“Entropy has more order than Churchill’s” – Ren
Churchill’s Pub has been rocking the Magic City since 1979. At the legendary dive bar, the past lingers like yellow-brown cigarette stains on the panoramic mural, resting high along the dark, wooden bar. Inspired by the Everglades, Southern artist Harold Bennett created the paintings of white ibises gliding over a tropical landscape around 1950. According to owner David Daniels, an art appraiser who once visited the bar claimed that if the piece were on canvas, it could be worth more than the building itself. One patron of nineteen years claims to have seen the escapist piece stained by tobacco smoke over time.
On September 1, 2013, Miami’s musical landmark in Little Haiti celebrated thirty-four years of making rock-n’-roll history. For nineteen years now, the Miami Rock Festival has been launched on the pub’s anniversary celebration, lasting the duration of the fall-bearing month. David Daniels cofounded the event with New Times music editor Greg Baker and “the Beast,” Tobacco Road’s promoter at the time. This year, the thirty day festival brought unique events to the live-music hub, promising to rock the town every night of the week.
Churchill’s Pub doesn’t discriminate. Known for letting a nyone and everyone rock, most local bands get their first gig at the venue. Some of Miami’s most popular groups like Holly Hunt, Eagle Chief, and Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa got their start at this focal point of Miami’s music scene where punk-rock and unbridled creativity converge. Owner David Daniels said, “We may hold the world record for most acts in a single venue and are currently checking the books.” Jazz, art-rock, punk-rock, heavy metal, rockabilly, Latin-rock, noise-rock, sludge-rock, and more musical genres were represented at the Miami Rock Festival, along with spoken-word poets, puppeteers, and burlesque dancers.
During the Master Blaster Music Fest on September 27th, twenty bands played three stages and complimentary barbeque was served. With so many bands headlining, patrons were offered a wide selection, making the chance of catching a good act fair. At 30 Days of Rock, held on September 29th, musicians were selected at random to create an impromptu band. Like making a smoothie with random fruits, the blend could be delicious or distasteful. Such is the state of music-making: getting together the right mix is the luck of the draw.
The best nights of the Miami Rock Festival were the record release parties of heavy-metal band Die Trying and local fan-favorite Jacuzzi Boys. At Die Tryin g’s Oi’ The Boat Record Release Party on Saturday September 28th, the venue was packed to capacity. With Low Visibility, The Ruins, Hardware Youth, SSK, Bottom Shelf Warriors, and FWA playing, the music was great. The parking lot was full early. The bathrooms ran out of paper late. People were standing outside. Punk-rock kids engaged in the frenzied, violent dancing known as moshing. Fans rushed the stage at the end of the set. Many of the local regulars that give Churchill’s Pub a family atmosphere partied along too.
Yet most September nights of the Miami Rock Festival were, in the words of a Sweat Records’ employee, “just like any other month.” So, if you went to the bar on a Monday night, you might not have known there was a rock festival at all.” Instead, you would have been in jazz heaven. Monday night’s Miami Jazz Jam has been one of the British pub’s best events for the past thirteen years. Adding to the tradition and longevity, cofounder Mike Wood has been the host of jazz night since it started. Churchill’s house band with Fernando Ulibarri on guitar, Abner Torres on drums, and Josh Allen on bass, alternates with jazz musicians from the University of Miami and other trained backgrounds, creating unique ensembles each week.
While on most nights, punk-rockers swirl like tornadoes in the audience, moved by electric guitars and raging vocals; on jazz night, candlelit tables are set through the space, giving the venue a subdued vibe. The night draws an eclectic Miami audience to an intimate, theater-like experience. Also on Monday night, on Churchill’s outdoor stage, the Theater de Underground finds its home in a canopy under the moon-lit sky. Benjamin Shahoulian, host for the past five years, said, “it’s a psychedelic avant-garde open mike mayhem.” The uninhibited, bohemian platform attracts a variety of artists, musicians, singers, songwriters, poets and dream-makers. In an atmosphere where anything goes, many artists collaborate spontaneously. A singer may hit the stage randomly for the first time with a guitarist. And, some bands like local favorite Arboles Libres, now known as Eagle Chief, were born in the unbridled atmosphere like gold from colliding stars.
Besides keeping with traditions, one of the secrets to the British pub’s longevity is the family atmosphere. “It’s like a punk-rock Cheers,” said one patron. Many of the same employees have worked the bar, the doors, and the back for years. Some have become well-known figures in the local music scene. Nicky Bowe, a bartender with an Irish-accent and tattoo sleeves, celebrated his wedding at the pub. Likewise, regular patrons, a few with personal ties to the pub, have built a community around it.
On any given day, if you sit at the bar, a local regular will likely strike-up a conversation with you. On a Thursday afternoon during the festival’s month, an older gentleman named Bob from the nearby Little Haiti neighborhood opened up as he smoked a cigar and had a drink at the bar. In an elegant accent, he said, “I’ve been coming here for nineteen years. If I don’t come in, I’m either sick or out of town.”
But, some regular patrons were oblivious about the Miami Rock Festival. A former jazz night belly dancer named Frida who goes to the bar in the late afternoons for a drink said, “There is a festival?” She continued, “Back in the days, there were up to five stages, there were people in the streets, men in diapers, and the bus was decorated like a genie bottle. People would go inside.”
Now, an old white double-decker with “Churchill’s Pub” written in large black letters along the graffitied side and a direction sign in the front that says “Miami Beach” sits abandoned along the bar’s parking lot on N.E. 2nd Ave. Owner David Daniels claims the bus to nowhere is an insured, recreational vehicle whose engine sort of works. Part of the landmark, the old junker decorates the building like a piece of trash art.
In 2013, there were no men in diapers on the street. But, on the third Sunday night of the festival, Mere Quantum Noise, an art-rock band boasting decades of consciousness expansion through music, blended ridiculous, comedic hijinks with rock-n’-roll. One bandmate took off his pants, fell on his back on the stage floor, and pulled his legs up, revealing his large white bum to a small audience at the end of a set. A partygoer recorded the spectacle on his phone and laughed while playing it back. “This band rocks! You don’t see this anywhere else in Miami,” he proclaimed. Likewise, Churchill’s Pub may be something you don’t see anywhere else in the world.
For more information on what’s happening this month at Churchill’s Pub or to get involved with these events in the future visit http://www.churchillspub.com.
Read more of The 19th Annual Miami Rock Festival at Churchill’s Pub: Where Rock-n-Roll Past, Present, and Future Collide on the MiamiArtZine.