Resetting the Scene

When the first Sheila Witkin Memorial Concert was held last January, it gave local music fans something to be proud about in this quirky town. It was a show full of the finest bands from Florida’s vibrant, early ’80s rock scene, reuniting under a banner of tribute to the late, great Witkin, who died in April 2006. Witkin was like the matron of the scene in those days — under her guidance, Florida venues went from being cover band-heavy dives to havens of original punk and garage rock, bands like Tight Squeeze and the Kids (featuring her son, Bruce, as well as a boy-faced Johnny Depp) gained national notoriety, and rock fans started packing into shows every night of the week. The show was a huge hit, raising over $30,000 for charity and bringing together bands — Z-Cars, Slyder, Critical Mass, the Cichlids, and many more — who hadn’t performed in decades.

But the feel good story doesn’t stop there. This year’s Palm Beach International Film Festival saw the debut of A Rock and a Hard Place: Another Night at the Agora, a documentary and concert film that finally told the complete tale of the once-vibrant scene. Through archived footage, in-depth interviews, and scenes from last year’s show, the film made one thing perfectly clear: These were amazingly gifted acts, and the fact that they were brushed under the carpet when the scene died out in the mid ’80s is almost criminal.

The good news is the music won’t go unheard anymore. The Second Annual Sheila Witkin Memorial Concert is coming back to Club Cinema (3251 N. Federal Hwy., Pompano Beach), and unlike last year’s daylong show, this reunion of the classic, South Florida rock scene will be a two-day blowout. The gig kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. with Blank Tape, Charlie Pickett, Slyder, Tight Squeeze, the Kids, and the Romantics; Saturday night will continue the celebration with Mad as Birds and the Reactions (two bands that missed the first show, the former being composed of members of the Cichlids), as well as Z-Cars, Critical Mass, and another dose of the Kids.

Bringing together such an amazing lineup of local talent seems an almost impossible task, now that so many of the integral members of these groups have moved on from South Florida. But as much as this means to the local community, it means much more to the bands themselves. “Like last year, so many people are coming together on a moment's notice, some who haven't talked in years,” says Martin Chaddock, one of the event’s organizers. “And it all stemmed from a conversation between Bruce (Witkin) and me. It's amazing to see how far it’s come.”

And don’t think this concert is the show’s last hurrah — Witkin and Chaddock plan on continuing the series, but with a bit of a twist. “What I would love to eventually do is bring in new, young local bands every year and really build up the scene.” Witkin says. “And to do it in my mom’s name really means a lot.”

For now, tickets to this weekend’s show cost $32.50, or $52.50 for a two-day pass, available at If you’ve got some catchin’ up to do on the rest of the story, check out Another Night at the Agora, screening all weekend at Cinema Paradiso (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale). For showtimes visit
Fri., Aug. 29, 7 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 30, 7 p.m., 2008

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John Linn