The Rockin’ Coast

Packed tightly in the club, worshippers to the rock gods anxiously await the melodies they know by heart: The deep drone of the bass, screeching riffs emanating from electric guitar, the pounding on the snare drum, and, finally, the singer screaming the first notes into the microphone. It’s not a scene from New York, Los Angeles or Austin, but rather a nightly tribute to music in sunny South Florida. Most visitors to the region are drawn to the sandy beaches and slathering of sun block, but anyone who knows anything can feel the rumbling of rock ‘n’ roll.

IT’S A REVOLUTION | While there is no shortage of massive arenas and concert halls in the area, the allure of watching a live band play at a bar or smaller venue is still there. In the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale’s entertainment district is Revolution Live, which has managed to create an intimate atmosphere for the best of the best to perform.

Jeff John, owner and president of the club, said the venue hosts up to 150 shows a year, running the gamut in genre. The stage has seen the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Smashing Pumpkins, John Legend, P!nk, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, A Tribe Called Quest and other big-name artists who started out playing shows at the music venue.

At Revolution Live, fans can get up-close and personal with their music idol, standing close enough to the stage to see every drop of sweat.

“We’ve always enjoyed an experience more when people are right by the stage. I’d rather slap high-fives with someone right in the front row,” Joel Hanks, bassist for Badfish, said. “That’s the type of room we want to play every night.”

Badfish, a Sublime tribute band, has performed at the venue a dozen times and was launched to national fame with gigs at Revolution Live. Although the band regularly plays at stadiums and large stages where the audience is banished to stand behind fencing, Badfish always loves to return to South Florida.

“In South Florida, we always get one of the most energetic crowds. People come to the club and they’re just ready to rock,” Hanks said.

Revolution Live has created such a following that moviemakers have taken notice. While conducting focus groups for musical-turned-movie “Rock of Ages,” the crew decided that the club would be the perfect setting for the Bourbon Room—home to character Staci Jaxx.

“They had the trailers in one parking lot, the concessions and the costumes in the other parking lot,” John remembers of the set taking over his club. “I came down at times and spent a night or two in there.” Fans of the movie will be happy to know that some props are still up—the ties and bras that hung around the bar of the rockin’ Bourbon Room are permanent fixtures, for example.

“You like to keep some things so when the crowd comes in they go ‘Hey, yo, look at that, I remember that!’” John said.

TOP ROCK MARKET | A big market to compete with when it comes to entertainment is Miami. However, Jeff John feels that while people flock to South Beach to dance to an international, electronic-dance-music DJ’s set, Broward and Palm Beach have a hold on the rock scene. It’s a feeling many locals share.

“I would say, in my opinion, Miami has more of a Latin flavor—there’s more rock bands with a horn section and congas. In Broward, there’s more of the hipster rock where it’s a little bit more grungy, a little bit more of a younger feel all around,” said Joel DaSilva, a local musician.

A veteran of the South Florida music scene, DaSilva spent 13 years as the front man for the Hep Cap Boo Daddies and then went solo and formed Joel DaSilva and the Midnight Howl in 2010. Creating an eclectic mix of blues, swamp surf, swing and “all of the above,” the band has created a following at music bars from Palm Beach down to Miami.

In the years he has been playing, DaSilva said, South Florida music lovers have been a tough crowd to please. However, it’s been changing for the better. With the surf and sand creating a breeding ground for talented musicians, residents have started to take notice.

“It’s gotten a lot better actually: tons of talent,” DaSilva said. “It is a good, strong scene down here for sure.”

WE BUILT THIS CITY | Many rock bands that have broken into the national market call the Gold Coast their home. Just to name a few, punk band New Found Glory hail from Coral Springs and indie rock band Dashboard Confessional have roots in Palm Beach County. Many have played small venues such as Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, which greets a variety of acts every week. Farther north in West Palm Beach is the home of one of the most highly anticipated musical events in the area —and for some, in the world.

SunFest, going into its 31st year, is a festival that brings in 50 bands to perform on three waterfront stages. Not only does the weekend of music draw local lovers of music, but last year, tickets were purchased online in 44 different states and 10 countries. “We build a mini city within the city,” said Melissa Sullivan, SunFest marketing manager. “What we try to do is feature regional up-and-comers to add to the value of the performers.”

That means not only musicians and bands that rule the airwaves play. The festival saw Counting Crows, The Fray, Snoop Dogg, Passion Pit, Third Eye Blind, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Pitbull, Girl Talk and dozens more in 2012, mixed in with local and regional bands that have gained a following within their communities. Staged the first weekend of every May, the “mini city” draws more than 165,000 music lovers to the waterfront for hours of music from the comfort of their lawn chairs. Local restaurants and food trucks are also in full force for hours of tunes, food and drink.

For rock acts that have never performed in the South Florida market, Sunfest can be a surprisingly successful event.

“I think people don’t necessarily know what the West Palm Beach market is going to be for them, but when they get here they really enjoy it,” Sullivan said. “We do hear from performers that they’d like to play us again.”

South Florida holds musical promise. And for musicians like Joel DaSilva, it’s that good rockin’ tune and fans cheering in a dimly lit bar that make the area one poised for musical discovery. “The rock scene is here, just go out and find it,” he said.

Christiana Lilly
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