We could be looking at a whole new era for the Florida Music Festival (April 16-18) here. By ditching big-name headliners and showing the music for free, the city's longest-running music festival made a seismic pivot this year.
The organizers were pretty frank with me in admitting that the headliner business had become a headache, citing the drain of dealing with agents and pointing out how it shifted focus away from the discovery aspect of the festival. Of course, this wouldn't be such an issue if the big names were current heavy-hitters that generated a contagious buzz, but they weren't.
Getting truly exciting marquee names has never really been FMF's forte. For me as a voracious music fan, the discovery element has always been the best part of FMF, and it's something organizers say they want to return to. Fostering an active culture of curious showgoers is what I'm forever behind, and making the shows free certainly helps that. For live-music lovers, it's a major win. The barrier to entry can't be lowered any further, so if you can't be bothered to check something out at zero cost, then just give up now. I don't know how much this change was the result of FMF having a good, hard look in the mirror and how much was simply a response to economic reality. But either way, the result is good in principle and a return to something more meaningful and exciting to true music heads.
The news of this major development, however, came late. Making the announcement only about two weeks before the festival start isn't, I don't think, enough time for the paradigm-breaking idea to effectively rewire the set attitudes that people have about FMF. My guess is that we won't really be able to measure the ripples of this defining sea change until the returns are witnessed during subsequent editions. But the shift is significant and, coupled with the evaporation of practically all other contending festivals, ought to bring back some of FMF's original appeal. We'll see how this move will ultimately affect the festival's viability. For showgoers, though – and, I believe, for young bands – this is the best thing FMF has done since it started. And more people should've taken advantage of it.
More complete and specific coverage on FMF can be found online at Orlando Music News (blogs.orlandoweekly.com/orlando-music-news).
The best non-festival show I saw this week was Nashville's Diarrhea Planet (April 16, Backbooth). The big, brown elephant in the room is that name. I'm only the billionth one to bring it up, but a band with that juvenile moniker starts out at a pretty deep deficit. So it's to their tremendous credit that their music and live display render it utterly inconsequential, a seemingly impossible feat until you see them in person. That is but the first of many intriguing aspects of this band. The other big one is how four guitarists play together without being a messy circle jerk.
But enough about what they don't do. What they, um, do do is kick out mainlining, life-affirming party-punk songs with maximum glory. They're triumphant, inciting and, ahem, explosive. And they send up a room like a rocket. Thanks to local promoter Norse Korea, they've been coming here with impressive frequency (twice in the past six months). For a must-see act, that's a great thing.
Warming up the stage just before was Orlando pop-punk band Panther Camp. I admit that pop-punk is a genre that I, as a general rule, tend to treat with apathy and dereliction. It's not something I feel guilty about. As far as I'm concerned, it's earned that, as arguably the most overrun and diluted stripe of punk rock. But it can be done well, and Panther Camp does just that. They neither get dumb nor overreach. They just keep things focused, anthemic and skyward. That energy and charisma was enough to allow frontman Jason Smith to pull off a Jesus walk on top of the crowd even though they weren't the headliner. By the time they rolled out a cover of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," this crowd was primed.