz started South Florida Jams and took his first step into the impresario business. Between the two men, they had all of zero hours of experience and little money, but they made it work.
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"I had never done anything in the music business," Schwartz admits. "This was new to both of us."
From such humble beginnings, it's surprising how far the company has come. Within the confines of the genre Schwartz has chosen, the bands he has brought down to South Florida -- a notoriously difficult job in and of itself -- have been impressive. Techno bands such as the New Deal and Sound Tribe Sector 9. The second tier of jam bands, such as moe.: groups that are at the very top of the game, with the exception of amphitheater-fillers such as String Cheese Incident or Widespread Panic. And all the while, local bands such as Jerrods Door, Hashbrown, and the Active Ingredients have played a key role by opening for these headliners. A 9/11 benefit concert put on by South Florida Jams even featured a lengthy list of these local bands without any national act at the top of the marquee and still did fairly well. But like many other local promoters, Schwartz has seen little in the way of profits.
"I didn't start this for money," he insists. "I just wanted to get the bands I like to come and play where I live."
So, without any nest egg, where does one get the money to pay for bands? In Schwartz's case, the answer is porn. His day job consists of hosting Websites for porn providers. Granted, it's not the most respected of professions, but the promoter is happy to be working at home.
"You know those spam e-mails that say you can make money working at home on the Internet?" he says. "They're true. It's just a question of what you're going to be doing. I don't mind getting up after noon and sitting around in my shorts for a living. Sometimes it's a bit stressful, wondering whether your sites will get enough visitors, but it's not as bad as a typical job."
With the money garnered from his job on the periphery of South Florida's ever-growing porn industry, Schwartz has been able to finance his nighttime business without a great deal of difficulty, even with the absence of his sidekick. Langer left the partnership in March 2001, soon after its first year.
"Scott is still the heart and soul of South Florida Jams," Schwartz says. "It wouldn't have happened in the first place without him."
Langer still makes it out to most of the shows, but Schwartz alone has been at the tiller through most of the business's success. When asked whom he would like to bring down, the question is not even completed before Schwartz responds, "The Disco Biscuits. Without a doubt. The Biscuits." The way things are going, it shouldn't be long before Schwartz manages to get a visit by this hottest of the burgeoning subgenre of techno-jam groups.
Bill Graham, patron saint of impresarios, once said that it is the promoter's job to create a scene. If one uses this as Schwartz's litmus test, South Florida Jams must be considered a success. At a recent show, while he was dashing in and out of the Culture Room through much of it, the times when Schwartz was inside were telling. As he bobbed his head in time to Bernie Worrell's funky beat, a stream of people who passed him by gave him pats on the back, thanks, and other congratulatory overtures. It seemed half the crowd knew the man and what he had done for them. It was Bernie Worrell's concert, and it was Greg Aliferis's club, but it was Ethan Schwartz's scene.
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