A decision was made before the first concert in the Broward Center’s new Riverview Ballroom Sunday night to draw the thick satin drapes around the room, hiding the spectacular second-floor New River panorama that gives the space its name. The intent, one organizer said, was to create a more warm and intimate mood.
But if there also was a concern that the scenery outside the floor-to-ceiling glass wall might distract the audience from what was coming from the stage on the opposite side of the room, those fears were unwarranted. So captivating was the ballroom’s inaugural act, the Los Angeles-by-way-of-Nashville duo Johnnyswim, that it might have taken you a couple of songs to notice if your pants had been on fire.
Though it nearly didn’t happen, it’s hard to imagine a more perfectly calibrated, wonderfully eclectic performance to inaugurate this important new space in the Broward Center’s 15,000-square-foot Huizenga Pavilion, part of a larger $56 million expansion and revitalization project. The show originally was scheduled for the Abdo New River Room inside the Broward Center, but that space is still being remodeled.
Clad in all black, Johnnyswim, a five-piece led by the husband-and-wife duo of Jacksonville native Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano, daughter of R&B legend Donna Summer, was greeted by a sold-out audience, held slightly under capacity at 275 to allow for dancing space in front of a stage bracketed by a bar on each perpendicular wall. The crowd was a motley mix of the young and stilettoed, knit-capped musicologists, older gents and ladies who might actually know how to knit a cap (including Ramirez’s mom).
But the band’s soulful Americana made easy work of satisfying this broad demographic, which used the dancing space to cram themselves closer to the charismatic couple. Under a slick pompador, the witty and self-effacing Ramirez was armed only with an acoustic guitar and a muscular, high-ranging tenor; equally warm and funny, his wife’s evocative vocals are well suited to the romantic yearning of their lyrics. It also does not hurt that she’s a Vogue cover waiting to happen.
The two clearly love playing music together, and a joyous and romantic vibe filled the room. “Tell the World,” from the new album “Diamonds,” caused a mass sing-along with the refrain “Ain’t it just like love to find us.” A performance of one of the duo’s “favorite love songs,” the Edith Piaf signature “La Vie en Rose” ended with a woman shouting, “You are adorable!”
Toward the end of the show, about the time they were toying with a cover of Britney Spears’ “Till the End of the World,” the couple left the stage and waded into the audience, where, with fans packed around them, they put an exclamation point on the evening by spiking their song “Home” with the rollicking love song “Jackson,” by Johnny Cash and June Carter. Perfect.
Matt McNeil, the youthful Broward Center vice president for programming and marketing, recently hired from the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York, is optimistic that he’ll be able to attract more edgy and independent music to the expanded Broward Center.
“I think that’s what they’ve brought me here to do,” he said.