Miami — and specifically Miami Beach — makes most normal people feel like helplessly parochial hicks. It’s what the city does best. All that tropical beauty, all those fast cars and all that hipper-than-thou architecture adds up to a severe sense of Dorothy-style disorientation. But it’s a sense that quickly passes when you realize that, hey, this is still Florida and the toothless crackers and migrant fruit-pickers and right-wing zealots and ex-mill workers from Ohio and clueless soccer moms still vastly outnumber the glamour nazis. And, in fact, most of the beautiful people in Miami don’t actually live there; they’re just in for a week while their villa in Ibiza is being renovated.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel a little Gomer-esque while taking in the “Vive La World!” concert taking place Saturday night. Here I was, in a publicly-funded outdoor space, watching a diverse bill of internationally acclaimed musicians perform for a responsive and responsible audience who were (get this) consuming alcohol in moderationand watching their kids. Everyone had a good time, nobody got hurt, and, near as I could tell, no permanent moral damage was done to the children after experiencing something that wasn’t explicitly “family-friendly” (i.e., watered-down and utterly devoid of anything but mediocrity).
It was something that can’t possibly occur in Orlando.
In a community of nearly two million people, Orlando’s small-town strictures on entertainment basically insist that any public event be as mediocre as possible, for fear of offending or, worse, challenging the dumbest and most morally constrained of our populace. And in some cases, that’s fine. But does every single public event in downtown Orlando need to pass the “kid test”? Aren’t the tax-paying adults who support the city entitled to some intelligent entertainment that isn’t vetted by the Church Lady?
But, on the other hand, even with the availability of public spaces to stage such events, a concert like “Vive La World!” would still be unlikely here. With an eclectic lineup culled from the Afro-French diaspora, the niche marketing forces that rule Orlando would be hard-pressed to define the target market that would be attracted to the bill. After all, we live in a city that hosts exceptional “world music” concerts on a very regular basis, but these events are usually promoted only to the group most closely associated with the event, leaving them a secret to the community at large. That insular approach would have failed this event.
After all, to whom in Orlando do you promote a gig that includes Zairean acoustic blues (Sol Kalmery), beat-conscious, metal-shredding oud players (DuOud, who stole the show), a collision between trip-hop and Malian vocal soul (Electro Bamako, who delivered an electrifying show) and the diva trip of Natacha Atlas (who came off like a bizarre mixup of Cher, Sade and Fairuz)? The answer is simple: the same sort of intelligent, informed adults who are continually reminded that the city they live in isn’t yet ready to treat them like cosmopolitan grown-ups. And though there could be a good reason to have Frankie & the Flagwavers (or some such nonsense) at Lake Eola, the city deserves better.
First appeared July 17, 2003 in Orlando Weekly.