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New online show from MTV highlights regional music scenes: '$5 Cover'

December 23, 2010 | 10:15 am

What if, for 25 days, MTV swooped into your town to make a "Laguna Beach"-style show -- only instead of over-privileged bros and catty girl fights, it was actually about something important. What if it was about your local music scene? People in Seattle won't have to imagine it anymore now that MTV New Media, the innovative arm of the channel, debuted the second season of its online series "$5 Cover" on Wednesday. All 12 episodes can be found here.

Set in the heart of one of the wettest and wildest (literally and sonically) cities on the West Coast, the webisode series peels back the skin of what is the often-stereotyped capital of Starbucks and grunge. What emerges is an alchemy of musical diversity, amplified subcultures and endearing anecdotal storytelling "based on reality." No, it's not a straight-up documentary (remember, we said "'Laguna Beach'-style" show). However, it does buck the trends cultivated by MTV's reality-show culture.

The Seattle series -- crunched into a string of eight-minute episodes -- aims to capture the relationships and performances of scrappy musicians with a street savvy dive into the nooks and crannies where music is played, argued over and ultimately celebrated.

"I was worried that it wouldn't be scintillating or titillating enough for MTV," said director Lynn Shelton, whose resume includes directing the acclaimed indie film "Humpday." "I needed to be assured that I was going to have creative control."

Shot over a monthlong period, the show formula highlights 13 local bands during what is presented as a single weekend of cobbled-together experiences taken from the bands during interviews with Shelton.

The original "$5 Cover," centered in Memphis and directed by series creator Craig Brewer in 2008, was adept at playing up the sex, drugs and partying attached to the gritty atmosphere of the city's mid-town scene. And although debauchery certainly plays a role in Seattle, Shelton's vision is more down to earth. Telling the story of socially awkward folk rockers the Moondoggies or the endearing lesbian relationship between members of psychedelic rap duo THEE Satisfaction spotlights the tribulations and laughable moments that befall up-and-coming artists married to their music.

"The stories that resonated with me were the ones that created an upside-down portrait of how you usually think of rock stars," Shelton said.

The first episode introduces us to the bearded Moondoggie tribe as they go, or at least try to go, on tour. Naturally, their quest to get out of town is cut short when their van breaks down, a common problem for any band whose plans for world domination hinge on the reliability of a beat-up family van.

Avoiding the urge to pander to any one genre, "$5 Cover: Seattle" showcases a mix of innovative indie pop, throat-shredding hard-core, hip-hop, and many aural intersections in between. The episodes are bundled with four-minute features on each band in a section called "Amplified" as well as bonus mini docs ("B-Sides") about the Seattle scene.

As a native of Seattle who was a fan of one of the bands on her show (the Lights) before the project started rolling, Shelton can really attest to the importance of capturing the essence of the everyday world, reenacted or not, of the unknown bands she's met through the "$5 Cover" experience.

"These are really bands that you could go see for $5 at some bar in Seattle on any given day of the week," Shelton said. "They should be better known and they should be on the national scene, but they’re not. And yet they're out there doing it because they have to, they're absolutely driven by that creative fire."

-- Nate Jackson