- December 4, 2019
The road to fame and glory for a rock band is well known. Most small-town bands dream of starting off with small shows, heading out to larger venues and eventually making it big. The Pretty Dirties are different. The Sarasota-based band doesn’t just want to make a name for itself. It’s also trying to put an entire city on the map.
“I’m definitely thinking Sarasota is an emerging art community, and I want to be part of it and be a founder when it happens.” — Nick Dahill
Its music is not the usual Sarasota fare — a raw, bass-heavy, in-your-face psychedelic sound that can switch energies and genres effortlessly — but that’s precisely the point. Rather than letting Sarasota, unfairly or not, be considered a city with a stagnant music scene, The Pretty Dirties are looking to inject some edge and activity into the area. The goal is to establish a younger arts community that’s here to stay.
The group is taking a big step toward this goal Oct. 12, when it will be performing a warehouse show with Dream Thing and St. Petersburg band Glaze. The hope is that the show — the first in the new “Slice” series — will be the first of many that showcase Sarasota’s local music and arts talent, a foundation that can lead to something greater.
“Young people move here and they feel so inspired and they want to create, and they do all this awesome stuff,” says singer Dana Laag, 27.
“Then they get so uninspired and unmotivated after feeling defeated. … Then they leave, and they move somewhere where they can actually pursue those dreams and goals.”
It’s an ambitious endeavor, and Laag is organizing every part of it. But she thinks her band has the passion and drive to make it work.
“It’s not that we’re special or anything; it’s just that no one else is committing to [a community],” Laag says. “We have the means; we have the equipment and the passion to create it. We’ve spent five years cultivating things here, and we’re ready to make it more permanent.”
The Pretty Dirties have had something of an iterative start. It originally was just Laag and her boyfriend and guitar player, Alex Alfonso, and they would sing originals and cover songs. It was “cutesy” and fun but hardly ambitious, Laag says.
Things are different now. The addition of bassist Ryan O’Neill and drummer Tim Maryon about a year ago has completely changed the band’s sound, not to mention its sense of purpose.
The Pretty Dirties’ “Red Mirror” debut album is about pressure, the kind close to Laag herself. After working through grad school while being a full-time elementary teacher, she found herself chasing a level of success and satisfaction that, in retrospect, was both unattainable and unhealthy. Upon moving to Florida from up north, she realized she needed to slow down and enjoy the time she had rather than worrying about reaching some impossible goal.
But the band’s interests go beyond just playing for fun. Laag and her bandmates have been throwing house shows in her neighborhood for the past two years to bring together local talent. Those initial endeavors have led to local artists and vendors showcasing their work at the shows, with the latest open jams bringing in more than 100 people.
“[Sarasota’s music scene] is up and down,” O’Neill says. “I believe we’re starting again on the up.”
The Pretty Dirties don’t lack for ambition, but they now have a venue to match their goals. Laag has connected with Laurie Maves, a Sarasota artist Laag has admired who owns a warehouse space. Like Laag, Maves has felt a lack of community in Sarasota’s arts scene. Laag says it simply became a matter of connecting one dot to the next, and the warehouse became the ideal spot to showcase these local talents.
The first of those shows is the “Slice” opening, and Laag says she hopes to have five to 10 local artists at the show displaying their art flea-market style. She has met many of these figures at art galleries downtown or at house shows.
It’s imperative to Laag and The Pretty Dirties that bands playing at the shows are paid for their time and work. She’s planned a framework where, rather than charging patrons, the “Slice” show will have vendor fees to pay bands for transportation and something to take home. Any other proceeds will be invested into future shows.
It’s a pilot run — no beer or wine license, just music — but one Laag is hopeful about. If all goes well, the “Slice” series will have quarterly shows at the warehouse space along with additional shows at other Sarasota venues.
Laag says she has seen great music talent come to Sarasota and leave, a frustrating result of the city’s focus on its older community and tourism industry. She believes the cultural scene can be more.
“I don’t think [Sarasota] understands how much additional tourism would come if we had a cultural community that outshone St. Pete,” Laag says.
They have had help with their cultural push, and The Pretty Dirties are slowly building a following. Nick Dahill, a friend of Laag’s, has been to a few of the band’s house shows and often listens to its 2019 album, “Red Mirror,” when taking a long drive. He considers himself the group’s resident headbanger and views the band as the start of something larger. He says he wants to be on the ground floor.
“I’m definitely thinking Sarasota is an emerging art community,” Dahill says. “And I want to be part of it and be a founder when it happens.”
Fame and fortune would be nice one day, but the band’s focus right now is cultivating a community in Sarasota. It’s the kind of work that needs focus, but that doesn’t phase Laag. The chance to build something that lasts — something that matters — is worth the effort.
“I think the biggest thing about creating the creative community here, one that will stay, is that it needs to not be based around students who are going to leave,” Laag says. “And it needs to not be based around that same kind of Bourgeoise arts culture that is happening here. You need to have a little bit of everything. … I think that they’ll eventually come to love the community that we’re offering to build here.”
Sten Spinella contributed to this story.