The Inaugural Miami Music Festival Fails
If Boca Raton band Stonefox's performance really shone at the Miami Music Festival this past weekend, it only served to underscore the amateurish quality of much of the rest of the event. Planned as a three-day set of simultaneous showcases, à la SXSW, the inaugural edition of MMF was poorly planned and mostly poorly attended. As a whole, the lineup didn't provide an accurate picture of the South Florida scene, nor did it bring in any real out-of-town buzz bands to entice the general public.
First, though, the good. I spent most of my MMF Saturday night at the 93 ROCK Showcase at Tobacco Road, and it drew a healthy crowd. The promotional pull of the station seemed to help, as well as the fact that the bar has a built-in set of regulars. The sound at the outdoor stage here was good, and Stonefox's rousing, professional performance got it courted afterward by a big-label A&R type. (Yes, there were, in fact, a few of these at the MMF, so it did deliver somewhat in that respect.) A few other local staples also played here — Ghost of Gloria as well as Miami's Music Is a Weapon — so this showcase had the feel of a typical decent local show.
Now, the bad. Admission prices for the public were laughable. Nobody in South Florida is going to pay $50 for a three-day wristband to see a bunch of bands they've never heard of; ditto for $25 for a one-day band. An individual showcase price of $10 was reasonable, except that the lineups were put together hastily and seemingly randomly. That $10 didn't let you hop among shows, so it wasn't worth it to pay to sit through a bunch of crap that you didn't like to catch one band you did.
The festival was also seriously underpromoted. I heard local radio commercials for the festival, touting it as happening "this weekend" — too bad they were played a week early.
And finally, the downright unacceptable. The bands were made to pay inflated demo submission fees and had to play for free. That's crappy but standard for these types of showcases. What's worse, though, is that they were allowed no guests — not a single friend, wife, whatever in for free. On top of that, most had to pay for parking, which ranged from metered spots far away from clubs on up to $10 lots. That policy is cheesy at best, money-grubbing at worst.
So, no parking, no guest list — and most insultingly of all, no sound checks. Seriously. Bands had to sign an agreement accepting this, and many had to use a house-provided backline. At some venues, this backline was missing little things like, oh, bass amps. Sure, SXSW doesn't allow sound checks, but, come on — this ain't SXSW.
The Miami Music Festival is a good idea but has a long way to go before next year. Organizers should extend an olive branch to the city's other venues and promoters. Shutting out the Vagabond, White Room, and Churchill's, along with promoting entities like Poplife and Sweat Records, was suicidal.
They should curtail the length of the festival and number of showcases on any given night and eliminate the pop-up tents. These were almost always vacant. Instead, they should stick to actual bars and venues with built-in crowds. They should reduce the admission charges for the general public and drastically reduce or eliminate the entrance fees for bands. And, finally, they should treat the bands right. Then, maybe, we would have a local music showcase to be proud of.
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