It's not always a good sign when a band gets a phone call from local city officials saying that they'd "like to talk." Thoughts of past noise violations or complaints of rowdy behavior at local shows might immediately jump into some musicians' minds — and there might be some second-guessing about returning the phone call. But when Hialeah officials reached out to local band Humbert a few weeks ago, the surprise waiting in store for the band was beyond its wildest imagination.
The four members of Humbert have been grinding away in the local music scene for the past decade and a half, spreading love and musical joy everywhere they've played while championing their hometown of Hialeah to anyone who would listen. They're responsible for getting the 13-year-long Hialeahfest off the ground (along with Dave Daniels, owner of Churchill's Pub), and they've played at numerous charity events, and youth functions over the years. That's just how Humbert does it. Give back and don't even sweat the reciprocity. As it turns out, Mayor Julio Robaina of Hialeah simply wanted to show his appreciation. Robaina was considering giving the band a proclamation and making October 23, this year and every year afterward, officially Humbert Day.
Not bad for a funky ragtag band of rockers but, hey, they don't call Hialeah the City of Progress for nothing.
"I just wanted to make sure that we support our own... and support those who are out there encouraging people to get involved in music," Robaina says. "They've been involved in lots of positive events over the years, and when we looked at all the work they've done, it made sense."
So last week, I found myself standing in the lobby of Hialeah City Hall as members of Humbert (Tony Landa, Ferny Coipel, Rimsky Pons, and Izo Besares) posed with family members and friends with a proclamation commemorating the fact that it was officially their day.
There was one small glitch. The guys in Humbert didn't actually get a day like they thought they were originally promised. October 23 is now Fernando "Ferny" Coipel Day in Hialeah. Apparently, there was a slight misunderstanding.
Considering we're talking about the wild-blooded Humbert and offbeat Hialeah, neither of which is known for being conventional, a few wrinkles were to be expected. Of course, Ferny, the band's charismatic and long-haired singer/keyboardist, was visibly ecstatic about all of this and, in between hugging his abuela last week, he took time out to explain it all.
"Dude, this was totally unexpected," Ferny said, still a bit surprised. "We just do what we do, and for a city to recognize us like this is really cool. It's cool to know your town cares."
All four members of Humbert walked up in front of the City Council to be recognized, so it's not like the city doesn't collectively notice the band's efforts. As far as guitarist Tony Landa is concerned, the glitch isn't worth mentioning.
"At first, it was pretty embarrassing that we told so many people it was Humbert Day and it really wasn't," Landa says chuckling. "My mom was there... and I don't know if we should really tell people that it's not Humbert Day."
It's not that big a deal, Landa says. We're all a band, and if anyone deserves this, Ferny does. He's done a lot for the local music scene in Hialeah before we were even a group."
Don't let the technical glitch take away from the fact that Humbert, for all intents and purposes, is still a killer band. And Ferny getting his own day is a huge nod toward the band, not just one individual.
Of course, this doesn't mean Humbert no longer has to worry about paying traffic tickets or municipal taxes. It's even bigger. Essentially, it means that their city believes in them, and that's a larger award than anyone in the group ever thought they'd get.
"Honestly, I didn't even know that cities did this," Ferny says the next day. "When they first contacted us, we thought someone was putting us on. I mean, to get someone who follows music constantly to give you a recognition or an award, that's great, but it's their job to like you or dislike you. But I think a city that has nothing to do with music or building a career for musicians — like, it's not on their daily agenda to follow a band — for them to come out and do this means a lot."
Whether the band realized it or not, this train started in motion roughly a year and a half ago, when Ferny approached the mayor's office to let them know that Humbert would be traveling to the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, representing themselves as a Hialeah band.
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"You'd figure most people are going to search for Miami or South Florida bands at SXSW," Ferny says. "So to say that we rep Hialeah is sort of shooting ourselves in the foot, but we did it anyway."
The gesture didn't go unnoticed, and neither did the band's soothing power-pop ballads, by legions of fans at that year's music festival. The band is largely known for making music that defies conventional expectations. If you're thinking hard, fast, pedal-to-the-metal-style rock? Forget it. Soft and shoegazy? Nope, guess again. In fact, part of what makes Humbert such an enjoyable band to watch whenever they land on a local show bill is the fact that their sexy riffs and candy-coated melodies are like tiny eargasms that make the world seem better, one song at a time.
Now that Ferny has his proclamation, don't think it's going to change Humbert's attitude. They're still a laugh-a-minute rock band that puts music and community love first.
"We don't take ourselves too seriously," Ferny says. "There's no need to take yourself too seriously. What we do, as musicians, is important enough. And we just want to convey emotion and love through our music. You don't need to be serious to do that at all."