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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jul. 8, 2009 8 years ago

Sarasota gets scratch fever

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

When it comes to classical music, Sarasota has its bases covered. The city’s music scene is long rooted in festivals and symposiums devoted to violin concertos and piano sonatas. Even jazz and blues devotees have their music festivals.

Yet one scene remains untapped: electronic house music.

Sarasota’s emerging creative class is turning the tables on conventional music programming with the Vinyl Music Festival, a four-day electronic music festival running July 16 through July 19, in Sarasota.

Devoted to high-energy club beats at 10 downtown bar venues, the youth-friendly lineup will feature 30 disc jockeys from around the world, including Playboy party spinner DJ Diamond and celebrity house DJ Paul Mendez.

“It started out pretty small,” says Matt Orr, co-founder of The HuB, an office space in the Rosemary District that houses creative Internet businesses, including Orr’s own online venture: “We were sitting around one day, brainstorming ways to bring the city to life. We noticed that electronic music seems to have taken hold, so we decided to pull together a DJ fest.”

Orr had intended to keep the festival small, but within a week, nearly a dozen artists had signed on, including a few with Hollywood profiles such as Diamond, currently on deck to play the largest club opening in India the night before her appearance in Sarasota.

“Four of the DJs coming sell out stadiums,” Orr says. “It’s gotten way bigger than we expected.”

Orr and business partner, Rich Swier, had initially planned to host a two-night event at one of Swier’s downtown warehouse properties, but as the festival’s roster grew, virtually by word of mouth, they decided to pitch the idea to downtown hotspots and extend it by two days.

Evie’s Tavern and HorseFeathers immediately signed on, followed by Club Phoenix, Arosa, Selva Grill and Esca, already popular for its tech and deep-house music. Kanaya’s rooftop lounge booked Friday night’s VIP party, and the Lido Beach Resort booked Diamond.

Many of the artists are already based in Miami, where the Ultra Music Festival, a two-day, 16-stage, electronic-music event attracts club goers and DJs from around the world.

“There is definitely a crowd for this music in Sarasota,” says DJ Drager, the festival’s music director. “The Rhino Room on Siesta Key is always packed with people dancing to electronic music. When the Rustic Grill was open, you had hundreds of people coming out to listen. The way we view it is: If you build it they will come, and not just from Sarasota.”

Ranked among the top electro-house DJs in the country, Drager, a North Port resident, has played clubs in the United States and overseas for 19 years.

Like Orr, he hopes the festival will give Sarasota’s economy a shot in the arm, and, like Miami’s Ultra, become an annual event with big-crowd potential.

“We want to bring world-class DJs to Sarasota, provide quality entertainment in a centrally-located city, give businesses four days of good income and a reason to look forward to next year,” Drager says.

if you go

The Vinyl Music Festival runs July 16 through July 19 at participating venues. Four-day festival passes are $20. V.I.P. passes are $50. For a complete list of venues, DJs and event times, visit

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