From Crosscut: MTV’s $5 Cover gives Seattle’s music scene its closeup

I wrote the below review for Crosscut. Expect to read more about MTV’s $5 Cover: Seattle when the series airs online in June.

Seattle’s music scene got its closeup Monday night (March 2) at SIFF Cinema during the world premiere of local director Lynn Shelton’s MTV’s “$5 Cover: Seattle.”

So how does the local music community look on the big screen? Like real people, not film characters.

The last time Seattle’s music scene was captured well on film was in “Singles,” Cameron Crowe’s 1992 tribute to the glory days of grunge. Shelton’s non-Hollywood production likely won’t get as much hype but it is far superior. The characters of her film aren’t really characters at all: They are genuine people playing their real-life roles on film. This should bode well for “$5 Cover: Seattle” in this era where musical tastes steer toward authenticity over mass-produced pop stars, and MTV’s music content is relegated to the Internet, not the television.

Set to be released on the Internet in June, Shelton’s film is a glowing love letter to Seattle’s music scene. The 60-minute movie follows 13 bands through a weekend in Seattle, via 12 episodic and scripted vignettes. Given that MTV has long lost its credibility with musicians, this project could’ve been a disaster. Thankfully Shelton, with her affection for local musicians, made sure this was a genuine and accurate representation of Seattle’s music community.

The main storyline that binds the vignettes together is an attempt by the Moondoggies to go on tour. But for the most part the 12 episodes stand alone. One vignette shows the loving relationship between Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White of THEESatisfaction. Another shows a failed relationship involving Dita Vox of Thee Emergency. Other scenes include a Champagne Champagne party at a secret location, a story about the Tea Cozies’ stolen gear, obligatory interviews with bloggers, and other moments in the daily lives of local musicians.

Shelton’s approach involved having the bands reenact events that happened to them in real life, which likely made it easier to turn musicians into actors and gave the film an air of authenticity. Adding to the authentic feel, members of various bands appeared in the crowds of other bands’ shows, which gave everybody involved ample screen time.

Scenes were shot in Phinney Ridge, SoDo, Wedgwood and other local neighborhoods. For the most part the music scenes take place in various clubs like Hidmo, the Tractor Tavern, the Wildrose and other spots — and the film accurately reflects what it feels like to spend a weekend entrenched in Seattle’s music scene.

At Monday night’s screening, the theater was filled with cast, crew and band members featured in the movie, all of whom were watching the film for the first time. Thomas Gray cheered loudly every time his band Champagne Champagne was mentioned. The Tea Cozies squealed when they got their screen time. And James Keblas, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Film + Music, whistled after the credits rolled. Shelton received an ovation for her efforts from a community that seemed to greatly appreciate her work. And if Shelton’s film didn’t show her passion for local music, her presence at the afterparty — she was in the front row dancing the night away — definitely did.

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