Ive spent the past 15 years roaming the streets and exploring the spaces of Ybor City. I watched its evolution from crusty and creative-friendly, to corporate and shiny, to the synergistic community of today, but one constant has remained throughout: its a place where you can be yourself. And no matter who that self may be at the moment, youll be able to find a soundtrack that fits.
October, 1995, Guavaween
Me and Dore and her dad and my mom are making our way up 7th Avenue with ugly monsters, sexy nurses, superheroes and super Cure fan with my Robert Smith t-shirt and heavy black eye makeup, my idea of a clever costume. Music blasts from every doorway, moms looking all around like she made a big mistake but shes smiling her way through it, and Dores dad is videotaping it all. I vow to leave the adults behind next time.
August, 1997, The Masquerade (now The Ritz)
Im 17, out on a school night at a concert with my delinquent boyfriend, the one my dad (justifiably) detests. But dad knows where I am and who Im with, and Ive decided not to question his uncharacteristic lenience. The Verve Pipe is the band in question, on tour in support of their album, Villains, the one with the two radio hits, The Freshmen and Photograph, driving alt rock flavored with psychedelia and grunge. The show peaks during the encore, when the Verve Pipe is joined by members of support acts Tonic and Ks Choice for a group performance of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. I get a rush of pure pleasure (The Beatles are my favorite!!), and I turn around to share my delight with my boyfriend only to find that the asshole (a hateful Elvis fan) isnt even paying attention.
October, 1997, Guavaween
Ive returned to the fest with my bad boyfriend, sans adults, all dressed up and exuding Halloween menace. We muscle our way through the masses to the 98Rock stage, where Veruca Salt is rawking through an energetic set, and we manage to track down our posse pretty quickly. We migrate to the fountain and cluster in groups of chatting teens, until my girlfriend and I decide to head to the midway for a carnival ride. As we are flung in graceless circles through the cold night air to the blare of .38 Specials Hold On Loosely, I laugh until I cant breathe.
December 2000-August 2001, 7th Avenue
At 21, I start hitting Ybor one to four nights a week with a revolving cast of co-conspirators. For several months, I become a member of a core group of regulars who are always hanging around down there. On Mondays, its 80s night at the Castle, with its dark wave dance music and eclectic crowd, gothic princesses rubbing shoulders with fratty college dudes. Thursdays are for mainstream 80s at The Masquerades sink or swim night, where you can drink your fill of bad beer and well alcohol for the price of admission. On Fridays and Saturdays, I let the rhythm of the wind take me where it will Atomic Age, a small hip watering hole down near 15th Street with a saucy bartender from Boston; the Blue Lightning bar, where my drummer friend plays in a cover band and complains to me during the setbreaks about how much it sucks; the Fly Trap, a small but upscale rock club run by The Castle folks where they actually take requests, if you dont mind climbing a ladder to the DJ booth
May 11, 2001, The Masquerade
I agree to go with my girlfriend to see horror punk outfit The Misfits on the condition that she doesnt make me venture onto the floor, where Im positive Ill get pummeled in a spontaneously erupting mosh pit (its happened more than once). Of course, once there, she lures me into the thick of it, promises to watch my back, then disappears to stage dive onto the mayhem. Shortly after, a hulking body is hurtled over the crowd, and I watch in horror as the heel of his giant black combat boot comes sailing toward my face and in extra slow motion, connects with my cheek with a jarring smack. My friend comes flying in right behind the perpetrator, punches him several times and screams at him about crowd-surfing etiquette. Meanwhile, a sympathetic bystander gives me his beer to hold against my face, and Im thinking the pain really isnt so bad, though I can feel the swelling of a bootprint on my face.
January 2002-December 2009, all around Ybor
I didnt mean to get married here, but the place just fit. Ceremony at the Ybor City Museum garden, reception in the Cuban Clubs bottom floor Cantina, and my family, friends and co-workers all getting down hardcore for three hours to the energetic funk and soul of the Legendary JCs. By the last song, Im barefoot and my feet are covered in the same grime that edges the bottom of my wedding dress.
March, 2010, Crowbar
A small, colorful mass of wildly dancing bodies fills the small space in front of the stage, which experimental electro group-cum-performance art ensemble Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt has festooned with old Christmas lights, ancient glowing snowmen, a hanging line of hand-holding teddy bears with bodies that spelled out I Love You... Most of the dancing bodies are wearing costumes (patched together and provided by the band), and their frenzied movements under the flashing blacklight are encouraged by band members who sing in gleeful, three-part shouts over pre-recorded electro tracks, with one or another picking up the odd instrument (trumpet, accordion) and adding more out-there texture to the chaos. Weve been waiting for this kind of show all tour, one of them exclaims, and even though there cant be more than 40 people there, you can tell he really means it, and its sad and sweet at the same time, but apropos that its here, in Ybor.