We’ve read in these pages how, in the last two years, the Mills 50 district has become the throbbing heart of Orlando’s new-music community.
Traditional venues like Will’s Pub and the Peacock Room provide stages for emerging and touring acts, while experimental rooms like Uncle Lou’s LMGA and The Space host no-dollar experimental showcases where anything can happen. The combined effect is some new and still-unrealized political potential.
We don’t usually think of them this way, but Mills 50 musicians routinely demonstrate the power of charisma and grass-roots organization. Attracting 20 to 200 eager guests to a room who are paying to shake their asses and listen to a musical message isn’t a typical display of political leadership, but it’s more than most politicians could hope for.
Orlando musicians and fans have tended to mostly react to civic developments like prohibitive food truck policies and proposed venue restrictions. But what would happen if this same community began to think ahead, to the needs and concerns that will grow as the scene and the surrounding neighborhoods grow?
Two developments in the past week have seriously raised this question, and apparently for the first time in a while. On Jan. 28, Cole Schneider (of Slim Walker) teamed up with Will Walker (of Will’s Pub) to host an Orlando-area musicians meet and greet at Lil Indies. The enthusiastic, well-attended discussion began when Moon Jelly’s Ark Calkins stood on one of the outdoor picnic tables and declared his reason for attending.
“Personally, I want people to think about what our community could become if we all start working together to promote our arts within this city,” he said. “There’s a wealth of talent here and getting everyone together is the first step in a very large opportunity that exists simply because we do.”
For the next hour, musical newcomers joined veteran performers like Eugene Snowden (of the Legendary JC’s), ascending the wooden tabletop to express their hopes for what the Mills 50 music community can achieve together. Most of those who spoke sounded eager to join forces, but were unsure of specific goals, beyond the “let’s make shit happen” sentiment expressed in the Facebook invitation.
Within 24 hours, Day Joy’s Michael Serrin began a new Facebook page for something called the Orlando Musicians Guild, which he hopes will become an online continuation of that night. Anticipating the gathering, I decided to ask some local musicians and promoters for what they want from the very governments and systems that they own. Most responded with surprise, saying that they’ve never thought of it before because no one has ever asked.
The most popular responses were improving audiences’ access to music through expanded public transportation, more all-ages concerts and a more pedestrian-friendly Mills Avenue.
“UCF used to have a cheap bus line to get students, music fans, to downtown,” says Serrin. “It was killer.” He believes that the service should resume, with added stops on Colonial Drive at Bennet Road and Mills Ave., in order to import new Mills 50 fans, while unloading the Roxy and downtown crowds.
A few musicians stressed the need for health insurance and other critical benefits that working artists seldom receive. The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), for example, helps provide affordable health care for low-income, uninsured musicians working in and around Texas’ capital city. Could something similar ever happen in Orlando?
Hip-hop artist Harry Hillard Morall III, who performs as The Pizza Posse, was born in Orlando and is a second-year law student at FAMU. He recently signed with a Tampa record label, and he says that music cities like Atlanta, Austin and San Francisco thrive because of organization and professional camaraderie. He believes that cities support their music culture when they recognize the value it provides to the whole community.
“Once you can get all those people walking in the same direction, now you’ve got something going, and that’s how cities get known,” Morall says. “You put us all in the same room, and we all do shows together, and we all make music together. Now you’re starting a movement.”