Photos and story by Jeffrey C. Billman, Jason Ferguson, William Dean Hinton, Billy Manes, Micky Michalec, Steve Schneider, Lindy T. Shepherd, Bob Whitby and Jessica Young
All of the following took place on Friday, Oct. 24, 2003.
10:05 a.m.: David Glerum, music director at WMFE-FM (90.7), introduces the day's second hour of classical music programming with a look back at the previous night's inaugural Masterworks event, a "classical music discussion series" sponsored by the station. Glerum reflects on how great it was to hear Julius Klein (executive director of the Slovak State Philharmonic) speak at length on classical music in Eastern Europe, and can barely contain his excitement about being "slipped an import CD" of Klein and the SSP performing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol." After promising to keep listeners informed of future Masterworks events, Glerum plays the very CD he was "slipped."
10:17 a.m.: From appearances, Full Sail Real World Education is the place where half of the downtown hipster crowd -- the male half -- gets its schooling. Outside the classrooms, scores of them gather, smoking cigarettes. Inside, some recording students are taking exit exams; others are being lectured on the basics of how to record a band; still others are learning Pro Tools, the favorite program of digital engineers, in a room stacked with flat-screen Apple computers and Kurzweil keyboards. The students get plenty of practice at night, when the two main studios are packed with local bands, recording student-engineered demos for free. But right now, the biggest action is in a "virtual reality room," where Honda is filming a motorcycle commercial; at least, that's the word among students.
11:39 a.m.: "The Deacon," Melvin Grace, is 90 minutes into his air shift on WOKB-AM (1600). His sweet-and-steady voice waxes poetic about the different instrumental and a cappella configurations of The Swan Silvertones and the joyous sound of Claude Jeter's singing. Somewhat dramatically, the Deacon says he's gonna stop talking and let Jeter's voice tell the story, at which point, a technical difficulty results in an unintentional moment of silence. "Oh well," says the Deacon, "we'll get around to him later."
1:22 p.m.: An intercom buzz at The Social brings a big "who is it?" and some consternation as to who's going to get the door. Inside, box office manager (and kitchen-sink everywoman) Maggie Sumner toils over her tasks for the day. Tonight's sold-out Switchfoot show is causing little hurried buzz, as Sumner diligently types the guest list. The general manager is singing Dave Matthews' "Gravedigger" just outside her office. Sumner's life isn't terribly easy. Calls from concerned parents about the fact that a bar does indeed serve liquor, even if it's an all-ages show, tend to dampen her rock & roll resolve, as do pedestrian inquiries into location and directions. But, generally, you can see the wheels turning that make the ride so worth its while.
Switchfoot, it turns out, has photography issues. Sumner is also in charge of the Social's website and recently needed to obtain a photo for promotion. The one she was able to locate went up, and the agent called to complain. A photo from the agency's website was substituted, and it wasn't the right one. On the third try an approved photo finally surfaces, all is well, and the machine keeps on humming.
1:28 p.m.: Entertainment lawyer Brian McClain enters his firm's large conference room, on the 11th floor of the Wachovia building downtown, and begins rifling through a contract between a local band (no names, attorney-client privilege) and an independent filmmaker who wants to use said band on a film soundtrack. The royalties look standard, McClain notes, and the filmmaker has an ASCAP-affiliated publishing company. But he notes that the artist doesn't have the ability to review the filmmaker's audit reports. There's a very good probability that no one will ever make money off this film or its soundtrack, but you can't be too sure. He writes in a clause giving the performer the right to audit the filmmaker's books, and the deal is done.
2:12 p.m.: O-Zone CDs in Altamonte Springs is a little dead. In fact, it's empty, save for husband-and-wife owners Susan and Steven Elder. But a lack of business doesn't mean the two aren't busy. The midday lull is an opportunity for Susan to catch up on e-mail -- she's setting up future in-store appearances by bands -- and for Steven to get out some used CDs.
Only open for about three months, O-Zone is the entrepreneurial result of Steven's years of experience working at East West CDs and CD Warehouse, and Susan's ownership of a gift shop downtown on Orange Avenue. Combining business skills and deep musical knowledge (in addition to being a longtime retail rat, Steven also plays bass with Rob Rock's Rage of Creation and Oddo), the very existence of O-Zone is counter to the prevailing trends in the music industry. "The big stores aren't doing well," says Susan, "but we are. It's probably because we actually know something about music."
Though the two are still building up the store's stock (there's an absurdly high ratio of cutouts to new releases), a steady clientele has developed, thanks both to the service the Elders provide and the overall environment of O-Zone. With a small café stuck Barnes & Noble-style into a corner, the cozy vibe of the shop is completely at odds with the strip-mall style surrounding them on the State Road 436 corridor. And, Susan says, that environment is about to get a whole lot more like home, when O-Zone begins selling beer and wine in the next couple of weeks. Nothing like buzzed shoppers to jack up sales.
3:41 p.m.: "Can you hear my engine?" Sunny asks. No, it's not her engine, but the sound of traffic roaring by is clue enough to know that she's in her car on the way somewhere. "I'm going to teach dance," she says.
Headed down to the Kissimmee dance conservatory her parents own, Sunny will teach a few dance classes and then, as she puts it, "I'm going to Kow. Wouldn't miss it." Despite the fact that she's just released a new double CD of her flowing and sensuous electronica -- "Pieces & Sunnyside Up" -- Sunny has not relaxed her creative workload. In fact, before she hopped in the car this afternoon, she had been working on some tracks with Alex Sarton of Sol.Illaquists of Sound. "We were writing some songs and making some beats," says Sunny, continuing down I-4. "It was great."
3:54 p.m.: The Nappy Roots' tour bus angles for a spot along Holt Avenue in front of the lawn of the Mills building on the Rollins College campus. Students buzz by in BMWs, SUVs and the occasional Mini with Eminem, Dave Matthews, or some nameless dance beat bumping on the car stereo. Inside the WPRK-FM (91.5) DJ booth, newbie local-music director Selena Moshell begins the second hour of her show.
"You are listening to WPRK, 91.5 FM, Winter Park. I'm Selena and this is the 'Local Heroes' show -- at least that's the name for this week," she says to a faceless audience. "You just heard Cider, who will be playing this Saturday at Adobe Gila's. Other local shows this weekend include Kow on Friday at Will's Pub, Jeff Howell (who you heard earlier) at Cricketers Arms... ." She continues to read the rest of the local shows for the week from the Orlando Weekly calendar.
"The Nappy Roots are playing at Rollins tonight; I've never heard of them before but I think they've got a song on the John Manden ... "Madden" football game or something." She reads on, "and then Robert Randolph and the Family Band will be here on Tuesday at House of Blues. I'll definitely be going to that -- so you'll see me there... . I guess if you're really bored you could go and see the Bach Festival at the Knowles Chapel tonight."
Back outside on Holt Avenue, two roadies from the Nappy Roots try to engage two passing Rollins girls in a conversation, but the girls' lack of interest is glaringly obvious. The roadies amble on; the girls giggle at each other, as if aware of an inside joke.
4:29 p.m.: An ad for "The Cutler Edge" airs on WFLA-AM (540). The spot encourages listeners to tune in for this weekly spotlight on "independent music." Of course, the show airs on Orlando's home for Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura and on Sunday nights, so exactly the sort of "independent music" it focuses on might be different from many people's concept. As it turns out, the "show" is really just a paid spot hosted by new-age musician (and "music business veteran") Jesse Cutler. Cutler buys the airtime from WFLA and then turns around and charges "spotlight musicians" $700 for the opportunity to be interviewed (read: promoted) for a few minutes and have their CD available for sale through his website. The majority of the artists who have participated are new-age types (with the glaring exception of Stiff Kitties) who believe having their music hyped on a news/talk station is the pathway to fame. In the 30 seconds it takes the spot to air, credible music journalism is dealt a staggering blow.
5:59 p.m.: Mel Taylor isn't really looking forward to her upcoming six-hour air shift on WOCL-FM (105.9), better known as O-ROCK 105.9, as recent personnel shakeups at the station have increased everyone's workload. Taylor's Friday night shift has gained two hours, but, fortunately for her, from 10 p.m. to midnight, "all I've got to do is push buttons because "Loveline" is on."
As one of the few mainstream radio champions of local music -- she presents "Mel's Favorite Band" during the week -- Taylor has developed a substantial listener base in the brief time she's been on the air. In fact, her trepidation about the duration of tonight's shift soon disappears when another DJ informs her that, according to the most recent ratings book, Taylor's show is the third most-listened to in its timeslot. "Third! That's awesome! Now I've got a reason to go out tonight," she proclaims before taking to the airwaves. Fielding telephone requests and cueing up the evening's songs and commercials, her enthusiasm is infectious. It's not gonna be such a rough shift after all.
7:12 p.m.: Local promoter Jim Faherty, Jim Leatherman (the Four Shames), and Gene Zimmerman (Roadside Giants) make their way across Washington Street, in search of a quiet bar whose sound system they can "take over." The three have convened to pay tribute to Elliott Smith, the gifted-but-troubled singer-songwriter whose suicide was discovered Wednesday. SKY60, empty but for two guys in ties looking at paperwork, fits the bill. Faherty hands the bartender a CD burned earlier that day of Elliott Smith singles, B-sides and rarities, and the generic dance music that had been playing is replaced by Smith's breathy voice. The guys in ties look up, bemused, and move farther down the bar. Ten minutes later, as "Rose Parade" fills the now-empty rooftop bar, the mourners raise shots of Maker's Mark, toast Smith, and down 'em. "For him to think of us doing this," one of them starts, perhaps imagining that their appreciation of his music could have prevented Smith's suicide. "All these songs," another says. "They're like a blueprint for what he was going to do."
7:29 p.m.: Bleu, a Boston-based solo artist on Columbia Records, takes the stage at The Social. Bleu's claim to fame, it seems, is an appearance on the "Spider-Man" soundtrack, alongside members of Saliva and Nickelback. Forty-five minutes of anthemic -- and quite charming -- pop follow. True to his bio, Bleu's set reflects a healthy dose of hipster-pop influences, recalling Ben Folds Five, Weezer and Semisonic (remember them?). The latter's singer, in fact, helped Bleu on his major-label debut, "Redhead."
The Social is sold out, packed to the gills with trucker hats and other trademarks of über-coolness. Only tonight, there's no wait at the bar, and nobody is smoking cigarettes. Unusual as that may be, it's not unexpected: Bleu is opening for rising Christian rockers Switchfoot, and the church-bus set is out in full force. Bartender Paul McCorkle -- who plays bass for local rockers Plain Jane Automobile -- looks a bit bored, or at least tired of doling out Cokes. Bleu ends his set with a cover of "Shout" and a song that, by its end, has 300 kids singing the "na na na" chorus line.
After a break, Switchfoot takes the stage. The same crowd that applauded Bleu is enthusiastically singing along to Switchfoot, who are billed as the next big Christian crossover. The band's last show was a similarly smoke- and drink-free event at Back Booth; popular demand has pushed tonight's show into the larger confines of The Social. Thankfully, there's no hint of Creed's self-absorption, and Switchfoot's intensely involving melodies and lyrics transcend overt religiosity. You get the feeling that, if the band's emotional pop is accepted as well in the mainstream as by the youth groups, The Social may not be able to hold their next Orlando show.
8:12 p.m.: J-Sun is on The Globe patio, laying out the post-happy-hour, adult-contemporary tunes on his keyboard. Two ladies start dancing to Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." As the song wraps, two women drive by on a scooter. The passenger, a mullet-haired woman, yells, "Wooh!"
8:34 p.m.: Frank Washington, the latest lead singer for legendary Detroit R&B group The Spinners, is stepping out into the audience. The band is halfway through their third set of the night, performing at the America Gardens Theatre at Epcot, and just like the two sets before (and the sets yesterday and the sets tomorrow), Washington is punctuating this performance of "Sadie" with a stroll that tickles the crowd of slightly older tourists. It's surprising that there's even a crowd here, as the rest of the World Pavilion is packed to the gills with Food & Wine Festival attendees and beer-toting golfers fresh from the last rounds of the Funai Classic nearby at Disney's Magnolia and Palm courses. With all of these folks -- plus the regular complement of tourists -- lined up around the "lake" waiting for fireworks, you wouldn't think there'd be anyone left in Epcot to even watch. But Washington and The Spinners have packed the amphitheatre, and after returning to the stage, he leads the group through a high-energy version of "Working My Way Back to You" that has everyone in the vicinity up and dancing.
8:35 p.m.: There's a guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt inside Bahama Breeze on I-Drive playing a keyboard and singing cheese through a portable PA. Thankfully, this is not Spex, the headliner. Then again, neither is the guy on the tiny outside stage, who is doing reggae-lite to recorded backing tracks. This is Sugarcane, and at least he's live on the steel drums. Spex doesn't come on until 9:30 p.m., which is too long to hang around here unless you're eating or drinking your fifth concoction made with rum and sporting an umbrella. Not that it matters much. The patio fronts a parking lot, which nestles up to the tourist strip. You can still see the distinctly un-Caribbean traffic flowing as you sip. But the crowd is here to take a load off after a busy day of tourism, so what matters is that someone is up on stage providing a soundtrack that is just "island" enough. Sugarcane is that someone tonight. One of his song flows seamlessly into the next, over the crowd and out the deck where it is swallowed by the bustle of I-Drive.
9:13 p.m.: All is relatively quiet on the Rollins College campus, in spite of the ball game at the stadium. Outside the Knowles Memorial Chapel, lit in shadowy magnificence, there's an oddly hushed quiet that's strikingly disturbed when the arched wooden doors swing open and the sounds of the Bach Festival Orchestra surge forth. Inside, a soaring crescendo warms the solemnity, just like the amber glow from the low-hanging chandeliers. Mood meets music. Art meets architecture. Suddenly, the symphony crashes to a halt, the magic broken. Distinguished conductor John V. Sinclair (a George Lucas look-alike) is no longer a baton-waving instrument; he's a coach, pumping up his crew: "Think of them (the beats) as a group ... boom, boom, boom, boom ... like a basketball ... two and three and ... ." The synchronous splendor begins again as the orchestra rehearses one last night before its tribute to Hector Berlioz's 200th birthday via performances of the composer's "Symphonie Fantastique" and "Te Deum." There's a thunderous drum roll, a tolling of church bells, a suspension of the sense of the here and now.
9:40 p.m.: "Some people call me Maurice, woo-woo," sings local folkie Amy Steinberg from the House of Blues Front Porch. She's speaking of the pompatus of love (or whatever Steve Miller was mumbling about) to about 20 people, many with Mickey-adorned shopping bags clustered around their feet. Inside, once you get past the endless layers of security, it's not too crowded, not too loud and not too hot: the perfect theme-park imitation of a rock show. Teens in shiny new 18-hole Docs and guys with long gray ponytails and black T-shirts (label reps or parents?) mill around the music hall aimlessly, waiting for Soil (opening tonight for Static-X) to take the stage.
10:03 p.m.: There's an inefficient roadway system within the Winter Park Village that's always bustling on weekend nights. But the "T"-shaped intersection that dead-ends at the cinemas is the main crossroads, the place everyone can see and be seen -- and surely that's been helpful for Zaq Suarez.
The mellow singer-songwriter is set up on a cozy patch of ground in front of the outdoor tables at Barnie's. Somehow, the Florida Atlantic University student's sound system effectively closes out the cacophony of gunning engines and socializing teens, so his Jason Mraz-ish fare (a mixture of covers and originals), carries the neon-lit corner. Another fresh face, Drew Yardis, hand-drums and harmonizes in accompaniment to the guitarist. The sky is clear and the temperature just right. Friends and fans are settled in on blankets and sleeping bags, while Mom is at the table, proudly pushing CDs for $5.
10:04 p.m.: Tanqueray's Bar and Grille, beneath a bank on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street, seems an unlikely place to see live music. The bar, for starters, is in a room adjacent to the smallish floor where the band du jour, the Midnight Ramblers, a four-piece decked in suits and slicked-back greaser hair, set up and start playing their half-covers/half-originals mix of 1950s-era rockabilly. The sound brings a "crowd" of about 15 people into the music room, all drinking and munching on the free pretzels on the tables. A few hours later, with the Ramblers starting their second set, the room is packed full of people who appear to have been drinking since happy hour started. Well-drenched in alcohol, the crowd starts to dance.
10:08 p.m.: Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" bounces out of the House of Blues PA, then the curtain rises to reveal Soil. For the next half-hour, the Illinois quintet throws the obligatory shapes and lets loose the growly noises in front of perhaps the most well-behaved audience in the world. There have been Gillian Welch shows rowdier than this. Perhaps the audience is saving their energy for Static-X, but for now, a security guy stands with his hands in his pockets, chewing a toothpick while he monitors the tidy 12-by-12 area in front of the stage: the designated headbanging and stabbing-the-air-with-one-finger area. A young girl is neatly deposited in front of the stage after surfing the crowd, a smile on her face. While it's usually prudent to wear steel-toes and earplugs to a metal show, you could get away with flip-flops tonight. The sound level is such that one can easily hold a conversation, and many people do. As Soil conclude their set and leave the stage, the drummer doesn't even appear to be sweating.
10:10 p.m.: Tonight's show at Adobe Gila's in Pointe Orlando is a homecoming of sorts for Cider, a local power-pop unit that is about as straight-ahead as they come, right down to their faded T-shirts and jeans with blown-out knees. The foursome has been on the road in the Midwest for the last eight months playing colleges, clubs, bars, anywhere. Now they are home for a bit, playing around town, until they take off again in March. In the meantime, some band members are considering day jobs. "I forgot what it's like to look for a real job,' says guitarist Travis Wetherington. Relentless touring and highly accessible tunes have generated a mini-buzz for the band -- "Lovely" can now be heard at Gap stores nationwide, thanks to distribution through Muzak.
Tonight's crowd is young, probably more locals than tourists. Hip-hugger jeans with thong underwear peeking out the top. Cell phones. JÅ germeister shots. Tequila. A few are clearly here to welcome the band home -- "Go Travis!" shouts a young woman between songs -- but most are here to drink with friends and Cider is sonic window dressing that helps makes this bayou-shack chain restaurant something more. For these folks, the mix of covers and originals is Cider's selling point. When the band breaks into a cover of "Summer of '69," the dance floor fills up, and more than a few in the audience sing along. The band doesn't add anything to the song, but they don't butcher it either. Just right for Friday night at the Pointe Orlando mall.
10:14 p.m.: The lead singer and bassist for Noise Floor are running around in front of the stage at Lost & Found in Longwood. Not onstage, in front of the stage, flailing around in a sort of joyous St. Vitus' that ramps up the energy level in the room considerably. It's their next-to-last song, and being the first act on a five-band, Friday-night bill means that they've got to work extra hard to get the attention of the small clutch of metalheads that are here this early. It's working, as the crowd seems bummed out when the two return to the stage and announce that the next song will be the band's last. The immediacy of Noise Floor's energy is infectious as they churn through their fairly standard metal fare, but the crowd knows there are still four more bands though (Ion Sift, Mind Machine, Deadspot and Blood Moon), so the night is young and plenty more metal will be forthcoming.
10:24 p.m.: The Harbinger Trio is soundtracking the comfortable decline of the working hours at The Peacock Room. Gorgeous washes of ambient blues, tripped up by the herky-jerk uneasiness of live instrumentation make for an otherworldly -- or at least other-townly -- night on the strip mall. A wide range of elbow-to-bar cigarette conversationalists go about their flirtatious storytelling, while the band pulls and pulls and pulls. Beneath the cotton ball drip of the Peacock's not-understated Halloween decor -- including an overhead, exploding graveyard -- the drone really pulls you down ... or is that up?
The audience is predominantly girls -- of the razor-cut shag variety -- and as they commune in affluent peace, the band drags the minor key into aquatic depths heretofore unknown. A rush of vitriolic jazz drumming shakes the martini olives long enough to make the tastefully drunk raise their voices to enunciate their conversations of Prada sales and TiVo'd episodes of Sex and the City. Reserved applause (just south of finger-snaps) resounds after each murky dirge, indicating that despite their apparent indifference, the audience is an appreciative lot.
10:35 p.m.: The super-citified West New England Street in west Winter Park looks and sounds dead -- Dexter's is closed, and so is Hot Olives. One overdressed couple lingers at an outdoor table at Chez Vincent; otherwise there's not a soul in sight. A nondescript door opens to a stairway, leading to Ballard & Corum, a tucked-away, chic sliver of a listening room. (The first-floor bakery/eatery is closed.) It's cozy, even with less than eight people lounging at the friendly bar, some of them members of the band readying to play. Tomorrow night Tim Kelliher (acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Rick Birkbeck (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals) will join the rest of the veteran blues-rock outfit Skin and Bone for a gig at An Tobar in Maitland. Tonight they're just hanging out with another musician friend, playing some tunes -- Neil Young's "Already One," The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and a hard-driving, catchy original, "Living As Best I Can," written and sung by the country-boy-styled Kelliher. It's a rock repertoire that's classic and well-aged, just like the $9 glasses of California wine.
10:40 p.m.: The real freak scene at the House of Blues is on the second-floor smoking porch, where jonesing smokers from the nü-metal show inside are jammed shoulder-to-shoulder and tempers are flaring from the lack of space. A woman who looks like Tammy Faye Bakker's younger, trashier sister holds court on a wrought-iron bench, apparently reveling in the attention that her massive blonde hair extensions and war-paint makeup is gaining her. As she leans down to scratch her leg inside a white patent platform boot, exposing a canyon of cleavage, the bouncers start kicking out "all non-smokers," threatening to close off the tiny balcony altogether.
11:03 p.m.: An older man dances on an empty floor in the massive Parliament House complex. He has silver hair, hard-earned wrinkles and rounded spectacles. He dances by himself, leaning back, opening his chest to the tassel-filled ceiling, bending his blue-jeaned legs to the beat. The house music is so loud it reverberates through the chest and spine. The man is not rhythmically challenged and he has a sense of style. When Darcel Stevens ends her show in the Parliament's theater -- she's a large, black cross-dresser who lip-syncs songs like "Killing Me Softly" -- a crowd of men floods onto the dance floor for a set by DJ Anthony. Still the man dances by himself. It's apparent he knows no one in the bar. The man is 55, he says. He drove over from Winter Haven to spend the day shopping. When the stores ran him out at closing time, he came here. He hasn't visited the Parliament House in three years. He says he will stay about another hour.
11:07 p.m.: The T-Bucket Terrors, a three-piece of guitar, stand-up bass and drums, take to the claustrophobic stage of the Bodhisattva Social Club. In keeping with the, er, "intimate" nature of the venue, the Terrors plow through an intriguing -- if a bit loose -- set of honky-tonk for the 30 or so attendees. Jeff Nolan, the constant face of the club's upstairs bar (and guitarist for Double First Cousins), furnishes the $1 Pabst Blue Ribbons, reminding the more frugal showgoers that he works for tips.
As frequently is the case here, fellow musicians wander in and out as the night progresses. Mike Holecek from Generation, Joe Montalvo from Swansinger and two guys from the band Out stop by. The Out crew is passing out flyers for their show here next weekend. From the bar, you don't get a good look at what's happening on stage. Nolan wonders aloud what kind of guitar the singer is playing. The drummer seems a bit lost from time to time, and the bass player looks to be concentrating hard. Fellow revelers confide that he's only played for nine months.
11:08 p.m.: DJ's KJ and Jimmy Joslin are relaxed in the Tabu DJ booth. So relaxed, in fact, that despite the high-energy breaks booming out of the sound system, the two seem to be casually chatting about that night's World Series game. The dance floor is empty -- it is still early -- which is all the more surprising considering the ratcheted-up tempo and abundance of beautiful people in attendance at this stylishly cavernous downtown club. KJ casually cues up a new record, the techno imagery on the giant screens blasts out a scattered wreck of visuals, a beef-necked fashion victim asks about drink specials while his girlfriend rolls her eyes, a halter-topped beauty trips over her four-inch heels and a couple twice the median age of the crowd takes to the dance floor. It appears the night might just be about to get started.
11:13 p.m.: In the House of Blues restaurant, the Blues Kitchen, New Orleans blues band Rockin' Jake works its way methodically into "Hey, Bo Diddley" while a young father stands next to the stage, jiggling his baby in time to the music. Waitresses whiz past them, carrying plates full of expensive, upscale soul food. Outside on the Front Porch, Amy Steinberg is still at it, playing originals now. One man cuddles a dog, explaining that he had just rescued it from the pound, as Steinberg sings about bad habits (drinking, smoking and watching pornos). Yards away, shoppers amble in and out of Magnetron, a store selling nothing but magnets.
11:17 p.m.: There are those who believe that Jimmy Buffett should be punished severely for what he's done to music in general and Key West in particular. A trip to Margaritaville at Universal CityWalk would do nothing to dilute their venom. It's all here: the Cheeseburger in Paradise, the Volcano Bar, the Land Shark bar, etc. Then again, going in with a bad attitude is a guarantee of a bad time, so check your Parrothead antipathy at the door.
Blue Stone Circle is the house band, and tonight, they get the job done. They do covers, naturally, but it's not wall-to-wall Jimmy. "We only know three Buffett songs," says guitarist Dave Rande, a blonde surfer-dude type who probably got the job as much for his looks as his playing.
Blue Stone Circle is a five-piece that has found the proverbial gravy train. They used to play Pleasure Island, but found the Disney mindset a little restrictive. "We like the Buffett attitude," says Rande. The steady, five-nights-a-week gig isn't bad either. Blue Stone plays Margaritavilles from Las Vegas to Key West and Jamaica. Buffett himself likes them, according to Rande. It ain't rock & roll stardom, but it beats bussing tables.
Tonight the place is thick with 30-something women, seemingly every one of whom is instantly on the dance floor when the band grinds into Free's "All Right Now." Next up is a cover of Journey's "Any Way You Want It," which touches off a round of fist-pumping and lighter-lighting. Nobody leaves when the band calls for the Electric Slide.
11:33 p.m.: The Bösendorfer Lounge at the Westin Grand Bohemian is packed, packed with people, and DJ BMF is trying hard to keep them entertained. "It's some pharmaceutical company," he says of the night's hotel-guest attendees, of whom exactly zero are dancing to the Soul II Soul and B.T. Express tracks he's spinning. "That's the thing about a hotel gig. You never know." BMF regularly entertains crowds in the Bösendorfer on Friday nights, adding an element of upscale urbanity to the two-for-one strip that is Orange Ave. with his crates of old-school funk and downtempo grooves. Catering to a music-savvy and style-conscious local crowd (and the corporate types checked into the Westin), the cozy lounge is always elbow-to-elbow and usually asscheek-to-asscheek. However, tonight's crowd is too cool for school, and nobody is even swaying to the beat, much less dancing. "I think they're French," says BMF of the crowd's hesitance to cut loose. "Maybe I'll play some Les Nubians later."
11:50 p.m.: "Everyone I thought was cool is six feet underground," ancient guitar-slinger Rick Derringer sings to a small-but-enthusiastic audience at rock club/sports bar hybrid The Station. It's the third song of a 90-minute set that Derringer has constructed as a tour of his perpetually motive career, from his McCoys hit "Hang on Sloopy" -- complete with "obscure" second verse -- to "Real American," the anthem he wrote for Hulk Hogan. (But it's still his song, man.)
Perhaps taking their cues from the relentlessly cheerful staff at this brand-new nightspot, Derringer's listeners do not rush the stage and pummel him when he mentions his smooth-jazz record of last year, nor the Christian album (!) he has coming out next February. Instead, they wait patiently for another chance to savor his undiminished instrumental prowess and crystal-clear vocals, as previously captured on some 200 recordings. Swirls of skillful guitar alternate with hooky choruses that help Derringer's set penetrate deeper than the usual muso noodlings.
In the course of the evening, Derringer will toast the crowd (with water). He will cover Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy." And he will take a photo of the audience for his website, www.rickderringer.com -- the only time that most of the middle-aged hell-raisers are moved to leave their seats and scurry to the front, if only to retreat as soon as the picture is snapped. One fan, who looks eerily like James Lipton, resists the urge to climb on stage and ask Derringer what he wants to hear God say when he dies.
The set proper culminates with a rousing version of (what else?) "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo," complete with a flurry of finger-tapped "Eruption"-isms that prolong the familiar coda. Hoots of approval emanate from what Derringer has earlier flattered as "a good-lookin' audience." The rockers at The Station appear happy in the knowledge that they are in fact something much more special: old, ugly and thoroughly congenial. (Or was that a Zappa track?)
11:58 p.m.: The hosts of "The Night Club" on WTKS-FM (104.1) are discussing "obscure and obsolete" formats for entertainment delivery, such as the eight-track tape and Betamax. They don't seem to get the irony that they're doing this on FM radio.
Midnight: "I hope you have a Happy New Year, ma'am," says the ticket seller, handing over change to a woman with blonde party bangs and a red lace tank top. The woman looks confused. As she crosses the bridge and heads toward the tall wooden gates, fireworks explode over Pleasure Island, Downtown Disney's little slice of nightlife heaven. "Happy New Year!" shouts the VJ appearing on television screens everywhere you look, his voice booming from every direction. It's creepy in a "1984" kind of a way, but no one seems to take the slightest notice; nor does anyone appear puzzled by the fact that this is not, in fact, New Year's Eve.
Nuclear families with teenagers and toddlers, tweens skipping in and out of candy shops, trios of dolled-up mallrats, clumps of guys in golf shirts ogling them, a group of Japanese girls, what looks like a cluster of office party revelers who are going to be sorry tomorrow -- it's like being at the state fair. Or an airport. All of these people paid 20 bucks to be in here, and some of them look like they're trying to get their money's worth, doing their damnedest to hit the comedy club, the '70s club, the '80s club, the beach-themed bar, the jazz club, etc. People wander in all directions, in and out of bars, up and down staircases, seemingly narcotized by the all-you-can-eat entertainment buffet. As the cover band on the West End Stage segues from "I'm a Believer" into a peppy version of Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise," a man glides past on a Segway and disappears behind one of the "Staff Only" doors -- snapping the Pleasure Island spell long enough to remind us that just because it's all you can eat, it doesn't mean you have to eat until you're sick.
12:05 a.m.: When the line at Bob Marley's Tribute to Freedom snakes out the door and halfway down the "block" at CityWalk, the overflow fills CityJazz, an excellent music venue that seems to be trying to overcome its name, at least tonight. The Herb Williams Band is playing and covers "Purple Rain" and "Jump" in the same set. 'Nuff said about their jazz credentials.
Before they took the stage, the place was all potential, from the huge cutouts of jazz greats and the "Downbeat" wall of fame to the backlit bar and the intimate rooms you stumble on when walking around. The main stage is high and wide, and there is nary a bad sight line to be had. But there's a dance floor, more proof of the schizophrenic nature of CityJazz. Is it a jazz club? A concert hall? A bar? Who cares? Certainly not the impressively multi-culti crowd, equal parts young hipsters and the middle-aged out on the town. The band is suitably funky, the floor not overly crowded and the night relatively young.
12:39 a.m.: "I've turned away twice as many people as I've let in," says Will Walker. He's pacing the front room of Will's Pub, somewhat surprised by the enormous amount of interest in tonight's "one-time" reunion show of local legend Kow. (The group would decide to play again on Sunday and then again, two days later.) In an attempt to ensure the night was comfortable for everyone involved, Walker decided to cap admittance into his bar at a number below the stated legal occupancy, a decision he doesn't regret. Yet, the crowd of people that were standing outside the back door -- the closed back door -- listening to Kow's first set would probably take issue with that.
Returning to the stage a few minutes later from a "recreation break," Anthony Cole, Bobby Koelble, Dan Fadel and the rest of Kow slowly ease into their second set. The warm-up turns into a fiery version of Parliament's "Red Hot Mama," and the nasty, funky energy that enveloped the stage area during the first set comes roaring back. Everyone -- on stage and in the bar -- is drunk. And everyone is having a blast. Eugene Snowden of Umöja and The Legendary J.C.'s says he's just "amazed" that he's been able to perform at various times with everyone that's onstage: "As musicians, and as people, all these guys are just incredible."
Later, Snowden shows his love after being invited onstage during another acid-washed Parliament cover, the stinky-panties ode "Funky Woman." Singer and keyboardist Anthony Cole is having some trouble remembering the words (apparently, Cole thoroughly enjoyed his break) and Snowden is equally lost. Such minor foibles only accelerate the party atmosphere, and the rest of the band just kicks it up a notch or two. It's music for music's sake, and this show, in all of its sweaty, funky drunkenness, is the kind of show that will take a long time to forget. If anyone can remember it in the morning.
12:52 a.m.: The first signs of life come to Club K.O.H.A., a club located on the main drag in Eatonville. Three of the City Boys have taken over the DJ booth and begun spinning hip-hop music for the small crowd of people -- about 10 or so -- that have made it to the club this early. Club K.O.H.A., and others in Eatonville, are the only bars in Orange County that serve liquor until 4 a.m. The manager says that in an hour the place will be filled with young people looking for a place to party after the normal closing time has been called. The City Boys are part of a group called Disco and the City Boys, only Disco isn't scheduled to appear tonight, leaving the three City Boys to spin Dirty South records with bass so deep it shakes the chairs in the club's dark corners where several youths sit. One of the rappers sounds like Tupac, but the song isn't familiar. The dance floor is cold. Four women, hands folded over their chests, mill about, trying to talk. They head to the front door, where it's warmer and the music is not as loud. Blue-green and red lasers zigzag across the room, and a burly security guard shines a thick flashlight beam over the empty dance floor.
1:14 a.m.: Julian Marley is finally onstage at Back Booth. He was supposed to be on an hour or so ago, following a warm-up set by Sol.Illaquists of Sound, but island time took over and Marley is just now getting to the stage. The crowd is big enough, though not spectacular, given the $18 cover charge and the Kow show drawing potential patrons away. As folks stroll in off the street, doorgirl Soorya announces the evening's surprise: Damian Marley will be joining his brother on stage later that night. Marley's set is basic reggae, a regurgitation of the riffs and rhythms that made his father famous. His breezy approach to the music makes for a good time and dozens of people crowd the front of the stage, drinking and dancing along with the seven dreadlocked ones on stage: a guitarist, two keyboardists, a bassist, a drummer, Julian (who mostly sang but occasionally chirped in on guitar as well) and a man whose job, as best anyone could tell, was to wave the Jamaican flag on stage the entire show.
2:58 a.m.: Kow begrudgingly ends their final set, proclaiming, "Man, they stopped serving an hour ago. Y'all need to go home." However, a post-Kow celebration is getting underway at a nearby tattoo shop. The party in Orlando, it seems, isn't going to be over any time soon.
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