What to see, hear at new ‘Figurehead’ exhibit – Orlando Sentinel

The second level of the Orange County Regional History Center has a new beat to it. The exhibition called “Figurehead: Music & Mayhem in Orlando’s Underground” has opened there. It presents the sound and, well, the vibe of the scene of the late 1980s and ‘90s.

The exhibit includes musical bits, interactive pieces and unexpected physical props to get the ol’ throwback machine cranked up. It features cameo appearances by musicians, including Orlando’s own Rob Thomas and Seven Mary Three alongside references to visiting acts such as Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Jonathan Richman and many more.

Here are five eye-catching, unusual elements of the exhibit.

A touch-screen podium explains how a concert promoter (allegedly) makes money. There are a lot of hands out in the process. It also breaks down contracts line by line. Want to know what the gig paid? Look for “compensation agreed upon.”

A contract for Soul Asylum at the Beach Club — operating in the club space on the southwest corner of Orange Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Orlando — in 1988 is displayed. There was a $500 guarantee for the band’s 60-minute set, according to the contract. Ticket prices were $5.

The answer to the musical question “What is a promoter?”, according to the display and promoter Jim Faherty, is “the number one moron,” the exhibit indicates.

On the wall devoted to Sapphire Supper Club, the desk calendar of co-owner Shayni Rae is open to July 1996. It was a busy time. A poster above it advertises the concerts for the month and touts, among other events, an appearance by Big White Undies, a Gainesville band named 1995 entertainer of the year by the Florida Jammy awards.

Exhibit curator Jeremy Hileman points out that what the poster doesn’t say — but Rae’s calendar does — is that the opening act that night was Matchbox 20.

And a letter mounted on a nearby wall indicates that Matchbox 20 was guaranteed to receive $100 for that gig or 20 percent of the gross box office receipts after taxes, whichever was greater. It was to be a 45-minute set.

An area tied to Jonathan Richman includes a handwritten letter from the singer to Figurehead promoter Jim Faherty. It was written in 2000 or so.

“Did I already write to tell you how nice it was to see you the other week in Orlando? If not, it’s time I did,” Richman writes. “And I thought it was really sweet of you to tell me those stories about our early shows together. I didn’t remember ever hearing some of these stories. Thank you. The stories had a lot of heart and soul! … Your pal, Jonathan.”

Music from the Figurehead Records label is available for listening in a format that’s contemporary and retro at the same time. Place one of the designed LPs, 45s, CDs or cassettes atop a select spot and the music starts to play. (Thanks, RFID.) Artwork from the music packaging is displayed above the play station.

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Elsewhere, short oral histories have been recorded. One stop is activated by a modified pay phone, and one of its blurbs is from Faherty, who explains how a promoter leaned on pay phones in that era before cell service and the internet.

Visitors may find the vast array of concert posters to be the lingering memory from the exhibit. They are bright and graphically driven, yet diverse in styles. The bulk were created by five then-local artists and illustrators, who will be reunited for a panel discussion of the era at the history center on Nov. 5. This stash was primarily donated from Faherty’s collection.

The exhibit has some posters broken down by artists and a bit of a where-are-they-now copy.

Of note: a Sonic Youth poster by Scott Sugiushi for Beacham concert in 1990, a selection of Guided by Voices works (one used to glow in the dark), an electrifying Iggy Pop poster for 2001 by Thomas Scott and dozens and dozens more.

The next exhibit-related activity at the history center is set for Sunday. “Coffee & Conversations: The Hip Hop Scene in Central Florida with Israel Vasquetelle.” The producer/radio host/educator/journalist will tour the exhibition with Hileman and relate the theme to the hip-hop scene. It begins at 2 p.m., and admission is free.

For more details about the exhibit and associated programming, go to thehistorycenter.com.

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