Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale brings to mind the raucous days before the mid-1980s when alcohol fueled mayhem reigned over A1A as thousands of college kids crammed the bars and beaches, their exploits immortalized in photos showing the road closed to traffic as people crowded the street and swung from traffic signals.
A clampdown by the city brought an end to Fort Lauderdale's dominance as the spring break Mecca and instead of hunting for a parking space near the Sheraton on the beach I find myself on a dark road amid a silent expanse of warehouses southwest of downtown, a place that sees little activity after dark, especially on a Saturday night.
You could hear the latest SWARM party before seeing it, the distant sounds of hip-hop and indie rock radiating into the cool evening from an open warehouse bay with people congregated outside, chatting with friends in the glow of sodium lamps with beers in hand and eats provided from an aromatic food truck. One dollar bought a spin of a prize wheel near the door and a chance to win goodies from local bars and tattoo studios, far more rewarding than a typical spring break beer-pong match.
Music was provided by DJs inside the modest sized warehouse with performances by homegrown hip-hop and rock artists including Bleubird, Lavola, Protoman, Suede Dudes, and the duo of Jabrjaw and DJ Dee Dubbs. There was also a short set by Astrea Corporation and Fort Lauderdale rapper Protoman. Gaps backed by Astrea Corp. also performed. In a room just off the spartan workspace, people posed for photos in front of an oversized postcard backdrop and works by local artists such as Danny Brito and Erick Arenas were also on display. One would be hard pressed to find another spring break party like it anywhere in South Florida, a partygoer named Jonathan gushed, "I'm so happy there's something like this in this town."
Black Locust Society, a Fort Lauderdale based collective of musicians and artists, were hosting the sort of spring break party which the generation who preceded the hundred or more 20-somethings in attendance would have found to be commonplace. There were no special invitations, no mode of dress was turned away and if the free cans of PBR weren't to one's liking, people were welcome to wander in with a six-pack or bottle of their own.
Streets and parking areas were just places for partygoers to gather until the music started. It began with Jabrjaw and DJ Dee Dubbs, Dubbs nimble on the turntables, scratching and mixing East Coast inspired beats over Jabrjaw's rapid-fire delivery.
It didn't take long for the ambient temperature inside the warehouse to reach stuffy levels, in spite of the open door. This drove many outside roughly halfway through each set while others stayed and just drank more beer and waited for an occasional stray breeze. In many ways, the atmosphere served as the perfect complement to the grinding sounds of Suede Dudes as cymbals and guitar feedback rang manically off walls and exposed trusses and even the more polished air of Lavola's set, which was well served by the small space.
Outside the party continued to swell, the alcohol suffused air was joyful and relaxed. People of different races and musical interests mixed easily, unencumbered by the underlying current of tension that weaves through the streets of downtown where a misplaced footstep in a crowded bar can lead to conflict, or where the fashion conscious denizens are less concerned with the party and more about their prominence at it. It took a group of artists, "almost 20" according to BLS, to conjure up the organic phenomena of Fort Lauderdale's spring break past by simply bringing local musicians and artists together and opening the door to anyone who wanted to walk in.
"Come one, come all," one man sporting a tattoo of Black Locust Society's logo on his calf told me. "It's just about bringing people together. This is just what we do."
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