The Miami Music Festival (MMF) started in December 2009, the week after that year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, as an attempt to bring an industry-driven music showcase to Miami à la South by Southwest (SXSW) and CMJ. The founders included owners of the popular downtown venue Transit Lounge, as well as In Tune Partners. The latter company is baed in Westchester, New York, and its main business is publishing a monthly magazine directed at music students in schools.
The fact that one of the founders of the Miami Music Festival was from out of state drew raised eyebrows from the local community from the beginning, as well as did the fact that, in its inaugural year, the festival excluded many of the city’s favored local venues and bands. This was because the 2009 Miami Music Festival attempted to copy almost exactly the model of the annual SXSW showcase in Austin, Texas. At SXSW, bands must pay to apply and have their music judged for possible inclusion, and all of the venues are mostly located along one walkable downtown stretch.
The issue is, Miami doesn’t have such a walkable cluster of clubs devoted to live music. Rather, the city’s most popular venues are scattered across Miami Beach, Little Haiti, the greater Design Distrct/Wynwood area, and downtown. But rather than accommodate this, festival organizers decided to hold all of the events around the Brickell area, centering most of the large events at Transit Lounge itself, some in temporary tents set up in the neighborhood, and many others at clubs that didn’t usually host live music. Several notable Miami music venues, including Sweat Records, Jazid, the Vagabond, and Churchill’s, were notably left out of the planning and of the event entirely.
Many of the most popular local bands refused to participate, and those who did complained that they were given no guest list spots and more importantly, no sound checks and clueless engineers. What’s more, admission to each of the shows for the average music fan was $10 — rather high when many were no-names. Because of all of this, the Miami Music Festival was savaged in the press and among Miami music fans, and attendance at the first edition was poor.
The Miami Music Festival returned for a second edition in 2010, this time before Art Basel Miami Beach, promising to change some of the most egregious errors from the previous year. This time around, festivals included venues from throughout the city and dropped the idea of faking a walkable core. They got rid of the temporary music tents from the 2009 festival, and instead instated daytime, family-friendly shows in Bayside Park.
Still, a number of issues remained. For one, many popular local acts still refused to perform, put off by the entry fee that remained and, again, the announced lack of sound checks. Show admission fees and all-weekend wristbands were lowered, but no major headliners were announced until just before the festival was set to go off. When they were announced, rather than any popular new indie or hip-hop acts, the biggest name was the Spin Doctors.
As such, the festival was relatively poorly attended yet again, again receiving lukewarm press at best. Again, this was blamed on the lack of engagement with all sides of the local music scene, and the lack of headliners to draw in more casual music fans.
Still, Miami Music Festival organizers seem determined to push on. The festival’s official web site lists plans for a 2011 edition, though again, many local promoters and scene figures say more changes must be made before the city adopts the festival as its own.
In 2010, a number of local bands put on their own shows unaffiliated with the festival during the same nights. This year, those listings will likely be found again on the Sweat Records website and the Beached Miami events page.