Although I've only been in town a little more than a year, I think I have enough of a hold on things to be bold and make a few predictions for 2004. If anything links these five predictions, it's an ideal that's been abundantly clear to me since I arrived in The City Beautiful last October. There seems to be a bizarre inferiority complex/jaded apathy that continually derails good things in the Orlando music scene. Although nobody in town thinks Orlando is a cool enough city for good stuff to happen, whenever anything good does happen (which is about three or four times a week, by my count), those same people are loath to get excited about it. You've been there: Whether it's some incredible underground band at Will's Pub or a show at Hard Rock Live by a chart-topping act that's going to be broadcast nationwide, nobody seems to think that it's good enough. And, as a result of this apathy/inferiority, the risks that people are willing to take are diminished. Thank God for daring booking agents like Michael McRaney at The Social -- who seems to understand that the small minority who complain are outnumbered by the legions of people who still get excited about new and interesting music -- and the deal-makers at larger venues who keep bringing in great (and popular) bands, even though the sellout crowds haven't figured out that we don't "deserve" shows that good.
In our 2003 music issue, "One fine day" (Nov. 6), we highlighted the musical events taking place around Orlando on one day. There were 39 separate entries, ranging from classical music to old-school soul to hip-hop to metal to folk to rock to techno. It was a diary of an incredibly musical town that we should all be proud to live in. Still, the not-good-enough complex will likely persist, and, if it does, I feel pretty confident that at least three of the predictions below will come true. I hope I'm proven wrong.
1. In all likelihood, by the end of the year, The Station will have gone through at least two more "talent bookers" before figuring out how to maximize the venue's potential. There's been constant bitching about the less-than-perfect Lee Road location of the building, but The Station has the makings of a musical gold mine: a nice-sized room with great sightlines and a better-than-average sound system. Plus, between bands, they serve food that's decent in an Applebee's kind of way, and they've got awesome pool tables. The thing is, from all perspectives, the actual music part of the equation has been a little awful. The Station's first booking agent, former Orlando Weekly music editor Mark Padgett, was gone within a couple weeks of the venue's opening, after a not-so-impressive debut run highlighted by the appearance of Rick Derringer. The current booker is Tracy Huberdeau, editor of Innersource magazine. Although a valiant supporter of the local hard-rock scene, Huberdeau's narrow range of taste has pegged The Station as a "metal bar." That reputation, combined with a couple of bad promotional fumbles (Huberdeau didn't realize that to be listed in the Orlando Weekly calendar, she actually had to send the information to our calendar coordinator) and a tin-eared soundman, is exactly the opposite of the sort of professionalism that a place like The Station needs to succeed. By no means should they try and be an indie-rock bar, but a venue this good-looking and well-funded deserves something more diverse than what's going on there now.
2. If fortune smiles upon the residents of Orlando, either Clear Channel's Real Rock 101.1 FM or Infinity's O-Rock 105.9 FM will change format. As if the numbing repetition of Linkin Park and Godsmack and Staind and Good Charlotte on one station isn't enough to make you want to gouge your eyes out with a rusty ice pick, try having it on two stations. The local joke that you can hear the same song on two stations simultaneously was funny -- because it's true! -- a long, long time ago. Now, it's just pathetic, especially when you consider that the sound that both stations champion is well on its way to being déclassé. One listen to Real Rock's sister station (Real Radio 104.1 FM) on their "music weekends" points to a possible, if retrofemme, direction for either station to take. Although the surprisingly diverse (and fun) playlist of "real music weekends" occasionally leans too heavily on new wave and The Cure, it's fun and smart, two things Real Rock and O-Rock definitely are not. If any station in town were to adopt a wide-open "alternative" format like this seven days a week, they would be incredibly successful.
3. The Florida Music Festival (April 15-17, 2004) will once again be exponentially more interesting and entertaining on a purely musical level than Light Up Orlando. For all the political hubbub and hype behind Light Up Orlando, it was unsurprising that the organizers blamed the less-than-expected turnout on chilly weather, rather than the fact that the national "headlining" acts were pathetic has-beens. The FMF, on the other hand, is put together by the folks over at Axis magazine with little more than a handful of permits and the help of friends in the downtown bar scene. (OK, they put a ton of work into the event, coercing "label people" to show up and getting booze sponsorships, but it's not like they've got the army of so-called professionals that Light Up Orlando does.) Yeah, FMF is all regional music and, yeah, it's designed as an opportunity for bands to "showcase" in the hopes of a big break, but from a music fan's perspective, the quality and quantity of music is tough to beat. Once the folks at Light Up Orlando get the idea that quality is actually something that people are interested in, maybe that event can be as much of a crowd-pleaser as FMF.
4. Sadly, the phenomenal growth that the local metal and punk scenes have had thanks to all-ages shows at Hard Rock Live and House of Blues will end if things keep going the way they are. Hard Rock Live recently nixed all-ages shows for a 16-and-up policy and soon after that, began booking local shows that are 18-and-up. Similarly, House of Blues seems to have ended their regular series of "Orlando Rocks!" shows, and though local bands are currently still able to put on all-ages shows at the Downtown Disney venue, the regularity with which those shows appear has slowed considerably. Although local bands will still be invited to play those venues, it looks as if the shows might have to be profitable -- as in alcohol-drinking, ticket-buying patrons.
5. Finally, my nebulous, pie-in-the-sky prediction for 2004 is this: An Orlando band will earn a national reputation for something that we can all be proud of. With the closing of the embarrassing "boy band" chapter and the bell tolling for the unfortunate "Creed era," attention can finally be showered on our rising class of deserving indie and metal bands. There are easily a dozen great bands in this town ready for national "success," and hopefully, none of them will sign to a major label and get screwed as hard as VonRay did at Elektra. In other words, it's about time some band got out there and convinced people that Orlando isn't a city where all music is designed by committee and that we do have a vibrant and progressive local scene.