As far as American cities and music go, Miami is underrated. While Pitbull and Rick Ross have done their part to represent their hometown (if only by endlessly repeating its area code), music falls way down the list of things we associate with South Florida. There's certainly plenty of pop culture connected to the area, from Burn Notice (scored with generic stuff that sort of sounds Cuban) or the second season of Jersey Shore (garbage like LMFAO) and farther north, the state has been a hotbed for metal, but, quick, name a band from Miami.
If you said Miami Sound Machine, I guess I can't blame you.
Though we should probably declare 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell's birthday (December 22, FYI) to be a national holiday because of his contributions to society, what Miami should be known for is a tradition of blending R&B and dance-oriented beats from the early '70s into different amalgams. Though disco is still an ugly word for many music fans, Miami's TK Records turned out subtle danceable soul tracks during that era by Timmy Thomas and George McCrae and even KC and the Sunshine Band.
And, then, in the '80s and '90s, there was freestyle. As mainstream R&B stuck to smooth, accessible tracks by stars like Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross, freestyle was the sound of Latin youth, mixing emotional lyrics with a music that recalled electro, Puerto Rican rhythms, and early hip-hop. Sure, New York had its freestyle scene, but Miami was the real home of the short-lived genre, with artists like Stevie B, Company B, and what is arguably the most important freestyle act, Exposé.
Exposé, which reformed a few years ago, has a remarkably low profile, considering the group has a triple-platinum album to its credit. Although, true, when they perform in Miami, Los Angeles, or New York, they're doing so in arenas. This week, Exposé is at the Arizona State Fair, and they're lower on the bill, under one-hit acts such as Montell Jordan and Rob Base. (The Arizona State Fair helpfully bills each group with its "hit song titles you may remember," if you want to keep count.)
But, if you ask Exposé singer Ann Curless, the slight isn't a big deal.
"I think that's a reflection of the era and type of music," she says. "We started in the dance clubs and, even after numerous hits, we were still considered a dance band. We don't mind that association now, and we've found a strong market in that."
Scoff if you want, but the truly great thing about a band like Exposé performing in a place like the State Fair is that the combination of venue and act creates a homecoming-type vibe. Fairs are nostalgic enough on their own — it's something about the smell of fried dough and blinking incandescent bulbs — but when a group that you associate with your youth (for me, Rollerz skate rink, 1987) performs, the time between then and now slips away.
The Coliseum isn't a nightclub where everyone has his adult attitude on display. Stepping through the doors at that hulking old edifice, it really could be eighth grade again.
"The audience [at events like the State Fair] is so much fun!" Curless says. "We often sign autographs after the show (we plan on doing that at the Arizona State Fair) and we have the opportunity to get up close and personal with them. Many of them grew up with our music and have wonderful stories to tell about the first time they heard an Exposé song."
That's all part of the fun. Consider the nostalgic fury unleashed a few weeks ago when Sony announced it would no longer make the Walkman.
Really, shouldn't our fond memories of those days be of the cassettes we played on those Walkmen? For me, when Exposé perform "Point of No Return" at the fair, I'll be taken back to when I wore out that cassette single, for the low price of admission. Beats taking a trip to South Beach.