This Little Underground

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R.I.P., Guru. Jazz up the flip side, homie. And if the last-minute cancellation of your Firestone Live show back in October 2008 had anything to do with your illness, I'm sorry for questioning it.

On a much brighter note, the Orlando Magic are slapping bats in hand, beatdown-style, ready for their next playoff victim.

The beat

Of the many years I've spent covering the Florida Music Festival beat (April 21-24), I was much less urgent and painstaking about it this time. And that was strictly a symptom of the offerings.

There was a heavier focus on national headliners and, at the very least, there were a few good touring acts featured in the festival. And, no, I most certainly do not mean headliners like Anberlin, Less Than Jake or the eternally annoying Rusted Root. I mean bands like Murder By Death, Ha Ha Tonka, Linfinity, Gringo Star and Modern Skirts, even though at least a few of these were only incidentally appended to FMF.

But as a general rule, the tastes of the festival's organizers and my own differ greatly with regard to national headliners. The appeal of FMF for me over the years has always been uncovering some hidden regional gems, a once reasonable prospect that I've sort of given up on. It's a ray of hope that's progressively dimmed. Fewer and fewer of the region's more interesting acts have been participating for various reasons. Representation of this segment at FMF is but a trickle of what it once was as recently as three years ago.

One of the key factors is that FMF isn't the only game in town anymore the way it was for years. Attracting much of the area's DIY and independent-minded demographic is the more region-specific turn that the Anti-Pop Music Festival has taken, not to mention the rise of the Orange You Glad Fest among many smaller but still notable mini-festivals.

The Orlando scene has become too big and diverse for one all-encompassing music festival. There just happens to be more choices when it comes to local music these days, ones that cater to specific styles and ethos. And that's a great thing for musicians and music fans alike, but it's not necessarily the best news for FMF. Although the organizers have tried in the past — to varying degrees of success — to involve the city's indie scene, the truth is that it's just not the core identity of FMF. They know it, and the indie scene knows it.

FMF's outlook is manifestly aimed at the mainstream and major industry. However, considering how that mentality and business structure is in the midst of a major Berlin Wall act, that's a perilous thing to be right now. I've always said that there's a place in the fabric of the area for FMF.

But if, beyond all the partying and networking, it really is about the music, something will have to change to respond to the shifting paradigm. Otherwise, FMF will be, at best, irrelevant and, at worse, extinct.

But the week's best was a non-FMF show: the Black Keys (April 19, House of Blues). It was a concert choice as natural for me as it was obvious. Everyone knows how much I love two-piece bands. The larger-than-life proportions, the urge to play harder and louder to fill in the gaps -- it all results in something raw and big. And few embody everything that's beautiful about the duo as perfectly as the Black Keys.

With overdriven electric groans that come from the bottom of the guts, Dan Auerbach's sonically thrilling guitar work features the biggest throttle punches this generation has seen. These Akron boys do it dirtier than all those old blues "legends" and may forever shatter the pejorative term "white-guy blues." OK, maybe not. But they still completely rule.

Throughout the entire show, the very non-metal dudes in front of me were headbanging so hard that I was sure they were gonna rock themselves right over the guardrail. If you can inspire that kind of enthusiasm just by playing the blues, you're cookin' up one mighty hex.

Auerbach's dad, Chuck, used to e-mail me out of the blue back in 2005 every time I made even a passing reference to his gifted son. Well, considering his boy is now the savior of the blues and Dan's still-young musical legacy has already made him a modern American great, Chuck has a lot to be proud of.

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