Rock in a Hard Place
"I was hoping there would be a better turnout than this," Dave Kronstat, owner of Home, a new Fort Lauderdale rock club, says as he surveys the 15 or so people huddled around the bar at 10:30 p.m. two Fridays ago. His disappointment is understandable; this is the first night that Home, a self-described "rock 'n' roll joint," is hosting bands. While the bartender pours beers beside him, Kronstat frames dollar bills signed by a few patrons, many of them his friends, saddled on the barstools.
Two hours later, Kronstat's demeanor has changed considerably. Home is filled with people crowding in to survey Fort Lauderdale's latest nightclub and check out Miami psycho-surfabilly outfit the Holy Rollin' Hellfires. Now sitting outside the front door, Kronstat is nearly ecstatic, a large grin shining on his face. "We didn't do any promotion for this show, so this is great," he explains. By the end of the night, nearly 200 people will pass through the doors. Not a bad turnout for a city where the rock 'n' roll scene is nearly invisible.
The current rock 'n' roll drought in all of Broward County hasn't always existed. Until the mid-'90s, stalwart scenesters such as Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, Saigon Kick, Nuclear Valdez, the Baboons, Collapsing Lungs, and Jack Off Jill had a vast supply of rock clubs in which to gig. Among them were the Reunion Room, Rosebud's, the Edge, the Zoo, and Squeeze. But those clubs are now history.
The burgeoning rock scene of the mid-'90s eventually collapsed, imploded in a sense, and nearly every rock 'n' roll club ended up closing its doors. "Everybody's to blame for that time period. It was an adolescent scene," explains Adam Matza, former booking, marketing, and PR director for Squeeze. He traces the closing epidemic to several factors, the biggest being a supply-and-demand issue. "[In the mid-'90s] sports bars started doing bands; the number of venues tripled," he says. "It was an embarrassment of [a] wealth of places to play, and the bands started playing too much. It got to a point where people were like, 'I can see them next week, I can see them for free here. Why do I want to pay $5 to see them there?'" So attendance went down, the clubs started losing money, and doors were closed, leaving a gaping hole in Broward County's nightclub scene.
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That hole may soon be filled. Several new clubs and promoters are bringing rock 'n' roll acts back to local stages, which should enable jonesing rock addicts to get their fixes. Below are brief profiles of three individuals who are attempting to eradicate the rock 'n' roll drought. Each has his or her own modus operandi and motivations, but collectively they're providing the county's rock 'n' roll scene with a diversity that offers the greatest potential for a rejuvenated rock scene.
Francine O'Toole, a garrulous twentysomething imported from New Jersey in 1992, is the rookie of the bunch, having entered the promoting business just three months ago. She's taken the independent tack, promoting local bands at clubs that don't normally host local rockers. "I love music," she says with an enthusiasm that punctuates her conversations. "But the only place I really knew of to see bands before was the Poor House [in Fort Lauderdale]. I just want to change the scene and have everybody communicating with each other so that people see that there are options."
Her interest in promoting began when she met the boys in West Palm Beach aggro outfit Gone Mad. Soon she was working as the band's publicist and booking agent. In early January she talked the owner of Kim's Alley Bar in downtown Fort Lauderdale into taking a crack at hosting locals. The members of Gone Mad built a stage at the bar, and O'Toole threw her first gig. But it wasn't enough. "When I did that show," she says, "I thought, 'There's so many places that these guys could play, I don't understand why there's not shows at all these bars.'"
Putting her adrenaline-fueled mouth to good use, O'Toole continued to book and promote shows for Gone Mad, then added other local acts, such as Endo and Darwin's Waiting Room, to the list of bands she promotes. She's booked shows at Kim's, Roxy in Fort Lauderdale, and Grand Prix Race-O-Rama in Dania Beach. "I just got addicted," she explains.
O'Toole also has mounted a full-on press campaign, which has resulted in local radio appearances by the bands she promotes. "My main goal is to let audiences and bar owners know what's out there," she says. "People want to see music; it's part of everyone's life. I'm only one person, but I'm gonna try my hardest."
(O'Toole's next show features Endo, Darwin's Waiting Room, and Gone Mad at Kim's Alley Bar, 1920 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-763-7886, on Saturday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m.)
The Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale is the highest-profile outlet for local rock acts right now. Its owner, Greg Aliferis, is a seasoned veteran of the South Florida music industry, having booked national acts and managed venues in Broward and Miami-Dade counties since the early '80s. Last October he transformed his teen dance club, the Viper Room, into the Culture Room after receiving a long-sought liquor license. After opening, the club began hosting local rockers three nights a week, up to five bands each night, giving nearly any act a chance to play. "I always felt there was a true void there," Aliferis says of the limited number of rock venues available.
The Culture Room is a casual yet sophisticated club with impressive sound and lighting systems and good stage visibility. Aliferis and his booking agent, Dan Sinatra, have taken the shotgun approach to booking local talent, hosting 60 bands in March alone. Everybody is given an opportunity to play at the club, but the acts are expected to promote their shows and produce sizable audiences, which pay admission. "If [the bands] are willing to get their friends and family and the occasional record exec in there to see them, what I provide them with is a great venue," Aliferis says. An act that doesn't draw a crowd is given the chance to explain why and then evaluated. "We give the band every benefit of the doubt," Aliferis says, "but we're not looking for bands to come in and use this great facility for a rehearsal."
Dave Kronstat's venue, Home, opened a mere three weeks ago, but it holds the most promise for leading the resuscitation of the local rock scene. Home is a deceptively large, well-apportioned, unpretentious club sporting a wood-paneled bar, which leads to the stage and a midsize dance floor. Behind the dance floor, Denny's-style booths intermingle with couches where exhausted headbangers chill and sip beer or eat from Home's curious menu. The menu and the club's jukebox reflect Kronstat's tastes and Home's direction; the menu features dishes like Fugazi Stromboli, the Sloppy Joe Strummer, and Iggy Poppers, while the jukebox is filled with CDs from Kronstat's personal collection, which includes work by Charlie Parker, the Bomboras, Hepcat, and Siouxsie and the Banshees as well as The Best of Southern Rock.
Kronstat is a sideburned postgreaser and long-time South Florida resident who works full-time in the marketing department at Xerox. A long-time collector of punk and rockabilly records and self-described "club kid before that was a definition," he's brand-new to the nightclub business. Over the last several years, he's used his salary to finance trips around the world to watch bands play in international venues. Eventually he decided to invest money he'd made from the stock market in a place where both local and national bands could play in a relaxed, homey environment.
"I decided to do a nightclub 'cause I was tired of going out and not having a good time," he explains. "I think we've finally gotten it to a point where people will come down here and play."
Before the club even opened its doors, Kronstat received almost 80 calls from locals who'd seen ads for Home in the local press and wanted to play there. "If the scene will support the bar enough, I'll stay in business," he says. "It's gotta be conducive to everybody. I'm not in it for charity, but I'm not in it to make big money. I don't want this to be a corporate bar."
The Culture Room is located at 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale (954-564-1074), and Home is located at 3841 Griffin Rd., Hollywood (954-965-0042).
Contact Brendan Kelley at his e-mail address: Brendan_Kelley@newtimesbpb.com
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