Artistic director Michael Hall did South Florida theatergoers two favors this season. First he brought the socially relevant and riveting docudrama The Laramie Project to his stage. It was the play's first production after its off-Broadway debut. Second he assembled a troupe with the range and experience to make the production not only important theater but good theater as well, including Kim Cozort, Jason Field, Laurie Gamache, Jacqueline Knapp, Pat Nesbit, Mark Rizzo, Robert Stoeckle, and Michael Warga. Dressed in drab brown tones, the ensemble of eight portrayed more than sixty characters, from townspeople to ranchers, doctors, reporters, and friends of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die by two local boys in Laramie, Wyoming. With fluid and subtle transitions, these characters switched roles seamlessly, revealing an unforgettable cross section of small-town America and a staggering array of attitudes.
Did you know alligators can climb trees? Or that they can hear your pinky hit the water four miles away? Or that the blazing color of bougainvillea comes not from its flowers but from its leaves? These fun facts and more can be had for a buck and 30 minutes of your time at Knollwood Groves in Boynton Beach. Originally owned by the vaudeville comedy team Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, better known as Amos and Andy, the 71-year-old orange grove offers visitors a slice of Old Florida and enough trivia to win bar bets for years to come. A tractor-pulled cart leaves every hour on the hour for tours of the pesticide-free grove, traveling through a genuine Florida jungle hammock, past a 1000-year-old water oak and a four-story-high bougainvillea vine, as well as gumbo limbo, ginger, and coffee trees. For the kiddies it makes stops to visit turtles, a wild boar, and of course gators. On Saturdays at 2 p.m. the grove also features an alligator show with Martin Twofeather. At $6 for adults and $4 for kids, it ain't half bad -- you can even pet the gator. Still the $1 tram tour, which begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m., is better. The grove is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week in season. (It's closed Sundays in the summer.) There's even a gift shop that sells funky Florida stuff, like plastic gators that sing, and a fruit stand where you can pick up oranges, green pepper or papaya jelly, and vine-ripe tomatoes for, you guessed it, a buck a pound.

Back in January a group of dirty, greasy hippies decided they'd had enough of the lack of jam-oriented music in South Florida. The form is dear to the hearts of all these types, years of following the Grateful Dead having inured them to hours of musical enterprise. They wanted to create a happening that would gather the bands they enjoyed as well as fellow fans. Thus began the Festival Tribe Musical Event. Now a three-day party for the pot-smoking, patchwork pants-wearing, patchouli-sniffing crowd is held the first weekend of every month just a few blocks from the Broward County line in Miami-Dade. "This is not a one-person operation," says organizer Barry Sacharow. "It is a loosely knit organization, and we have a lot of fun." The music is not just for wastoid white boys with dreadlocks. Sure, groups like Grateful Dead cover band Crazy Fingers participate, but the festival boasts excellent bluegrass, percussion, tribal, and world tunes as well. The Festival Tribe Musical Event -- it ain't your daddy's Woodstock.
Last year we honored the FLIFF in this category almost begrudgingly, in part because it was "pretty much the only game in town." Well, after a decade and a half it's still the biggest game in town and at 28 days has expanded to claim the dubious honor of being the longest film fest in the world. (Palm Beach, of course, has its own affair, but it just doesn't stack up.) Fortunately the FLIFF has clung to the things that have long set it apart, including its predilection for films with little or no commercial potential, its support for gay and lesbian cinema, and its occasional sixth sense when it comes to anticipating Academy Award contenders. The most recent festival gave us samples of each: the shamefully overlooked Maze, a fascinating study of an unlikely romance between a Tourette's-afflicted painter (Northern Exposure actor Rob Morrow, who also directed the flick) and a friend (Laura Linney, whose excellent work was overshadowed by her Oscar-nominated performance in You Can Count on Me); the knockout, Cassavetes-style gay drama Straight Man and the uneven but worthwhile lesbian-themed coming-of-age tale Swimming; and the Oscar-nominated Shadow of the Vampire, as well as the surprisingly overlooked State and Main from director David Mamet. The festival also reaffirmed its commitment to independent filmmaking with a tribute to John Waters, including a screening of his underrated Cry-Baby, a showing of a documentary about him titled In Bad Taste, and an appearance by the rogue moviemaker.

Formerly known as Ed Matus' Struggle, the recently rechristened Disconnect is one of the area's most popular rock bands. Occupying a niche in the psychedelic/shoe-gazer/emo realm, the band's surreal, shifting songs allow listeners to lose themselves in an intoxicating haze of swirling guitar. That his band was once briefly dubbed the Juan Montoya Experience is a joke with a kernel of truth at its core: Come to watch Disconnect, and you'll end up staring at the diminutive, Colombian-born maestro of the six-string. Using his Gibson SG and rack of pedals as a sonic flamethrower, the flamboyant Montoya makes a joyful noise; the pleasure of watching him lose himself in the swells of sound is why Disconnect continues to please old fans and rack up new ones.

Some national movie chains continue to shrink, while others focus on constructing mammoth multiplexes. Our Best Movie Theater of two years ago, meanwhile, has survived by morphing into that rarity, a true independent. The Gateway still snags the occasional mainstream flick, but it has become the best bet for such edgy independent fare as Requiem for a Dream, Nurse Betty, and the recent Memento. More specifically it has become a haven for the small but thriving genre of queer cinema. Edge of Seventeen, Trick, The Broken Hearts Club, Boys Life 3, and the Oscar-nominated Before Night Falls are just a few of the gay-oriented flicks that have played there. And a corner of the theater's lobby has become a virtual gay community-resource center, featuring magazines, newsletters, fliers, brochures, and business cards. No wonder some members of the gay and lesbian communities refer to the Gateway as the Gayway.

Elaine Roberts wants to make one thing perfectly clear: K&E's II Doors Down is not a lesbian bar. It's not that Roberts is lesbian-averse. After all she and co-owner Kathy Spatenga have been together -- both personally and professionally -- for more than 20 years. It's just that this is a new millennium and it's time to quit classifying things. "I don't want to be labeled a lesbian bar, because we aren't one. We're an alternative-lifestyle bar. We're a straight bar. We're a gay bar. We're a lesbian bar. We're just a bar. We're for all kinds of people," she says. "What is a gay bar, anyway? Are we running around naked with our wangs hanging out?" Hardly. This bar, which justifiably calls itself the "best-kept secret in Lake Worth," is a classic neighborhood joint -- the kind of place where you walk in, order a $2 draft, and instantly feel comfortable. Located just across Dixie Highway from Lake Worth's recently revitalized downtown, K&E's is often overlooked by those rushing to crowd into upstart imitators along Lake and Lucerne avenues. And if clubbers overlook the bar, it's understandable. Located in an old storefront, K&E's doesn't look like much from the outside. But inside, its décor borders on quaint, including the handmade pine bar, which Kathy designed and Elaine's brother-in-law built, and the small dining room, complete with paisley-print tablecloths, low lights, and framed posters on the walls. Elaine says the bar got its reputation as a lesbian bar because it's the successor to Kathy's Bar, a private, women-dominated club that Spatenga operated from 1979 to 1986. But when Roberts and Spatenga opened K&E's eight years ago, Elaine said she wanted to redefine "gay pride" and attract a diverse clientele. She got her wish. And it's easy to see why: The drinks are affordable, the food is good, and the conversation is lively. What more could any bargoer -- gay, straight, or in between -- want?

Dada
Candace West
Every Tuesday at 10:30 p.m., culture high and low meets and makes out at Marya Summers's poetry slams. Among our favorite parts is lap poetry, the perfect expression of slammistress Summers's sophisticated appreciation of the South Florida sleaze factor. The décor and the crowd at this restaurant, lounge, and coffeehouse are about as cool as things get -- the retro-chic décor reflects the same arch sensibility that co-proprietor Rodney Mayo (who also owns Respectable Street) brings to all his enterprises. An eclectic, adventurous menu, full bar, and reasonable prices only add to the appeal. Pray that Summers gets drunk and some literary enthusiast volunteers to spank her, pour l'art. Or maybe just bring your own Wallace Stevens-like verse, step onto a table, and be brave enough to read it.

The resemblance to Bob Dylan is probably not entirely coincidental. A Palm Beach resident since 1995, MacDonald moved here to care for his aging parents and, it would seem, the small South Florida folk community. MacDonald paid his dues as a journalist, law student, conscientious objector, and traveling folksinger before becoming a major player in the Greenwich Village Fast Folk movement in the '80s and '90s. Today MacDonald is a regular at Palm Beach clubs such as Paddy Mac's and the Coffee Gallery Café, where he often invites local talent to join him on-stage. On a recent night at the CG, he looked as if he belonged, unfazed by passing cars, boisterous teenagers, bikers, and the noisy cover band two doors down. Decked out in sandals, Hawaiian shirt, and shorts, he sang and played his heart out using just "six strings and a hole big and round" (which is also the title of a MacDonald song). The political messages still inhabit his songs, but MacDonald's latest album, 1999's Into the Blue, tempers an angry attitude with songs about the weather, marriage, and nature. In other words he's adapted well to Florida.
Growing up in a suburban labyrinth of faceless strip malls, endless asphalt, and cookie-cutter subdivisions -- instead of Hades, we've named it Davie -- wouldn't seem to foster good music. But that's the hometown of most of the young members of the Rocking Horse Winner. And they've produced one of the most sublime albums Broward and Palm Beach counties have ever heard. From the chiming guitar of Henry Olmino and heavenly vocals of Jolie Lindholm, you'd think these kids were raised on a strict diet of the Sundays and the Innocence Mission. But you'd be wrong; somehow these sweet, melodic songs grew out of a punk-rock appetite. Drummer Matt Crum and bassist Jeronimo Gomez provide the foundation for this collection of some of the most memorable and flawlessly produced music ever to originate from the 'burbs. The State of Feeling Concentration's pastel-hued love songs, such as the lovely "Raspberry Water" and "Sweet Smell Before the Rain," are more than a much-needed respite from South Florida's dance-music/heavy-metal stranglehold: They're nothing less than pure pop perfection.

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