MTV’s "$5 Cover: Seattle," a series of 12 vignettes that highlights one weekend in Seattle’s music scene, made its debut during a one-off screening at SIFF Cinema in March. Nine months later it’s finally available to stream for free online, with oodles of additional behind-the-scenes features and bonus clips.
So how does the finished product, which includes the 12 shorts and 64 additional bonus clips, hold up nearly a year after its premiere? Brilliantly if you take into account the fact that the series was shot awhile ago. But if you rely on the series to reflect the city’s current music scene, a few flaws reveal themselves.
Released Dec. 15, the meat of the program is the series of 12 scripted shorts by local filmmaker Lynn Shelton, who directed the award-winning film Humpday. The shorts feature 13 bands that are all connected by a common thread during one summer weekend of band rehearsals, day jobs, bar hopping, and performances.
Shelton has said that "$5 Cover: Seattle" was her love letter to the local music scene. If that’s the case then the final product is a massive romance novel with a plot that woos viewers until they fall in love with Seattle’s music community.
The film is worth watching not only because it's a fairly accurate representation of the musicians it spotlights but also because it has the best soundtrack you’ll hear on the web. Sure, I’m a bit biased. But if you want to get a taste of some of the best in local music, "$5 Cover: Seattle" is the best place to start.
New to the film are its additional trimmings, which are one reason for its delayed release. According to Moishe Friedman, a spokesperson for MTV, another reason was the company's search for a media player that would best present all of the content. And Friedman said MTV took time to find a non-profit organization it could support with the project. The company ended up partnering with Sweet Relief, which assists musicians struggling financially due to illness, disability, and age-related circumstances. As a result, commercials for Sweet Relief appear periodically before some of the $5 Cover episodes.
In the presentation department, MTV chose to use the Coincident TV player, which runs smoothly and provides an easy-to-use layout for watching whatever part of the project you want. You have to click "play" after every clip, which is a bit odd, but I think I was spoiled by seeing the film on the big screen at SIFF Cinema. Besides, the current generation of music fans has lived with the Internet their entire lives and likely won't mind the need for periodic clicking.
New features include 14 Amplified shorts that act as bios for the featured bands; 23 B-sides documentaries about various aspects of Seattle’s music and arts scenes; 15 performance videos; and 12 behind-the-scenes clips. Add the actual "$5 Cover: Seattle" film and you have an immersive experience that perfectly captures who was making noise during the summer of 2009.
The Amplified shorts, filmed and directed by local filmmaker John Jeffcoat (best known for the film Outsourced, which was adapted to the NBC comedy), are excellent portraits of the artists. The are as enjoyable to watch as the main film itself and provide a great way to learn more about the personalities and real lives of the musicians in the film.
The B-Sides clips, found under the “Seattle Scene” tab on the media player, spotlight musicians not featured in the main film, showing the city’s musical diversity. Here the focus is on a variety of lesser-knowns. You get a look at hip-hop stalwart Vitamin D, film score composer Eric Goetz, soul rockers Maktub, Appalachian folksters the Tallboys and more.
The clean packaging of all the B-Sides, Amplified docs, live performances, and behind-the-scenes clips was worth waiting the nine months since the SIFF screening. With each click of the "play" button on the bonus materials, I fell more in love with the scene I already adore.
The delay, though, has caused the series to ultimately fall a bit short. A lot has changed in the 17 months since the bulk of "$5 Cover: Seattle" was shot. Since its filming a few of the bands featured in the B-Sides documentaries no longer exist (Team Gina, Dutchess and the Duke, and New Faces to name a few). That makes it strange to see them representing the local music scene at the tail end of 2010.
And it's a bit odd to see B-Sides features on members of the burlesque, film, and visual art scenes pop up, considering there are so many untold stories from the local music community. Also, it’s worth noting that the Crocodile, one of Seattle’s most historic venues, was conspicuously absent from the entire project. The closure and rebirth of the Croc would have made for an excellent story.
But those are minor quibbles given the overall effectiveness of "$5 Cover: Seattle." The film and all of its trappings are an excellent reflection of the local music community. The main feature tells an engaging story filled with vibrant personalities and humorous stories, and the extra content really makes the Emerald City’s music community shine. It’s a great primer for anyone looking to learn more about local music — as well as an enjoyable film that would make any local music lover swell with pride.
Some bonus features worth checking outAmplified documentaries:
- Sean Nelson: The former Harvey Danger frontman talks about the aftermath of his rise to fame.
- Tea Cozies: Learn about the roots and artistic drive of this girl band.
- Moondoggies: Moondoggies vocalist Kevin Murphy’s stage fright is no longer a secret.
- Gabriel Teodros: A Beacon Hill MC shares his love of his neighborhood and the hip-hop community.
- Top Pot: A fun featurette on the annual Top Pot Donut-eating contest featuring El Vez (the Mexican Elvis) and Billy the Fridge, the Top Pot champion.
- Keplinger: The drum tech for Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and others shares his passion for drumming.
- Tube Addition/Verellen: A look at tube amplifiers and those who love and make them.
- Thee Emergency, “Call 911”: An excellent 1960s-tinged rock song
- The Moondoggies, “Old Dog”: Beautiful harmonies from one of the city’s best bands
- Champagne Champagne featuring THEESatisfaction, “Magnetic Blackness”: Pure Seattle hip-hop bliss
- The Lights, “Buttons vs Boulders”: Dirty, jangly, poppy and punky
- The Maldives “Tequila Sunday”: Seattle isn’t a hotbed for country music but you wouldn’t know that after giving this song a listen.
And some video clips worth watching right away
Tea Cozies live performance: