;"Welcome to our party. Welcome to our city." These words were spoken to me in a way that wasn't all that welcoming. They dripped with the self-satisfied condescension that comes from someone who thinks that they're putting you in your place. As it was Axis co-publisher Sean Perry who spoke them, and I was at one of the Florida Music Festival's "industry" parties, I guess you could say he was right, though his tone was certainly unnecessary.
;;For three days, Orlando was the Axis boys' city. Not just because FMF is "their" event, but also because in bars across downtown, their vision of the Orlando music scene — and what constitutes success therein — was driving the proceedings. Needless to say, their vision is not one that I share. With an emphasis on marketability, impressing major labels and shooting for the largest (not the lowest) common denominator, a torrent of accessible competence spread across the city, interrupted quite often by flashes of spirited brilliance.
;;More troubling to me was the self-parodying deluge of local "music business" folks who, for three days, acted like the Incredibly Important People they feel they are. Bar tabs ran high, BlackBerries buzzed, backs were slapped, asses kissed — the whole thing felt very … empty. When I'm told, "I don't really know much about these local bands," by someone whose job it is to know them, I feel dismayed. Surrounded by Incredibly Important People who are never at the four to five shows a week I attend, I can't wait to get my city back.
;;Realizing that this is the environment that the Axis guys created, it's easy to say that they're cynically manipulating the idea of "an Orlando music scene" in an effort to promote their own projects. Big 10-4 — a band managed by Axis' other co-publisher, Rick Wheeler — not only benefited greatly from FMF '05 (a record deal with Universal), but also received the prime slot (headlining Friday at Wall Street) at FMF '06. If you think about it, the combination of Big 10-4's marketable, mainstream modern rock and their enormous, excited fan base is a crystalline representation of what Axis and FMF are all about. They'd be huge at FMF regardless. Like it or not.
;;But what about the way FMF conspicuously flexed its lineup this year to include an astonishing number of excellent indie-rock bands? I doubt that Perry and Wheeler's CD collection suddenly diversified; instead, it's clear that they noticed the groundswell of attention that bands like Summerbirds in the Cellar and Band Marino are earning and had to acknowledge the impact this music is having on local fans. Like it or not.
;;I don't think FMF has come close to a perfect balance yet; cramming so many of the best local bands into the Back Booth was good for the Back Booth, but bad for the people who wound up missing bands because of the over-capacity crowd. But this year was a whole lot better than last year. And hey, three days downtown seeing bands? One can only complain so much.
;;To be blunt, when it comes to music, there are three types of people in this city. People like myself, who try to nurture new and different forms of creative expression attempted with little concern for widespread fame. People like the Axis guys, who try to nurture bands to be successful by appealing to a large number of people. And, finally, people who don't do anything.
;;I may find a myriad of reasons to disagree with the decisions behind FMF. I may think that the mainstream sounds FMF and Axis champion are reductive, unchallenging and more than a little bit old-fashioned. I may think that all the "industry types" FMF so aggressively courts are part of a morally corrupt, creatively bankrupt system built upon a business model that has proven to be unsustainable. They may think I'm an elitist asshole because of my utopian vision of an artist-friendly town where musicians are encouraged to create and to pursue their own weird visions. They may think that my philosophical beliefs about the "scene" are an impediment to their promotional efforts and, therefore, an intentional blockade of certain artists' success.But as much as we may hate to admit it, we're both ultimately fighting against that third group of people.
;;That said, I had a deeply disturbing "conversation" with Wheeler. Little of it bears repeating, but the one thing that sticks out in my mind — besides the fact that I thought for sure he was gonna clock me — is that he accused me of being a bad journalist because 1) I'm always negative, unless 2) I'm writing about my friends. He's not the first person to say it, nor the first person to say it to my face. I've always laughed it off, knowing that a) I'm usually positive (yes, I am), and b) I don't have that many friends.
;;But it was hard to laugh when I thought I was gonna get my ass kicked, despite the fact that I was being given a J-school ethics lecture by a magazine publisher who manages a band that his magazine writes about. "If he's that pissed off," I thought. "There must be a grain of truth to it." So the next day, I took a look at the last two months of local music coverage in the Weekly: in this column, in the features I write and assign as music editor and in Selections, a section for which I also write and assign.
;;In the last two months, 43 different locals have been part of the coverage. Thirty-two of those write-ups were positive. Nine were neutral. Negative remarks? Two. Using the basic metric of "Do I have their number — or the number of someone with whom they closely work — in my cell phone?" to define what a "friend" is, I must say that Wheeler was right; I do write about my friends. Two of the 32 bands with positive mentions have members — or close business associates — in my personal phone book.
;;Oh, and so did half of the negative mentions.