Everybody has their favorite watering hole, their go-to juke joint -- a spot where the barkeep knows your name, the faces are familiar and a good time is guaranteed. My list is rather lengthy these days; still, a couple places hold an extra-soft spot in my partyin' heart.
The Tavern on Main (1507 Main St., Sarasota 34236) is one such establishment. After a good deal of TLC and rebranding pains (I first knew it as The Box Social and later The Blue Owl), it's emerged as a sumptuous craft beer bar in the heart of downtown. Whether you want trivia, karaoke, a dirt cheap happy hour, dance-worthy live bands or DJs, the Tavern incorporates it all into their weekly rotation. They attract a delightfully mixed crowd of suds-loving patrons, so on most of my visits I get to catch up with old friends while meeting somebody new (and quite likely interesting, too).
I dropped by on Friday to root for DJ Imminent in an electronic dance music face-off, the fourth in a genre-bending series that pops up at the Tavern every other week. Four DJs attempt to win the crowd in alternating sets of hip hop, rap, dubstep and trap, with all kinds of subgenres and live freestyling thrown in for good measure. This week they'd added audience participation into the mix with a text-to-vote system. Would SkyCam and his crowd-pleasing trap stay on top as the reigning champions? I didn't even know what "trap" was, but I was about to get a formal education.
I caught the end of Imminent's set, laden with a lot of smooth, old-school hip hop---a terrific way to warm up the evening. Johnny Speed jumped up on stage next and started pumping the room full of an aggressive beat. Groups of people came drifting through the doors as if drawn by the heavily rolling pulse.
"What is this?" I quizzed Imminent and MajorRag3r, the DJ on deck (and the evening's purveyor of dubstep).
Through clouds of raspberry menthol vapor from MajorRag3r's e-cigarrette, they patiently elucidated the differences between the genres du jour: rap is all about the ego; moombahton carries the unmistakeable reggaeton beat; dubstep has the dirty, gnarly "whomp;" trap is all dressed up for the club, with sparse vocals, pretty synths and heavy beats. They tossed a lot of acronyms around---EDM, DNB, BPM---until my head began to spin like one of Immi's vinyls. "Relax," he told me with a grin, "you'll know it when you hear it."
I prodded the undefeated SkyCam for his secret to success while he patiently waited for his turn at the laptop. "I keep winning because they always make me go last, and everybody likes trap," he admitted with a modest tug on his black baseball cap. "I think tonight I'm going to try to lose on purpose."
I'll never know if SkyCam got his wish. Around 12:30 the crowd started playing hard-to-get, and in a blink of an eye, the place was nearly empty. Instead of sticking around for the moment of truth, I opted for a cliffhanger ending: trap and hip-hop were neck and neck in the polls, with a smattering of votes for dubstep and even fewer for rap---despite Immi's slick freestyling technique. Apparently, no one has ever voted for rap at one of these things before.
"That's all right," Imminent said, raising his microphone in a toast, "keep it classy, Sarasota." Will do. With beat-smiths like these, it's easy.