180 Grey Goose Lounge
400 W. Church St., 407-440-7180, 180downtown.com
If you're afraid of heights, stay away: Aptly named after its striking 180-degree view of downtown Orlando, this chic sanctuary sits at the top of Amway Center's spire. It's open year-round – not just for concerts and sporting games – which makes it a fantastic spot to start your evening out on the town. The elevator shoots you up into an attractive Manhattan-inspired indoor space, complete with a clean, under-lit bar top, and local DJs spin tunes to create the vibe. Step outside onto the terrace and you can not only grab a flavored martini, but also a sparkling snapshot of the downtown skyline. It's hard to beat a view like that, and with weekly cocktail specials and no cover charge, 180 is at the top of our list when we want a venue that'll give us that big-city feel while barely leaving our own backyard.
The Cleveland Scene calls them "the best band in Cleveland," but we know the truth about Mr. Gnome: They're an Orlando band at heart. That's why the duo of singer-guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer Sam Meister have played the City Beautiful five times since 2009, electrifying Backbooth or Will's Pub each time – and causing OW music critic Bao Le-Huu to shit himself with pleasure. Of course, they play a lot of cities, so is Orlando even special to them anymore?
"We really do enjoy the music scene and people in Orlando," Barille says. "And there are an unusual amount of ultra right-wing conservative billboards on the highway when you're driving into the city."
The pair will perform next at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their nominal hometown on Aug. 1, but they've remained star-struck with O-town ever since day one.
"We were leaving Backbooth after our first show there and saw Lil' Wayne chillin' outside of a bar in downtown Orlando," Barille says. "Sam screeched on the brakes and shouted, 'Lil' Wayne!?' It was awesome."
Orange You GladMusic Festival
The long-awaited, full-scale return of Orlando's most significant indie-rock festival still standing turned out to be well worth the wait with an eye-poppingly ambitious comeback. Thanks to a partnership with indie booking force Parafora Presents, Orange You Glad re-emerged on the next level with the best national lineup seen here this year (Cults, Tennis, Grimes, Zambri, Caveman, the Big Sleep, Mr. Gnome, et al.) as its anchor. It all culminated to make OYG the city's smartest parade of cool currently active.
Festival of Light & Sound
Community-based cultural events abound in this city, but this newcomer festival is the year's gold standard. The Festival of Light & Sound drew more than 1,000 people in its debut this spring. They packed into the Plaza Live and its parking lot for a night of quality local music, organic well-being and positive, family-friendly vibes. Co-organizer Alexandrah Sarton says it was planned as a one-time event but the jaw-dropping turnout and requests for more have her crew contemplating making it an annual thing.
Phil Longo's 40th birthday show
Leave it to the man who's played thirstily in countless bands over the years to span generation and genre to unify all the best aspects of the area's indie scene in one place for a single purpose. The occasion was his birthday, but what the capacity crowd truly ended up celebrating was the music culture of our city. From beloved reunions (the Heathens, Country Slashers, Shyster) to the current rising class of artists, this was an open-ended time capsule and the most galvanizing event for Orlando's forward-thinking music scene.
Orlando MC Swamburger (Solillaquists of Sound) is famous for many things – consciousness, intellect, enlightened militancy –
but not so much for being humorous. His alter ego Black Gallery, however, is a whole other muthafuckin' thing entirely. The alleged Internet star loudly pimps the crass bombast of rap culture – "niggas," "bitches" and all – in a hilariously satirical way. Although the caricature is deliberately oversized, the sharpness of the comedy is as much of a surprise as the source.
Accidental Music Festival
It really was a happy accident – local composer (and occasional OW contributor) Christopher Belt had scheduled a series of shows by local modern-
classical composers at Urban Rethink; his shows coincided with another series of experimental music performances scheduled by the Civic Minded 5 at Timucua White House. Somebody joked that it was like an "accidental music festival," and a concept was born. For 10 days in September 2011, fans of forward-thinking music were treated to world premieres of compositions by local luminaries Keith Lay, John Alvarez and Matt McCarthy, the Florida premiere of an opera by internationally renowned composer Juan Trigos, concerts and workshops with accomplished local musicians, including Michael Welch, Jim Ivy and Kris Gruda, and performances by experimental musicians like Emily Hay and Wayne Peet. The Accidental Music Festival was truly an accident in 2011, but in 2012, it's taking on a more organized and intentional tone – look for it from Nov. 8-18, sponsored by the Timucua Arts Foundation.
The Peacock Room
For better or for worse, the Peacock Room's event calendar has always been a mixed bag. While that adds to the bar's charm, eclecticism and accessibility, it doesn't always lend itself to consistent quality. However, the knowledge, taste and scene connectivity of new bartender Phil Longo has given the bar's show calendar its most potent shot of freshness in many years, upping the menu with a higher caliber of folk, country, punk, metal and indie rock.
Wally's parking lot
Cumbersome logistics abound any time you repurpose a space for an outside event involving live music and alcohol (permits, stage, sound, security, time restrictions, etc.). But Southern Fried Sunday and Orange You Glad Music Festival recently showed how surprisingly effective the parking lot for Wally's Mills Avenue Liquors could be for concerts. In the city's most budding cultural corridor, this alley lot is the ripest exterior event space on the strip to emerge so far. And the management of the O.G. dive bar tells us their ears are wide open when it comes to local music shows.
White Cup Coffeehouse
125 W. First St., Sanford
Downtown Sanford saw its cool factor rise exponentially this year, and on perhaps its coolest block lives this appropriately weird java hang. Local art adorns the walls; the specially roasted coffee beans pack an extra caffeine kick, and an open mic stands dauntingly to the side, awaiting fresh saliva, while the owner tinkers away at a refurbished guitar in a tiny workshop next to the bar. Yes, White Cup Coffeehouse will restring, retune and reanimate your used-up axes and even offers in-house lessons.
Mayer Hawthorne's/MGMT's Rock-afire Explosions
Several years ago, Aaron Fechter, creator of those animatronic singing bears (aka the Rock-afire Explosion) you may remember from when ShowBiz Pizza Place was an actual place, raised the band from the dead with a series of viral YouTube videos. Rediscovered interest in the countrified outfit culminated with an acclaimed 2008 documentary, and since then, Fechter's robots have been everywhere. A year after the doc, MGMT gave Rock-afire Explosion a cameo in their trippy video for "Electric Feel," and late last year, after locating the nondescript warehouse where the animatronic band is stored, we uncovered neo-soul act Mayer Hawthorne hanging out with Billy Bob, Rolfe and the others. By November, the sighting made more sense in the form of the band's video for Mayer Hawthorne's song "Dreaming," starring none other than the Rock-afire Explosion.
Small hall at the Plaza Live
The old splendor of this venue's grand hall is undeniable. But, besides being in its considerable shadow, the small hall used to feel like an ad hoc music room. However, recent investments like a new PA, permanent sound booth, additional acoustic wall treatment for improved sound, upgraded lighting rig and removal of the tiered floor to increase capacity have gradually transformed the more accessible space into a legitimate concert room in its own right that's hosted acts like Maps & Atlases and Cults. And according to the venue, plans to double the PA are already in the works.
100 S. Eola Drive
Though we may have been initially dubious about the potential for the Abbey – it is, after all, located at the base of the Sanctuary, one of downtown's more glamorous condo-living compounds – thinking it would be little more than a mess hall for people with no messes, it's actually blossomed into a charming multi-purpose venue for parties and performances alike. The Abbey's real value, though, comes during political season, when it unconsciously morphs into the de facto donor magnet for your suited hopefuls. Put politics and booze together and you're bound to have some seething gossip, emotional breakdowns and even, on occasion, somebody passing out. Turns out that everyone has messes!
1014 Miami Springs Drive, Longwood
No matter how urban – or urbane – you think you are, sometimes nothing beats a lazy day drinking alongside a good old-fashioned gator-infested Central Florida river. Wekiva Island, a little hot spot for boating, drinking and other outdoorsy good times tucked just off a main thoroughfare down the road from Wekiwa Springs State Park, is one part marina, one part environmentalist retreat, with a big old dose of outdoor bar and grill thrown in for good measure. It's got lush, jungly scenery that serves as the backdrop for bonfires, cornhole games, volleyball and lounging. Rent a canoe and spend the day cruising up and down the river, then rent a party cabana or sit on the boardwalk with a beer in hand and watch the world – and its wildlife – go by. It really doesn't get much more Florida than this.
Best sober-up, don't hate yourself late-night food
932 N. Mills Ave., 321-236-7457, takocheena.com
While the food is excellent at any hour of the day, here we celebrate Pom Moongauklang's latest venture for its accessibility to the overserved. Not only is Tako Cheena conveniently located in the Mills Avenue show corridor, bookended by Will's, Wally's and Uncle Lou's, it also stays open until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday, meaning you can shovel something down to soak up the beer before you weave your way home. Better, the Latin-Asian tacos are cheap, so your fourthmeal won't cut into your drinking budget. Best, Pom and her partner, Edgardo Guzman, serve up junk food that's anything but junky – fresh vegetables, house-made sauces, and spicy slow-cooked and marinated proteins that won't exacerbate your hangover in the morning.
The Falcon Bar and Gallery
819 East Washington St.
Tired of the same predictable events, same karaoke nights, same DJs spinning the same old stuff every weekend? Think of the Falcon Bar as the antidote to the scene fatigue you're feeling. When this little corner bar/gallery opened in 2011, it threw all the rules about how to "do" bar nights out the window – anything goes at the Falcon Bar, from PBR-inspired art shows to parties celebrating the release of the Taco Bell Doritos Locos taco to a raucous showing of Ricky Powell's World Famous Slideshow to darkwave music nights where Joy Division, not Deadmau5, is on heavy rotation. Even when there's nothing specific going on, we find ourselves gravitating to the Falcon Bar because even on a dull night, it just feels like the kind of place where something good could happen at any moment. ■