The arrival of night-time entertainment at the theme parks has ushered in sweeping changes to Orlando's club and concert scene. No longer is downtown the only destination for live music; top-flight concert facilities like the House of Blues (Downtown Disney) and 1999 arrival Hard Rock Live (Universal's CityWalk) continue to show up on the tour itineries of major-league rock, pop, R&B and hip-hop groups, leaving Orlando's more centrally located stages empty. In fact, many high-profile acts skip the Carr Performing Arts Center, the convention center -- and in some cases the Orlando Arena -- in favor of the theme park's royal treatment. (HOB's dressing rooms are nicer than most people's apartments.) With a lack of medium-sized (1,000-2,000 seat) venues downtown -- remember The Edge? -- the exodus is sure to continue.
And it is not just national acts who have been packing them; local bands have been taking full advantage of the Orlando music fan's willingness to go the extra mile (or 20) for good music and a good time. Local artists also are enjoying another perk of having theme parks nearby: plenty of work. Talent buyers from CityJazz, The Wildhorse Saloon and Atlantic Dance -- all of which opened within the last few years -- continue to hire local and regional musicians to fill empty stages and entertain tourists from around the world.
Downtown's club owners have been affected by the shift of momentum. The embassy for the swing nation, Rat Pack's on the Avenue, shut its doors earlier this year. But things may be looking up: The Legendary Station in Fern Park and the Fairbanks Inn in Winter Park, both longstanding outlets for rock and metal, reopened this year. And Will's on Mills, the dominant nondowntown live-music venue, returned to booking bands after abandoning it earlier this year.
Can downtown and theme-park nightlife districts coexist, each feeding off the other? Or is downtown outmatched? (Yes, under the current city administration.) Is it only a matter of time before the theme parks gobble up our nightlife one glow-stick at a time? Start saving those Disney Dollars.
At least local musicians enjoy unprecidented access to the airwaves these days: Popular radio programs such as 104.1-FM's "Philips Phile" and "Monsters of the Midday" as well as XL 107.6 FM's "Alternative Static" continue to push local artists into the spotlight. Why would anybody even bother? Follow the money. Thanks to the platinum-plus club -- Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, LFO, Creed -- currently topping the charts, all eyes (and ears) are on Orlando's musical community. Who wouldn't want to get on the ground floor of the next Backstreet success story?
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