One of our most important approaches to economic development is finding a community’s niche revitalization drivers (NRD). This can include things like art and culture, craft breweries, tourism, and live music. The key however, is ensuring that the NRD is authentic. Many communities give their try at the “arts and culture” thing, and at “arts districts” without doing the necessary work to succeed. Just because an idea sounds great, has worked somewhere else, and has support doesn’t mean it will work everywhere. The latest example is the proliferation of “innovation districts” in places without anchor institutions, patent potential, and innovative entrepreneurs and industries.
However, when an NRD is authentic and available, they can be powerful tools. We found this in North Miami, where a musician can find places to buy their gear, to get that gear serviced. Places to rehearse, places to record, and places to learn music. This is an established, foundational industry and the next step in its evolution is to create additional places to perform. To establish an opportunity for musicians to grow into artists and entrepreneurs, like they have done in Key West.
On Saturday, the Miami Herald ran a lengthy story: They moved to Key West to start a band? This well done article interviews many local performers in Key West, and demonstrates that even in the face of increasing real estate prices and cost of living, artists will find a way to be where they want to be and where they can create and present their art. There are lessons here for every community, and that is to create a special place where people want to be, where people want to create, and they will find a way. These performers have found a way in the face of challenges, and some have succeeded spectacularly.
Some may say that Key West is unique, because of so many tourists. While tourists do provide a strong market, the place itself is special. Some of the venues are not all flashy tourist traps, such as the Green Parrot, and are some of the most authentic live music venues in the country. I should know, I am also a musician in alter ego and have played in many different types of venues. Not all places can do it, and tourist market strength is not an excuse not to try.
Look at South Beach, which has a much larger tourist base than Key West. Yet, live music is essentially dead on the beach, with the exception of Kill Your Idol, and the Fillmore. Years ago, we had Woody’s, Rose’s, Stephen Talkhouse. We had recording studios. I even had tacos and played acoustic with David Lee Roth LoL. Today, Miami Beach is about the business of art, not creating it. Art Basel Miami Beach, where people from other places go to buy art created somewhere else. The real artists, including many musicians, have already left, because the spirit that leads to expression also left. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still artists and musicians, there are. But the overall energy isn’t what it used to be, and the artists didn’t leave because of prices, they left because of the place.
This is much more than learning three chords, hearing A Pirate Looks at 40, and heading South. Buffett hasn’t even lived in Key West in decades and the music scene there is real, deep and diverse. The point is that if a community focuses on being a special, authentic place, then the people who get you, who want to be there and create, will find a way to do so.