Tips to get the most out of seeing shows at five of Orlando's independent music venues
People bitch about Orlando venues all the time. "The sound sucks." "It's too smoky." (Or more likely lately: "They don't allow smoking.") "There's no parking." "It's too crowded." "Drinks cost too much." If you have more complaints about Orlando venues than the number of venues in town, I have bad news for you: You are spoiled.
Many other cities don't have reliable indie clubs like Will's Pub or Backbooth. People who leave Orlando for bigger towns or other destinations pine for unique, offbeat venues like Stardust Video and Coffee and the Space. Venues like Uncle Lou's where you can move a house show that gets busted up are even rarer. We have a special scene cultivated by generous venue owners who help local promoters and musicians entice incredible touring acts to town and imaginatively bring to fruition exceptional local events.
This year, we lost Peacock Room, a much-loved smaller venue that hosted regular showcases, eclectically themed parties and a slew of amazing bands over the past few years. But we gained St. Matthew's Tavern, whose outdoor stage continues to be utilized more and more by locals and national bands alike. There's also Bombshell's Tavern, where kick-ass punk shows continue to crop up on our calendar. The Falcon is yet another cool space that's been programming shows and open mics worth watching. Timucua books endlessly tasteful shows in their beautiful space with outstanding acoustics. And how come nobody's been bugging Colonial Lanes to host shows lately? We have so many options, and we should be celebrating them, instead of nitpicking.
Don't get me wrong, though, sometimes the sound does suck; it is too smoky; you can't smoke; there is no parking; it's too crowded; drinking is expensive, etc. But it's not always that way. Why not test your memory and give venues a chance to thrive, so we don't lose cultural institutions before we even have a chance to fight for them?
Improving your concert experience only takes a little familiarity with the venues, so here are some tips to get the most out of seeing shows at five of Orlando's most active independent venues.
Visibility can be an issue at Backbooth if you get stuck by the front bar behind that barrier wall between the bar and the music room, but it's an easy fix – just suck in your gut to wriggle past the wallflowers and stool-perchers along the back wall and break free to the other side. There, you get a clear view of the stage from anywhere and can easily access the crow's nest lounge above the sound booth (be warned, though, it can get pretty hot up there). This is especially appealing when the back bar is (randomly) open, but if drinking is your priority, bring a friend and show up early to grab a stool along the back wall and trade turns journeying to the front bar.
Sound is the biggest complaint folks have about the Beacham, so if you're worried the mix will get lost in the big room, arrive early and plant yourself in front of the stage, where the sound mix seems to translate the best. If it's a crowded show, you'll be wedged there all night, though, so if you're claustrophobic, upgrade to balcony, where visibility isn't blocked by the floor bars or the swarm of people in front of the stage.
The main issue people have with the Social is the drink prices, and the venue combats this with their early bird drink specials – for the first hour of the show, it's $3.50 calls. That definitely helps. Getting there early has other advantages, allowing you to post up at the bar, at a table or at the lip of the stage. I prefer the visibility from the middle stairs, personally, where you can nestle in along the rail, see over the heads (and swaying cellphones) of people in the pit and have easy access to the bar.
Uncle Lou's Entertainment Hall
The biggest intimidation factor of Lou's for anyone who's never gone is just getting through the door. Sometimes, it's unclear who's collecting admission (or if there is an admission charge). If you don't see someone in a chair on a mission, just walk in. Remember: It's an informal venue, but the bands still need love. Someone will hit you up for the door charge if they're collecting, or you can keep an eye out for when someone does appear. The friendly show environment typically trumps any door drama. General advice: Don't be a dick. If it's a packed show, you might want to wear your sturdiest shoes with decent traction, because between the sweat and beer sloshed in your average Lou's pit, that floor becomes a slippery slope.
Drinks are $1 cheaper before doors if you've got more time to spare than money. The music room is pretty easy to navigate, so you don't necessarily have to get there early to get a prime spot in front of the stage. But you don't want to get stuck in that unspoken avenue between the sound guy and the crowd, a well-trodden path between the music and the bar where you will get bumped and brushed against frequently.