Orlando’s entertainment invasion

When families pack up and head to Disney this summer, one Orlando event may draw them and other tourists away from Mickey Mouse.

The 7th annual Florida Music Festival (FMF) & Conference 2008 will host a wide-ranging group of unsigned rock bands, musically-inspired visual artists and independent filmmakers for three days in Orlando’s downtown Orlando district.

Three blocks of local venues and clubs will open their doors to performers, allowing attendees to roam freely between the locations. FMF co-founder and coordinator Sean Perry draws similarities between Orlando’s setup and that of Ybor City.

“There are 13 venues within the block, with everything from 50-person basement pubs to outdoor stages for 5,000 people,” Perry said. “In the past it’s been tough to do urban venues, but Orlando is graced with a strong music scene and strong venues downtown, like the Hard Rock and the House of Blues. It gives a chance for locals to play with national acts.”

THE MUSICThe festival is as diverse as it is big. Concertgoers will be presented with a wide assortment of modern rock artists from a multiplicity of genres. From punk to funk and southern rock to hip-hop, attendees are likely to find something to suit their musical tastes.

“Diversity was most definitely a goal of the festival,” Perry said.

The Blue Man Group will headline the weekend, while former Fugees member Pras is sure to catch a few ears as well.

Orlando Resident Music Director of the Blue Man Group Dave Traver will make sure their music “stays true to the aesthetics of the show.” The Blue Man Group is known for unconventional and ever-changing performances in which they pull members from the audience, silently perform theater-like skits and use video images to interact with their fans. Their diversity and popularity is sure to draw newcomers to FMF this year.

“The show is never stagnant, you never feel like you’re doing the same show every night, which really keeps you on your toes,” Traver said. “A show is 90 percent written in advance, and a part of it is changed to fit the city where we perform.”

Though the Blue Man Group is relatively new to Orlando, “we want to let people know we’re here and we like to perform. We look forward to being a part of the central Florida community and playing with great rock bands,” he said.

THE FILMSAnother segment of the festival, the Indie Film Jam, will screen works from both college students and internationally renowned independent filmmakers. While Pras will be dropping beats on the last night of the festival, his documentary Skid Row will tackle the social issues surrounding the spread of the homeless in downtown Los Angeles.

“It’s great when you have one-third of one of the biggest hip-hop groups to talk about a worthy cause,” said Perry.

Pras spent nine days filming on the notorious, crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. “When you’re homeless, every day is the unknown,” Pras told the Orlando-based aXis Magazine. “My eyes are opened a little differently now. We don’t realize what we have until we’re put in a situation where we’ve lost it all.”

The entire interview with Pras is available in the May issue of aXis at axismag.com.

THE ARTIn addition to the open venues reserved for FMF’s musical talent, the CityArts Factory will host the Rock Walk Visual Art Exhibition.

“It’s a really visually stimulating gallery of all music-inspired art, whether it came from record album covers, concert posters, band t-shirts or song lyrics,” Perry said. “There’s stuff worth thousands of dollars here.”

This year’s exhibition will feature the work of Kidrobot designer JK5, world-famous poster artist Greg “Stainboy” Reinel, Orlando “Rockstar Photographer” Brook Pifer and New York tattoo artist Myles Karr.

THE CONFERENCEPart of FMF is an annual conference that aims to educate bands and their representatives about the music industry.

“The conference lures in record label reps, managers, producers, booking agents. There’s a good mixture of artists and managers and there’s also a good deal of music business students,” Perry said.

Artist panels will also share their experiences in the business. Students who wish to attend the conference can purchase designated passes that will allow them access to the rest of the festival as well.

“It’s a very educational experience for those thinking of getting into the music business and it’s a great networking opportunity,” Perry said.

DESTINATION: ORLANDOPerry’s description of FMF as “a virtual orgy of culture” is not unlike the accounts of those reviewing the Orlando arts scene.

“Since Walt Disney opened almost 40 years ago, theme parks have transformed this area from a city surrounded by citrus groves and small communities to a booming tourist magnet,” wrote Christine Dolen of the Miami Herald in an April 27 article. “But the prosperity has brought a less widely publicized boom: a thriving arts and culture scene.”

The article states that a new $425 million downtown performing arts center is in the works and serves as another sign of Orlando’s cultural growth.

The Florida Music Festival and Conference 2008 will run Thursday through Sunday. For more information on the event, including location, prices, and performance schedules, visit floridamusicfestival.com.