By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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In its continuing (and mostly successful) efforts to shed its image as an old fart's version of MTV, VH1 is introducing a so-called hip, fast-moving, road-trekking show called Route 96, which for eleven consecutive days will focus on eleven different American cities, including Boston, Chicago, and Las Vegas. The 96 crew will be right here in Miami next week to shoot the kick-off episode, which will be aired in early July on the cable music network. Predictably, the producers plan to hang around the South Beach area and will spend their first night being shown around some swanky dance pits by Liquid co-owner Ingrid Casares, so you can expect the show to make a decidedly decadent first impression.
Describing the show as a "rock and roll road trip," Route 96 writer and producer Karen Infantino says the maiden episode will focus primarily on what she calls the Miami Sound, whatever that means (K.C.? The Bee Gees? Laundry Room Squelchers?). "Miami's a happening town and we'll be searching around for the Cuban and Latin music thing and the nightlife, mostly in clubs in South Beach." Although a final list of musical participants has yet to be prepared, Infantino says rock en espa*ol kingpins Pepe Alva y Alma Raymi and son queen Albita Rodriguez will be among the artists spotlighted.
Although each episode will close at a big-name concert (in this case, the Sting/Natalie Merchant show June 21 in West Palm Beach), the primary music focus of Route 96 is on unsigned local talent not likely known by the average VH1 junkie. With the exception of Rodriguez, who's signed to Epic's Crescent Moon label, major-label artists such as Nil Lara and Mary Karlzen won't be found along Route 96, nor will some of the city's noise-making underground artists. ("Harry Pussy will definitely not be on VH1," Infantino states somewhat proudly.) Nor will the 96 cameras be cast on the eateries, botanicas, and nightclubs of Little Havana, meaning that while the Miami segment is supposedly devoted mostly to Cuban and Latin music, it will have nothing on Cafe Nostalgia, the Calle Ocho nightspot that features the greatest live music anywhere in South Florida.
"Logistically this whole thing has been really hard to plan, and it's hard to get everything we want from all over the city," Infantino explains. "Shooting takes a lot longer than you'd expect it to, so we're going to be mostly sticking around South Beach."
Beyond the bars and beaches, Route 96 will trace the Beatles' 1964 footsteps when they came to Miami for their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; they'll drop by Criteria Studio just in time to miss Aerosmith ("Our timing was really bad," Infantino laments); and swing by the Hard Rock Cafe, Tobacco Road, and the Golden Beach house at 461 Ocean Boulevard (immortalized in 1974 on the cover of the Eric Clapton album of the same name). And in the show's perhaps classiest move, the host for the Miami episode, Amy Scott, and her special-guest tagalongs (such as ER's Gloria Ruben), will be chauffeured around town by singing parking valet Jesus Cabeza.
Over the past several years, Load has overcome or learned to deal with the garden-variety obstacles facing your average punk band, from ambivalent local audiences to piss-match rivalries with their contemporaries. (There is very little love lost between Load and the Crumbs, but neither group wants to talk much about it.) A broken van, though, is serious business. And since Load's road-ravaged source of touring transportation A a converted Southern Bell number with well over 100,000 miles on it A has apparently seen its last stretch of asphalt, the band is stuck in Miami, a situation vocalist Robert Johnston says blows. "We haven't toured in more than a year," the singer complains. "As soon as we can get our shit together we'll get another van and get back out. I can't wait."
Until the demise of its van, the local foursome -- Johnston, guitarist Jeff Tucci, drummer Fausto Figueredo, and bassist Tony Qualls -- spent more time on the road than off, touring at least five times throughout the South, developing small but intense followings in places such as Nashville, Memphis, and Little Rock. The self-described punk-scene outsiders have knocked out a self-titled album and a handful of singles, released on the Nashville indie House O' Pain and the band's own Faceless Wreckerds. ("It's not really a label," Johnston confesses. "Well, I guess it is, because we put our records out on it, but we aren't making any money at it. We just had to call it something.")
Their most recent release -- a three-song single on House O' Pain headed by "Lumberjack Death Luge (Ballad of Son of Crusher)" -- is a typically ferocious metallic blazer devoted to the joys of professional wrestling. "You know, in Mexico, wrestling is an art form," Johnston notes. "There's a lot more to wrestling than people think, and there's more to ["Lumberjack"] than people may hear -- a kind of good guy/bad guy thing."
Experience the complexities of Load for yourself on Saturday, June 15, at Rose's Bar & Music Lounge (754 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 532-0228). The all-ages show starts at 7:00 p.m. and there's a six-dollar cover.