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Trying to Make Tourists Rave About Miami Again

March 02, 1997|Steve Hochman

Rave promoters suffered a big black eye after a New Year's Eve event in downtown Los Angeles turned into a disaster. Miami's tourist industry has been hit hard in recent years from assaults against European visitors.

Now they're hoping to help each other recover. Miami has begun promoting its vibrant dance culture as an attraction to young Europeans, and the U.S. dance music industry is looking to that city as a model of how the scene can coexist with an urban community.

"Miami is really trying to clean up its image," says Gerry Gerrard, the New York-based music agent behind a planned summer tour of leading electronic dance acts. "This music is the most popular music all over Europe and people in Miami are looking for ways to market it there."

Miami's Winter Music Conference, an annual event focusing on dance music that will feature several all-night rave parties on Miami streets March 22-29, could be a key event.

"Because of the incidents that occurred there, Miami has had to rethink what they are doing [for tourism]," says David Love, spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, who says the trend of travel to Miami for dance music has increased dramatically.

"Music is a smart way to attract young Europeans. Even in wintertime there are outdoor events there that attract large crowds, as opposed to most everywhere else where they can only be indoors."

"Miami is quickly becoming a center for synergy of music," says Mayco Villafana, director of communications of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Many Latin American artists play and record here, which draws a lot of tourists. And [with dance music] certainly we have recovered our German and U.K. market."

The nation's rave promoters hope the conference will demonstrate that these events can work. That's crucial to people like Philip Blaine, the Los Angeles promoter who will be booking sites for Gerrard's summer tour, which is expected to feature such stars as the Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Aphex Twin.

They already have enough hurdles getting around curfews and noise restrictions. And the New Year's Eve event at the Grand Olympic in downtown L.A. set off alarms nationwide about rave dangers. Dozens of attendees became ill after ingesting a liquid that was given to many of the concert-goers on the way in, leading police to terminate the event, which in turn led to scuffles with many of the 10,000 fans. Thirty-one people experienced problems from the liquid, and 12 police patrol cars and an MTA bus were damaged in the subsequent melee, resulting in four arrests.

"What we try to do is educate people that many of the people [putting on raves] are grass-roots ravers, and our tour is a different thing," says Blaine, noting that adequate security and medical staff are essential. "This is a legitimate business."

And Miami's conference could help establish that case.

"I don't want people using that L.A. show as an example, because it's an unfair example," says Gerrard. "Miami can counter that."

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