Arcade Fire beat out Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum for Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammys. With each new album, the band tours the world, playing venues like Madison Square Garden. But on Thursday, Oct. 24, Arcade Fire, one of the biggest bands in the world, performed as “The Reflektors” at a community center in Little Haiti.
To AF fans, this makes sense. Co-founder Régine Chassagne is of Haitian descent and the band’s debut album, Funeral, includes a song called “Haiti” that refers to the Jérémie Vespers, a massacre in which Chassagne’s relatives died. Since the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 that killed more than 100,000 Haitians and destroyed countless buildings, Arcade Fire has used its fame to raise a ton of money for earthquake relief efforts while extolling the people and culture of Haiti as a profound influence on the band’s sound.
Reasoning aside, it’s crazy that Arcade Fire played the Little Haiti Cultural Center on their first ever visit to Miami. If they come back down the line, as they promised to do at the LHCC show, they will probably play at the Fillmore Miami Beach, if not a bigger venue like BankAtlantic Center where their fellow Best Album of the Year nominees tend to perform. And though the show will probably rock, it won’t be much different from any of the other shows Arcade Fire plays around the world.
So, yeah, the band’s Little Haiti gig was a rare event, and it never would have happened without the Rhythm Foundation, which organizes a monthly celebration of Haitian culture called Big Night in Little Haiti. With the Arcade Fire show and all its attendant logistical headaches behind her, Rhythm Foundation director Laura Quinlan agreed to tell us how the unlikely event came together.
How did the planning for the Arcade Fire show start? Did they approach you or did you approach them?
LQ: In mid-September, we got an email: “My name is Edwidge Danticat and I am an author and resident of Little Haiti. Grammy Award winners and friends of Haiti ARCADE FIRE are in town October 24th and would love to play at Big Night In Little Haiti.” I just stared at the email for a long time. Edwidge Danticat, the MacArthur Genius Award-winning author who we read in Book Club, emailing me to ask if Arcade Fire could play at Big Night?! I know she and her family had enjoyed Big Nights many times, but this was a surprise. Looking back now it makes sense. The band has a long-time commitment to Haiti. Régine Chassagne is of Haitian descent, she and Win Butler have spent time in the Island — and once you experience Jacmel’s legendary Kanaval, and jam all night with bands like R.A.M., it must get into your heart. Falling in love with Haitian music is a complete immersion — the Rhythm Foundation team have all gone down the rabbit hole ourselves into the beautiful adventure. Arcade Fire also works closely with a charity, Partners In Health, and other Haitian relief efforts. I think the Mekka show (the other “secret” show in Miami) had been set up already, and perhaps the band and their friend Danticat wanted to see a proper Little Haiti show.
I should add that about a year and a half ago, some huge Arcade Fire fans on our board of directors reached out to the band to let them know about Big Night in Little Haiti. Régine was expecting a baby, so any tour plans were on hold. Perhaps the seed of the show was launched with those original conversations.
Photo by Eric Kayne
There was some intrigue in the lead up to the show: Arcade Fire was going by “The Reflektors”, tickets went on sale in a few installments and then of course attendees were urged to wear costumes for no clear reason. Now that the show is behind you, can you give us a peek behind the scenes at the planning/logistics/headaches? What was the biggest challenge in hosting a band that plays Madison Square Garden at a venue like the Little Haiti Cultural Center?
LQ: The intrigue and secrecy of the set up all came from the band. They wanted to create something really special for their fans. First dibs on tickets went to people who had pre-ordered the new album. Their crew was hands on with the tech and ticketing set up. In fact, the only real material we had to work with was the poster artwork, with the cryptic phrase, “Formal attire or costume mandatory.” That’s no problem in Miami, where people start planning their next costume the day after Halloween, and keep one handy in the trunk of their car in case the chance to dress up arises. Wow, the crowd looked great! The band said it was the best costumes so far. To me, it felt like almost like a masked ball.
In an era where marketing centers on hype, Arcade Fire has done a perfect job getting people really excited about the new CD, Reflektor. The “secret shows,” the TV appearances, the cool graffiti have got the buzz going 1000%. Then the best part is that the new CD is amazing. It’s a monumental work, totally worthy of the hype.
Photo by Eric Kayne
The Little Haiti Cultural Center is a community pillar — were you concerned that Arcade Fire would draw such a big crowd that Little Haiti residents wouldn’t be able to enjoy or even attend the show themselves?
LQ: The Little Haiti Cultural Center is a gem. The facility is so well designed, the staff is fantastic. We had to work really fast to squeeze a show of this magnitude into the plaza, and they worked as hard as the Rhythm Foundation staff. We also had the great cooperation of the City of Miami Police Department’s North Station, which helped move through some of the city paperwork and set up the logistics.
We weren’t worried about the size of the crowd, set at 2,500, because we attract huge crowds some months at Big Night in Little Haiti — although with the street open it spreads out farther. The band wanted to make sure that the crowd felt like Little Haiti, so we took some steps. We sold tickets at local Haitian record shops (and of course Sweat Records), we asked Inez from Kazoots to coordinate the face painters, we brought in Leela’s Restaurant and the Haitian Culinary Alliance to do the vending and catering, and we made sure to get tickets to some of the artists who make Big Night so special each month.
Photo by Eric Kayne
There was a Haitian rara band playing in the crowd before Arcade Fire took the stage — was that planned?
LQ: Rara Lakay are the neighborhood band — most months they close out Big Night with a hypnotic horn-and-percussion drenched parade deep into Little Haiti. We asked them to kick the night off to make the kanaval vibe the band wants. They are really a treasure. Win traded shirts with the bandleader — they loved the group.
Rhythm Foundation has been bringing amazing music to Miami for a long time. Where does this show rank in RF’s history?
LQ: I see our concert history more of a body of work, rather than focus on individual shows. Of course there have been some highlights, and this is one of them. Arcade Fire definitely gave Miami something to talk about for a long time.
What’s next for Rhythm Foundation? How do you top the Arcade Fire booking?
LQ: We have the legendary Haitian roots band R.A.M. coming to Big Night in Little Haiti on November 15. I hope Arcade Fire fans will come back to enjoy the show now they know where Little Haiti is! So many people asked about the delicious Haitian food Leela’s was selling, or about the very cool visual arts exhibit in the gallery.
December 15, another treat — the queen of cumbia Toto La Momposina will headline Hollywood ArtsPark Experience: Colombia. This is a free series of music we produce at the very cool Young Circle in Hollywood, and this one will be a good one.
We are going to announce the schedule for the Heineken TransAtlantic Festival in April pretty soon. That’s a fun project to work on, and everyone loves to see shows at the North Beach Bandshell.
Rumor has it that Arcade Fire is coming back to Miami in April — is Rhythm Foundation involved in that show (or shows)?
That’s just a rumor.