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Well, stealing some of that warm MTV spotlight and taking advantage of the extra exposure. Miami's best qualities will be on display, including thong-clad ladies, million-dollar beachfront property, and the rest of its usual vices. But there's also our best asset yet: an undying capitalist drive to seize an opportunity and bank on it. It's in our blood, from the guy on the corner in front of Pro Player Stadium selling hot homemade Florida Marlins merchandise during baseball games, to our hometown rockers (read below). As the gigantic microphone of MTV hovers over the city for a weekend, a few local musicians plan to play loud enough for someone to hear them.
Maria, Lo-Fi, and Rhett and the Pawn Shop Drunks are collaborating on VMA pre-party and after-party entertainment with ZETA (WZTA-FM 94.9) and Rock the Vote (as well as New Times) to show the rest of the globe what we have to offer. Kicking it off on Friday, August 27, is a VMA pre-party with all three bands at Senor Frog's in the heart of South Beach. Then there's a final performance and VMA party on Sunday night at South Beach's Felt.
Maria's singer, Michael Roderick, explains the importance of Rock the Vote sponsoring the events, an association that he hopes will draw people to his show. "With MTV's VMA awards being in Miami, this isn't something that has ever happened. It is very cool for local music," he says. As for being in the right place at the right time, he adds, "Anybody who's thinking of furthering the scene and furthering each individual band's careers would look to take advantage of this situation to promote the local scene. So, that's what we did."
Tony Medina, guitarist/vocalist for the rockabilly group Rhett and the Pawn Shop Drunks, agrees. "It's going to be such a festive weekend, it would be a shame for us not to be a part of it," he says, "whether [we were playing at the VMA itself] or [at a club] across the street."
Maria can be summed up as a bilingual rock outfit along the lines of a Latin-tinged Creed, Saliva, or Nickelback. Those bands were once enormously successful, but are now fading into the backdrop, making room for the Yellowcards of today. But that hasn't stopped Maria from trying to earn some attention.
With the help of Union Entertainment Group (which also manages Nickelback and Cinderella), the band approached the nonprofit voter registration group Rock the Vote. Maria's personal manager, Byron Hontas, had worked with Megadeth and Rock the Vote in promoting the Motor Voter Bill, which was enacted by Congress in 1993 and enabled people to register to vote when they renewed their licenses. This successful campaign established a relationship that helped persuade Rock the Vote to get involved in Maria's showcases.
Michael Mut, bass player for Rhett and the Pawn Shop Drunks, helped Maria assemble the two shows, while Lo-Fi, whose members often play at Senor Frog's, secured the venues. Rock the Vote didn't give the bands any money, but did lend its name to promote the events, which will feature voter registration booths and tables of information on nonpartisan issues. "Obviously, voting-wise, Florida could use all the help it can get," says Roderick.
But is Rock the Vote an important part of the two shows, or is it just a ploy to get MTV's attention? Medina asserts that working with the organization is important to him because, he says, "Your opinion does matter, and it does count." And if this event can help voters at all, he adds, "It matters especially now."
Still, Rock the Vote's endorsement adds considerable clout to the festivities. "Hopefully our bands will help to bring to light the fact that there is not only a regular rock scene, but a Latin rock scene," says Roderick.
"If the opportunity is there for a band to be able to perform in front of [a lot of] people then yeah, call me a sellout," says Medina. "But half the reason we are doing this is to play in front of people who can take your band to the next level."
"We're all trying to do the best with the cards that we're dealt down here," says Roderick. For him, the upcoming VMA weekend is a rare opportunity, one of the few times when real musicians can garner an audience as large and enthusiastic as DJs get during the rest of the year. "It's a tragic story because there's a lot of great bands that call Miami home and don't get cooperation from the venues. It's the strangest thing," he says.