Category: ESSAYS

Peace, Love and GrassRoots

Just follow the fingers.

So says the man wearing sunglasses. He points ahead as we pull into Virginia Key Beach Park in Key Biscayne, Florida for the 4th Annual GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance. It is Saturday afternoon, day 3 of this four-day festival.

We follow the fingers, each one like the last one, magic wands ushering us towards the parking lot to settle among the cars, trucks, vans, jeeps, and campers. We are six today: me, my wife, my two sons, my friend, his daughter.

We get our tickets at the entrance and that’s it, there is no more finger-pointing. There is no more direction from others. We are on our own.

As we walk down the main trail towards the festival, our eager shadows lurch forward on the dust ahead of our feet. A breeze slips past the mangroves and onto our faces. We are, after all, on a beach, and we are open to wind, and sun and sand and sea.

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The trail is lined by tents on either side. There is disorder in the frames and colors and shapes of the tents and yet there is symmetry; They are here and now.

There are people on blankets.

There are people on camping chairs.

There are people drumming.

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The first festival music I hear is traditional Cuban music by Los Consortes at the first stage called the Zen Village. It is nostalgic and comforting to me and a reminder that we are a flare shot’s distance from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

We don’t linger here. We are hungry.

We find pizza. We find beer.

As roadies begin to set up at the main stage, the guy next to me explains bluegrass music to his wife.

A man with sunflowers dangling from his straw hat spins an umbrella over his head.

Another man wearing a Viking helmet conquers a little spot near the stage.

When Donna the Buffalo is finally introduced, there are roars of elation from the crowd.

The woman sitting next to me takes repeated photos of the band. She tells me she is the cousin of singer Tara Nevins. Tara also plays the classic fiddle, the accordion, guitar, the electric fiddle, while, song after song, guitarist Jeb Puryear keeps an element of zydeco strumming.

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There is dancing.

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The sun begins its long descent behind the crowd and the trees.

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I slip out the back of the stage to find a restroom and I’m immediately drawn to a steady beat-thumping taking place at the aptly named Dance Tent. San Francisco-based MC Yogi is leading a prayer-like electronica ritual, a balancing act that combines Hare Krishna and Ultra Music Fest.

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MC Yogi makes women sweat, men bare their chest.

There are smiles and laughter.

There is euphoria.

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We are dry. We are salty.

We find Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Sweet Cream and Cookies ice cream at a Ben & Jerry’s cart. The kids get ice cream on their shirts and fudge on their cheeks.

Across lonely picnic tables, the Zen Village is hosting Miami singer Sindy Rush, an attractive blonde vocalist that looks like 80s2015-02-21 18.58 metal queen Lita Ford. A guy behind me yells “Sindy, you’re hot” during a break and she says thank you in a very casual and courteous way like she’s heard this before.

Sindy is hot. And there is smoke. And lights. And when there is apparent confusion before her next song,  more smoke and lights drape Ms. Rush and her band and now they are all silhouettes, and they launch into an appetizing cover of The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again.

We are curious.

One of the delightful things about music festivals is the traveling retailers and Grassroots has no shortage of hand-crafted items for sale. What sticks out here is the prevalence of Native American art and crafts. We hear tall tales from a Pascua Yaqui tribesman from Tucson.

We buy a buffalo whistle and a pipe flute and incense that is used by indigenous people during cleansings.

By now the sun and the clouds are gone.

We are fading. We find hammocks.

When one of the festival announcers says, “we have a surprise for you,” and introduces local gospel and soul queen Maryel Epps, I rally our crew to get a closer look. Lo and behold, we are surprised.

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She belts a few Motown tunes but it is her rendition of Sly & the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music that moves mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives.  Ms. Epps glows in a long flow of pink (she is by far the best dressed person in all the festival.)

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After the show we chat with Ms. Epps backstage and take photos with her. Then leave her to savor her moment.

We wander off to wait for the next act.

A bit later, Cuban singer Danay Suarez strolls onto the main stage and in a thick-like-froth accent delivers a greeting to the crowd.

How-wa-ju Grass-rrootz?

And then the band kicks into a slow, steady, reggae rhythm and Danay drops a Nina Simone-like vocal over the beat, beckoning the crowd concealed in the dark towards her. Her singing comes through with an echoing effect, like waves.

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We stay for awhile, transfixed, until it is time to go (the kids are ready).

The path back to our car is unlit and unmarked but we follow fingers and voices and direction again.

As we drive away, sand becomes asphalt, trees become condos, moonlight become traffic lights.

Back to the city.

We are fulfilled,

for now.

But soon we will long for more peace, love and GrassRoots.

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Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami

 

Galactic Mission: Complete

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Sometimes the evening clouds part and the constellations appear. The Little Dipper bends toward the heavens, the Big Dipper makes eyes with the North Star, and the Seven Sisters gather and form a Kumbaya circle. It is at this time in your otherwise ordinary life on Earth that cosmic forces align and draw you in. So preach people who study astrology. And for one moment last month, I was a believer.

Check that; I was an astronaut.

A few days before, I took a break from work and checked my Facebook page. There, among the barrage of status updates, selfies, and sponsored ads, I came across this concert promotion posted by The Rhythm Foundation, a local organization that’s been hosting lively music performances in South Florida for over two decades.

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Let me talk about a particular funk band — Galactic.

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Since the late 1990s, this New Orleans quintet has displayed a flawless, other-worldly funk that never goes sour. Their sound is a gumbo that mixes a saucy southern soulful rhythm guitar, finger-lickin heavy Bayou bass lines, and skippety be-bopping percussive beats with a sprinkle of cowbell and a double dash of high-hats. And that’s just the instrumental jams. When they invite rappers to lend vocals, add one part old-school-hip-hop to that gumbo, dropping verses on the hard street life of the Big Easy.

This is head-bobbing music, back and forth, back and forth. If Rush concerts are ground zero for air drummers, then a Galactic concert is ground zero for head bobbers.[1]

On two occasions I had a chance to watch Galactic perform. The first time was at New Orleans’ Voodoo Music Festival in 2010 and the second time was at last year’s Sunshine Music & Blues Festival at Mizner Park in Boca Raton, and both times I was regretfully too inebriated so I missed my chance to acquire a proper appreciation for their live gigs.

So when my Facebook page brought me this news of a free Galactic concert on a Friday night, I stared at that astronaut on my computer screen for while. But then it hit me, that sonic boom of resistance and left-brain logic speaking to me from a voice closer to home listing all of the why-nots:

  1. Friday night.
  2. Rush hour.
  3. Distance.
  4. Kids.
  5. Saturday soccer matches.
  6. Saturday chores.
  7. Etcetera.

So I shrugged, passed the cursor over the thumbs-up symbol, and settled for adding my “like” to the photo.[2]

Reason prevailed and I forgot about the whole thing. I went back to work.

On Friday morning, on my way to the office, my wife calls me. Bad news, she says. The check-engine light is on in my car.

I immediately called our go-to mechanic shop and informed them. They said I could bring the car Friday night and drop the keys off through one of the bay door slips.

That evening after our kids’ soccer practice, we piled into both of our cars. I had one of my kids with me, while my wife tailed behind with our other son.  We made plans by cellphone to have dinner near the mechanic’s shop. We knew of a few family friendly restaurants in that area. As we drove towards the traffic heading north on Interstate-95, it hit me, this idea, like a comet crashing into the frontal lobe of my brain:

Honey, the mechanic is around the corner from Hollywood ArtsPark.
What?
Let’s go see Galactic.
But…

This time the wave of resistance was no match for the cosmic forces. We had no choice but to acquiesce to the forces and the planets and the moon.

Thirty five minutes later, we were at Fillmore Street and 24th Avenue, in Hollywood, Florida, dropping off the VW keys with the last mechanic there.

Then we directed my car towards ArtsPark to search for a parking space amid the crowded street corners and distant music 2015-01-30 20.53.28from the opening band (Monophonics). We found a spot on a side road, crossed a few streets, and entered a Friday night of neon and tie dye and bearded men in flannel shirts while the first band wrapped up their set.

We snacked on hot dogs and chips.

We killed time. We waited.

Suddenly, the bright lights dimmed to space-age blues and pink. Galactic arrived and got rolling. We side-stepped the crowd and found an ideal spot near the corner of the stage. I took turns putting my kids on my shoulders where they could see the band up close through the clouds of smoke and clusters of neon, along with other miniature people secured to the shoulders of their own dads.

When trombone player Corey Henry grabbed the mike and rapped to the crowd, hands went up and waved back and forth with the beat. When the band introduced vocalist Erica Falls, we were transported light years away.

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That night we bobbed our heads.

That night we were astronauts.

And when the night ended and our mission was complete, we returned home safely.


Here’s a track from Galactic’s 2007 From the Corner to the Block:


Footnotes:

[1] Speaking of head-bobbing: Toy bobble heads are reported to date back to around the 1840s and are based on a character from a Russian-penned short story that was described to have a neck that resembled “the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads”?

[2] Why does Facebook only permit a thumbs-up option to express your feelings about a post? What about the fist-pump or the high-five? I believe those have earned a spot on our menu of digital expressions, Facebook. And while you’re at it, so have the thumbs-down, the middle finger, and the double middle finger.

Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami

Soul Flashback – January 1976 (Gridiron Edition)

39 ago this week the City of Miami hosted Super Bowl X. The game matched the defending champions Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Dallas Cowboys.

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It was a classic.

Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw connected with Lynn Swann for a 64 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a 21-10 lead. Less than two minutes later, Roger Staubach lead a Cowboys touchdown drive to pull within four points with less than twosuper_bowl_x_swann_original_display_image minutes to go in regulation. Then the Cowboys recovered a fumble and with 18 seconds left, the ball at the Steelers 38 yard line, Staubach tried to pass it to Drew Pearson for the win. But the ball was intercepted at the 2 yard line by safety Glen Edwards.

Game over. Steelers won 21-17. Later than night, approximately 20 miles north, a party took place.

Sunny Isles, a town located in North Miami Beach known then for its beach front hotels and steady mix of wise guys, tourists, and rock stars (e.g, occasional visitors included Eric Clapton and Jim Morrison), was home to The Swinger Nite (sic) Club inside the Marco Polo Hotel. The Swinger opened in 1971 and had no trouble living up to its swanky name. Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Chubby Checker, Sister Sledge were just a few of the artists to play gigs there.

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On Monday, January 19, 1976, Miami soul singer Betty Wright aka Miami’s First Lady of Soul, fresh off her fourth album, performed at The Swinger.

Danger High Voltage, released in 1975

Discovered by Deep City Records co-founders Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall at the age of 15, Wright’s career took off fast. She had her first hit in 1968 (“Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”), her first chart topper in 1971 (“Clean Up Woman”) and by the mid 1970s, she was global, so her coming back home to play at a club in Sunny Isles was as rare as seeing Steeler fans doing the Hustle.

Below is a news clipping from the Miami Herald that was published 39 years ago today about this Betty Wright performance that brought together an unlikely yet fortunate “overflow crowd of disco freaks and Steeler fans.”

Disco freaks and hardcore football fans? Only Betty Wright could manage this.

This is the hit song that Betty Wright closed with that January night. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1976:

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End Note: The Marco Polo survived. Today its a condo-hotel known as the Aventura Beach Club with the hotel operation managed by Ramada (Ramada Plaza Marco Polo Beach Resort.)

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Vinyl Love

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Last Saturday was Record Store Day, a day to pay homage to the vinyl record and the independent record shop. The idea for Record Store Day (or RSD) was born in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners in Baltimore, Maryland: their mission was simple – maximize awareness towards an industry and culture that was racing towards extinction. According to www.recordstoreday.com, RSD is a day “for the people who make up the world of the record store — the staff, the customers, and the artists — to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” Guess what? Its worked. This year marked the 7th consecutive year for RSD. Approximately 2,000 record shops from around the world celebrated with parties and concerts and opened their shops to larger-than-normal crowds of record enthusiasts looking for new releases or re-issues. Miami’s finest record shop – Sweat Records – reported on Twitter witnessing “MADNESS” this past weekend (the vibe, not the London band with the 1982 hit single “Our House”); hundreds of record fans stood in line and braved the early morning showers to get their vinyl fix. Similar RSD enthusiasm was documented in cities across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Vinyl record sales have been trending upwards each year. Its very common today for musicians to once again include vinyl record releases of their music. And demand is growing. Record sales figures are projected to reach $9 MM this year, up from $6 MM in 2013, and $4.5 MM in 2012. Yes, those are small figures compared to the number of iTunes downloads but nevertheless a remarkable and impressive achievement in this digital age.

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Nostalgia aside, plain and simple, there has always been something unique about record buying and record playing that far exceeds the joy one gets (or I get) from the CD or iTunes.  I’m talking vinyl love here; real, tangible love.

Back when I was a kid, this is how I spent the best parts of most Saturday afternoons at the mall, while my mother shopped at the woman’s clothing store next door:

Maybe you have a similar memory.

Flipping through the latest albums on display at the record shop, pulling one out to view the cover art or the song list before placing it back and flipping some more until the next one catches your attention. Finding the one or two albums that made all the sense in your little world.

On the car ride home, new record on your lap, you tell your mom to drive faster. You secretly curse every red light along the way.

At home, you remove the plastic wrapping, pull out the record sleeve, study it – the graphics, the liner notes – and when you’re ready to hear the music, you tilt the sleeve to let the record slide out onto your hands. You hold it firmly but with care from the sides so as not to tarnish it with fingerprints. You might even inspect the record for any dust particles still hanging on to it.

You turn the record player on and gently place the disc on the platter fitting the center over the spindle so that it pokes through and secures it for what’s next. The turntable is ready. You press the spin button, turn the volume way up, place the needle on the record, and await the bull-rush sensation when the needle comes in contact with the first sonic groove.

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I love vinyls. Around 1997, I began a deliberate effort to ‘collect’ records and curate my own collection for years to come. I thought the days of LPs and 45s were numbered. So I began a buying spree. Local libraries, garage sales, estate sales, and small record shops from as far away as Toronto. I made it a point that every business trip include a visit to a neighborhood record store.

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However, today the majority of my collection is comprised of three separate private collections that I acquired from previous owners who either passed on or just wanted to move on. I have given each collection a name as a tribute and token of my appreciation to its previous owner. They are:

1. The Steve
2. The Lourdes
3. The Raul

As an ode to Record Store Day and vinyl love, in general, I will be posting a story about each of these collections in the coming weeks.

The first post will feature the most recently acquired.

 

The Raul Collection

[New York club DJ/record producer 1978-1988]

Principal Genres: Disco, Freestyle, Soul

COMING SOON

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“Deep City” Has Arrived

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A couple of award-winning documentary filmmakers and an avid art collector & philanthropist have teamed up to produce a very charming documentary about the first black-owned record production company in Florida: Deep City Records. Deep City operated in Miami from about 1964 to 1968. It was founded by two friends who first got the idea to make records when they were college mates at Florida A&M. Willie Clarke was the creative; Johnny Pearsall was the entrepreneur. They enlisted the multi-talented Clarence Reid and the three of them set the course for Miami’s special contribution to the soul music landscape of the 1960s.

Deep City recorded local musicians, many of them native Miamians culled from the churches of Liberty City and the night clubs of Overtown, while others were transplants from Jacksonville, Georgia, Arkansas, and other far away places. The record label released songs by Helene Smith, Betty Wright, Them Two, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, Freda Gray, and Johnny Killens & The Dynamites, to name a few. Local R&B legend Little Beaver played guitar on some of Deep City’s deepest cuts.

The film, titled Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, had its world premiere last night at the SXSW [South by Southwest] Festival in Austin, Texas.

Next stop on the festival circuit is Miami where this Friday, March 14th, the movie will have its Florida debut at the Miami International Film Festival (8:30 PM, Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center). Tickets for the film can be purchased here.

Long Play Miami is honored to be among the first to receive a copy of the movie’s trailer, and, with the filmmakers’ permission, shares it here for all music and film fans to enjoy.

Read the previous Long Play Miami post on the making of the film from January 2013.

Marley in Miami

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Bob Marley had a mystical way of lifting the human spirit. He did this for so many downtrodden folks in the Trenchtown slums of Kingston, Jamaica. Later, after signing with UK’s Island Records, he exported his message to the rest of the world. That message evolved over the years from bringing awareness to the poor and marginalized to one of standing up for peace and freedom.

From about 1965 until his unfortunately premature death in 1981 at the age of 36, Marley carried the spiritual torch of his “chants” for so many the world over through reggae and ska music. (Try finding a single place in the planet that has never heard of Bob Marley.)

Now we have a chance, if only brief, to witness a piece of Marley’s life and indulge in his massive appeal. HistoryMiami is hosting a new exhibit – Bob Marley Messenger – that was curated by the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit runs from October 10th, 2013 thru January 5th, 2014.

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Miami is the exhibit’s last stop before it heads for permanent residence in Kingston, Jamaica, and follows Marley’s life through photographs, artifacts, and video installations in a free-flowing layout (kudos to local architect Shulman + Assoc.) that immerses the viewer instantly and then, again and again, in smaller parts, into the richly textured life of the2013-10-10 18.47 late icon.

There’s even a few interactive stations featuring reggae drum beat machines and drum sets where adults and children alike can enjoy the one good thing about music –

When it hits you (you feel no pain).

For more details, visit HistoryMiami’s website: http://www.historymiami.org/

Here’s Bob Marley performing his 1973 hit Trenchtown Rock.

Concert Flashback – July 10, 2007

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I can say without any hesitation that The Police held the distinct honor of being my favorite rock group when I was a kid. A poster of Sting, Andy and Stewart was tacked on my bedroom wall throughout most of the 80s. I bought myself a bass guitar at Carroll Music on Bird Road simply to learn the bass2013-07-09 23.50.30 line from Roxanne, one of the greatest songs about a street-walker ever composed. Then MTV enabled audio and visual to come together in the form of music videos and by 1983, The Police’s Every Breath You TakeKing of Pain, and Synchronicity II became must-see TV.

The 80s rocked.

2013-07-09 23.51.18My introduction to The Police was GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1981) and specifically the edgy rock-reggae Spirits in the Material World. Two years later, they released SYNCHRONICITY (1983) which cemented them as kings of my rock spectrum and a place on my bedroom wall of fame. And then I got my hands on OUTLANDOS D’AMOUR (1978), the band’s debut album which featured them in their most primitive ska-punkishness; it remains in the rotation on the home vinyl playlist.

The Police had a short life together: about six 2013-07-09 23.49.32years (1977-83). In that time, they released 5 albums, each of them loaded with memorable songs. They could have ruled the rock world for years but following SYNCHRONICITY, egos collided and the band split, leaving millions of fans wondering, what now?

Sting went on to a successful solo career in the 1990s but regretful film-acting ventures (Dune, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Guitarist Andy Summers stayed active in the music scene but maintained a low profile. His work gravitated more towards jazz. Drummer Stewart Copeland shifted to composing scores and soundtracks for dozens of films and TV shows. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for writing the score for the Francis Ford Coppola film, Rumblefish.

Then in 2007, following a surprise reunion performance at the Grammys, Sting agreed to reunite with his former bandmates for a worldwide reunion tour.  And Miami was fortunate to host the trio on July 10, 2007 at the most accommodating open-air venue in South Florida – Dolphin Stadium. My wife (about 4 months pregnant at the time with our second child) and I stood and swayed and sang all night on the center floor about 20 rows from the stage. The band was in sync throughout the show and they displayed genuine affection and enjoyment playing together on tour since 1984!

Damn long time to wait but hell,… when the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.

Actual concert photo from Blackberry phone

Actual concert photo from Blackberry phone

Here is their amazing setlist from that July evening in Miami:

1.         Message in a Bottle

2.         Synchronicity II

3.         Walking on the Moon

4.         Voices Inside My Head

5.         When the World Is Running Down

6.         Don’t Stand So Close to Me

7.         Driven to Tears

8.         Truth Hits Everybody

9.         The Bed’s Too Big Without You

10.       Every Little Thing She Does is Magic

11.        Wrapped Around Your Finger

12.       De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da

13.       Invisible Sun

14.       Walking in Your Footsteps

15.       Can’t Stand Losing You

16.       Reggatta de Blanc

17.       Roxanne

Encore:

18.       King of Pain

19.       So Lonely

20.      Every Breath You Take

Encore 2:

21.      Next to You