The Brooklyn South Bar at Aloma Bowl in Winter Park has become a popular haven for local music.
Orlando resident Melissa Crispo never dreamed she’d be where she is now. The singer/songwriter recently came home in March after performing on the seven-day Melissa Etheridge Cruise for the second time, slotted in a lineup that included big names like Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan and Sonia Leigh.
Aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas, the sailing music festival traveled all the way to San Juan, Puerto Rico and St. John’s, Antigua.
But what’s just as amazing as Crispo’s rise to stardom is where she got the exposure that launched her into the spotlight: Aloma Bowl off of Aloma Avenue in Winter Park.
The bowling alley hosts live music from 8 to 11 p.m. every Saturday, and has welcomed over 40 different artists and hosts 20 rotating artists at its cozy Brooklyn South Bar.
It’s given artists like Crispo a place to build a following and promote her music.
“(Aloma Bowl is) one of the core places that I started playing at many years ago – I still make sure I do a once-a-month there,” said Crispo, who plays a mixture of pop rock and blues.
“It’s kind of weird playing music in a bowling alley, but the actual room that we play in is such a great sounding room – just the acoustics in it. … They serve food, they serve alcohol and the room sounds great, so people actually love it. That’s a reason why I keep playing there.”
Not long after she started playing at Aloma Bowl a couple years back, Crispo got the opportunity to play the Melissa Etheridge Cruise in 2016. The floating festival had reached out to the onePULSE Foundation at the time about giving survivors free tickets to the cruise, and the foundation asked if they had room for a local Orlando artist – who turned out to be Crispo. The foundation sent over her latest song “Tomboy,” and the cruise called Crispo the very next day asking her to come aboard.
The Orlando artist would later get invited to play the Country Music Cruise in 2017 as well, alongside Kelsea Ballerini, Montgomery Gentry and Diamond Rio.
“It opened up a huge fanbase for me just from these cruises,” Crispo said. “When I’m not touring and I’m not playing at other places, I try to keep playing at the local places – I always make sure Aloma Bowl is definitely there.”
Aloma Bowl general manager Jennifer Halpern said she admits that a bowling alley isn’t the first place that comes to mind when someone thinks of live music, but that hasn’t stopped seats from filling up with music lovers who come to watch the free performances on a weekly basis.
Halpern got the idea to start hosting weekly live music at Aloma Bowl a little over two years ago.
“I went out to some other restaurants and there was some music going on and I thought ‘That’s pretty awesome. I don’t know why we don’t have this at Aloma,’” Halpern said.
“Not a lot of places have acoustic live music – it gives (musicians) a place to showcase themselves. Most of the bands or musicians we book here kind of have their own following. It really gives them a place to show their music.”
Local musician and Full Sail University instructor Mike Conner sees the platform as a chance to keep up his musical skill set and try his own creative takes on classic songs in front of an audience.
“I think it’s important to keep local music alive and to give people an opportunity to see artists perform,” said Conner, who plays ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s rock and R&B. “This is something that keeps me active as a musician and it’s an ability for my friends and family to come and see me play.”
“I think it’s great, because I’ve seen actually what it’s done for me,” Crispo said. “I never thought a bowling alley would be a music venue place. Over the years I’ve played there I’ve gained so many fans just from people who didn’t even know there was music – people who were just going up to the bar to order a drink or order some food and then they end up sitting down, staying and watching.”
“It’s hard to build a fanbase when you don’t even know where you’re going to play or anything. Aloma Bowl does give that to us.”
Crispo will take the stage at Aloma Bowl from 8 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 28.