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Backstage at a Dead Can Dance concert, summer of 1996: I was buried in the bowels of the Boulder Theatre, playing fanboy, soliciting autographs from band members, drinking their beer, and waiting for my turn to schmooze with Brendan Perry, the band's sepulchral-voiced leader. Perry, sucking on a 22-ounce bomber bottle of locally brewed stout, eyed me skeptically as I approached him with a poster to sign. "You played a song I didn't recognize," I said hesitantly, aware that I should have known it. "The one about the dolphins?"

Perry narrowed his eyes and looked up from the autograph he'd scribbled, trying to ascertain if I was young, stupid, or both, and said, "That's a Fred Neil song," as if he couldn't understand what kind of oaf wouldn't know that. But back then I didn't know Fred Neil from Fred Rogers, and Perry was already passing me on in favor of a didgeridoo-toting trustafarian. These gaps in my knowledge, I thought somberly, always surface at the worst times.

Last week, when I read that Neil -- a quintessential folkie who staked a claim in Coconut Grove almost 40 years ago -- was found dead at his home on Summerland Key July 7, I thought of his gorgeous song "The Dolphins" (though "Everybody's Talkin'" is by far his best-known tune) and the way Perry shamed me into learning about him. As Neil had been musically silent since 1971, no one was sure if he was even in Florida anymore.

Neil occupied a shifting, enigmatic spot on the troubadour map of the late '60s, working with John Sebastian and Bob Dylan as well as Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Though his songs were recorded by the likes of Tim Buckley, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, Roy Orbison, and Harry Nilsson, Neil enjoyed a quiet resurgence in the mid-'90s when Dead Can Dance added a reverent acoustic take on "The Dolphins" to its live shows, The The came through with a nice version as well, and even surreal tricksters Bongwater recorded a cool dismantling of "Everybody's Talkin'."

Neil was 65 years old.

For the past six years, Hollywood's Lovefest has penetrated the steamy doldrums of summer with an indisputable high point. The grassroots music-and-arts fest and charity fundraiser is typically vulnerable to summer storm action (and this year's fest was no different), but a few of the event's participants and attendees who spoke to Bandwidth were clearly in the less-than-gruntled category, and not because of the weather. Their main complaints: The roster was slim and largely unfamiliar, and attendees felt caged in, unable to bounce between bars as in years past. In fact the past tense of the verb suck was heard more than once.

"Even more than last year sucked," confirmed Todd Thompson, frontman for Miami's the Dharma Bomb. "We were definitely buried deep in a list of bands I've never heard of," he added. "We were on the main stage, which was really nice, but we got followed up by three girls [Angela] lip-syncing, dressed up like Destiny's Child -- teenage girls with bellies hanging out of their open midriff -- which was embarrassing, and then by a boy band [Vision Five] singing along to prerecorded tracks. It was so humiliating; it was silly." The presence of WAXY-AM (790) DJ Wolfman as emcee all day long "didn't help the hip factor at all," he grumbled.

But with pop radio stations such as Majic (WMXJ-FM 102.7) and WAXY contributing so much money to the festival, Lovefest was virtually obligated to include the Wolfman and the "track acts," says the event's coordinator, Angel Spence. "With all due respect, if someone donated their time for charity, they should be applauded," she declares. "Those girls were young, and they did do their damnedest out there. It wasn't our typical act, but I take off my hat to them." Spence went on to say that previous music coordinators of the festival decided not to pass on the band contact names and phone numbers they'd accumulated. "So we had to start from scratch," she explains.

Thompson and others also complained about the audience being confined to Young Circle Park itself, whereas festgoers have traditionally been able to move freely among the surrounding bars and clubs as well. Again Spence comes up with a perfectly logical reason for corralling the wet crowd in the park: In previous years the surrounding clubs were sponging up quite a bit of money from attendees, and none of that money went toward the recipients of Lovefest Charities, Inc. (including the Majic Children's Fund).

"Believe me, I was more bummed about that than anyone," she continues. "Unfortunately, over the last six years, the enthusiasm from the bars and clubs has been zilch. None of them ever charged for wristbands, and that's where the money for the charity comes from. We worked our asses off to put the event on, everyone had a great time, we didn't have a fence up, the public didn't have to buy a wristband because it wasn't mandatory... and the clubs ended up making money. Then there's nothing left -- and the whole reason we put this event on is to make money for kids."

It's clear that the bars and restaurants need to be enticed into participating next year if Lovefest is to survive and regain its former glory; Spence thinks such a move would be in the establishments' best interest. "I know this time of year, business is really, really bad," she says, "and Lovefest could pull them out of the hole."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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