Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ticketmaster Unsigned Band Contest-1994

I’m flying home from Atlanta today, Songs from Memory in the can and ready to press. I feel especially blessed to get to do this record after ten (!) years away from recording studios, and it reminds me of another time when circumstance smiled kindly upon me and my musical life.

Someone, I don’t know who, came across the announcement for the Ticketmaster unsigned band contest in 1994 in the New Times. We’d never heard of it, but it sounded like something cool to do: 36 different cities hosting a first round, then a bunch of regionals, then the final five bands head-to-head in Los Angeles. The winner got a check for something like $5,000 and a week’s worth of recording time at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, enough time for an efficient little outfit like ours to make a whole record.

The Phoenix event took place at Minderbinders on Hayden Lane in Tempe. Five bands participated that Saturday afternoon, on an outside stage with no shade. The only other band I remember participating was Azz-Izz. I’m pretty sure we went on last. There was almost no one in attendance. We probably had a gig later that night, so I doubt anyone intent on the Refreshments experience bothered to go to Minderbinders that afternoon.

Strangely, I remember the gig being one of the best we ever played. We were getting better, gelling into something more than four guys who drank too much and hammed it up for the audience. We were a band getting ready for its close-up.

And we took Phoenix! Ticketmaster awarded us with an all-expenses-paid (although I remember Rog having to call the home office at one point to shake some cash out of them for things like tips for baggage handlers) trip to Seattle for the semi-finals.

I can honestly say I don’t remember a thing from the Seattle show--the venue, where we stayed, nothing--except for the fact that it was in Seattle and that we won again. (Thank goodness I’m getting this stuff down now or I may have lost it forever.)

So the finals, Los Angeles, five bands ready to claim the ultimate prize.

And we knew we had a big advantage over the other four bands going into it. Our fans got wind of this not-too-far-out-of-town show and many--a hundred or so, I‘d guess--made the pilgrimage to L.A. to cheer their boys past the finish line. It was greatly appreciated. If any of you are still out there, thank you.

Ticketmaster, fresh off the Eddie Vedder run-in, was out to prove how band-friendly it was, so this show in L.A. was pimped out. Grand ballroom with hardwood floors, video cameras flying here and there, dozens of monitors. I remember seeing the footage of it, and it reminded me of some elaborate MTV production mixed with a dash of American Bandstand.

We went on last of the five bands, which made us look like the “headline band,” especially when we went onstage and a good chunk of the heretofore ambivalent audience rushed the front of the stage and started dancing. We played “European Swallow,” “Suckerpunch,” “Down Together” and maybe “Mexico” or “Mekong.” The four other bands, all competent, were doing some variation of the grunge thing, and there we were, four guys from Tempe playing fun pop songs way too fast, and one hundred folks dancing their asses off. It felt inevitable, even as far back as that first gig at Minderbinders, that we’d take the prize. But it was still surreal after our set when the head of Ticketmaster announced our names and we himmed and hawed onstage, got our pictures taken, feeling both elated and ridiculous.

It turned out that 7,200 other bands submitted for the contest. 1 in 7200. It was a good thing no one told us the odds.

Art

11 comments:

Natalie Illeana said...

Art,

I am always searching for great stories like this to read. It's how the emerging artist breaks thru the ice.
I've been chipping away at that ice. Even though the music industry has completely changed (so I've been told), these stories keep me going for it!

You are a very fluid writer!
Thankx for sharing!

Good luck on your solo CD !!

-Natalie Illeana

Beth said...

Art, what fun to read! In 1994, I was the promotions director for Ticketmaster in Seattle; I was directly responsible for both the local Seattle competition, as well as the regional contest held there. I think the show took place at a club called "Under the Rail" (long since defunct).

I was really nervous, because all the big-wigs from the corporate office were up from LA. I knew the local winner wasn't very good, and didn't have a huge following. Ticket sales had been lousy (no one felt that Pearl Jam backlash as bad as we did).

Turns out the other bands weren't so hot, either. In fact, by the time you fellas were getting ready to go on, I was feeling downright embarassed and despondant. Then a miracle happened. The Refreshments took the stage. The atmosphere and mood took a dramatic change for the better! We were all just blown away! The crowd went from bored silly to dancing & cheering. I cannot tell you how relieved I was--relieved and impressed! After the show, I worked up the gumption to introduce myself to Roger (at 24, good-looking men still made me insecure), and ask if I could buy a tape or CD. He gave me a a dubbed copy of Wheelie, with his name & phone number on it. I've lost the tape over the years, but I still have that tape case around here somewhere.

A year later, I left Seattle and Ticketmaster (I think right about the time you were to come to record at Bad Animals), and went to work in Montana at a resort. There, I met a wonderful man from Phoenix. I told him he had to listen to this great band--I plugged in the tape, and he goes, "hey, that's The Refreshments!" Turns out he had seen you several times, and was a pretty big fan. Well, it's been twelve years since then, and we've been married for nine of them! And FFB&B remains one of my all-time favorite albums.

I have a video of your Seattle performance; if you'd like a copy, let me know! And all my best in your new endeavours.

-Beth G. in WA

Art Edwards said...

Beth,

Thanks so much for filling in the blanks for me. Under the Rail rings a bell.

In a post Cracker and Presidents of the USA world, it's hard to convey to people how different the band was from its contemporaries in 1994. We loved the opportunity to play for people, because invariably they freaked out at the freshness of our show compared to the other acts. Ironically, it was easier to get attention because we *weren't* grunge in a very grunge era

And it's always good to hear that the Refreshments played a positive role in someone's life. That is the greatest prize of all.

Art

Randy said...

Hey Buddy, A guy I know who now works for ticketmaster and owns a cool studio in Indy. He was in a band that competed against the Refreshments in the finals. His email fills in another piece of the puzzle....

Randy, Thanks for sharing this article, what a trip! The Refreshments far and away won that competition. They had many hometown fans cheering them on to victory.

As I recall it was not the best show our band "15 Minutes" ever played but it was cool to play in Hollywood and really help set the stage for my career working for Ticketmaster.

Thanks,

Marc Johnson

Art Edwards said...

Hey, a Ticketmaster reunion!

This may sound foolish, but I think I vaguely remember one of the songs 15 Minutes played. Just a melody line, but it's in there.

Art

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