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Soundcheck heads to the Grammys! (Sort of)


Wait a second -- Tampa's Will Quinlan and the Diviners were nominated for a Grammy? What? When did this happen?

Well, technically speaking, it wasn't the Grammy Awards. Quinlan was one of six artists from across the Sunshine State picked to perform at the Florida Grammy Showcase Wednesday night in Orlando.

As music industry showcases go, this one was pretty confusing and convoluted. ("I have no recollection of entering a competition," said Quinlan.) But that didn't stop a group of excitable staffers from WMNF-88.5 FM from piling into a van and driving to The Social in Orlando to support their hometown folk hero. They drank, they dished, they danced ... and they invited Soundcheck along for the ride.

After the jump, Julie Garisto (above, with Quinlan) shares her hazy memories from the road trip, from the WMNF gossip inside the van to the "absurd showbiz hoo-ha" of the awards ceremony itself.

Take it away, Julie.

Attending the Florida Grammys Showcase in Orlando on May 13 involved a quirky rock ’n’ roll pilgrimage, absurd showbiz hoo-ha and honest-to-goodness camaraderie, all converging in what felt like a surreal and absurd live music experience.

First, thanks to the crunk bunch at WMNF FM-88.5 who included me on their field trip. Their mission was to cheer on Tampa Bay fave Will Quinlan and the Diviners, who’d been selected among six bands for the showcase.

It was entertaining to watch the unabashedly unconventional Lee "Flee" Courtney, Beverly Capshaw, Jaya Rose, WMNF Programming Director Randy Wynne and Jennifer Hollowell get it together for the ride in Wynne’s Honda Odyssey. Hollowell quoted late, great station manager Vicki Santa, who said coordinating WMNFers was like herding cats.

The field trip was Wynne’s idea, which sprang off an e-mail from Diviners fan Bev. Wynne is a fascinating gent. He’s tall and mysterious. To me, he seems half absent-minded professor, half Buddha. Christopher Walken should play him in a movie.

Flee took the wheel with cheeky Boy Scout dutifulness. Conversation centered on this weekend's Tropical Heatwave and headliner Chuck Prophet. There was also talk about how new equipment at WMNF was recently acquired and the station plans to do more remote broadcasts. New station manager Jim Bennett is "into remotes" – great news for the community-funded station seeking more exposure.

It seemed like five chats were going on at once at any given time. Driver Flee pretended to detour into Dinosaur World and be the angry dad on the verge of smacking all the passengers behind him. My heart went out to him for a brief spell, when we hit a swirly mass of thunderstorms in the Lakeland area.

Diviners keyboardist and singer Soraya Zaumeyer greeted us at the door of the Social. She and the band had been across the street at a yuppie Irish bar, killing time. When asked how she liked it, she got a stuporific look and said that the bar screened soft-porn girly videos on large screens, featuring bikini-clad women in hot tubs tossing food at one another. Her Orlando pal Anthony Grajirena said it was "intense."

The Social played mind-numbing techno before and between the band performances, so many fled the scene when nothing of note was happening. Quinlan said that sort of scene made him nauseous.

The event had a schizophrenic ambiance and feeling of haphazardness. Some people were in fancy duds. Most were in jeans and T-shirts. Employees walked around with black shirts and white ties like mobsters and that relentless techno kept throbbing. Bump. Bump. Bump.

While there, we tried to get to the bottom of why the other acts in the showcase, ArtOfficial, Awesome New Republic, Selena Serrano, Spinlight City, and Tristan Clopet and Juice, were all South Florida bands – one of many head-scratching facts surrounding the scenario. Perhaps because the Florida Chapter of the Grammys is in Miami?

Finding out how the bands were chosen -- and the process that governed who was chosen top band that night and won the $25,000 worth of band promotion -- seemed to be cloaked in as much ridiculous mystery as The Da Vinci Code.

No one at the office of the Florida Chapter of the Grammys has returned my calls. No information about the event was included in the numerous releases posted on the chapter’s Web site. It was unclear who was actually running the event. Representatives at a Grammy info table did not have answers.

Determining how Quinlan and the Diviners figured into this mess was no less challenging.

"I have no recollection of entering a competition," Quinlan says. "I might have been drunk late one night and entered my name on a site, but I have no memory of it."

The Grammys showcase kicked off the Florida Music Festival in Orlando, an event you might call "South by Southwest Lite," featuring 250 performances across 15 stages and three days.

There was a mixed bag of talent at the Grammys shindig. Sound was excellent for some bands, subpar for others. The acts only performed two songs at a time. DJ Mel Taylor from Orlando’s WJRR 101.5-FM introduced the bands.

R&B singer Selena Serrano performed first. She had an excellent voice but was too Rhianna-ish; she needed more originality. Tristan Clopet and the Juice had a tight groove but banked too much on the Dave Matthews/Sublime shtick.

I kinda got a perverse thrill from Awesome New Republic and its frenetic, over-the-top early-80s skinny tie dance pop. They were a mishmash of Wang Chung meets A-Ha meets the Cars meets Vampire Weekend. Egads.

If Spinlight City’s image could talk, it would yell: "We’re so energetic – wow! We shop at Hot Topic! We sound like emo but that’s so 2002! Look at us! We’re pointing at you! We’re in touch with the crowd! We’re begging you to love us!"

ArtOfficial was pretty darn good, I have to say, an exuberant hip-hop R&B dance band with impressive sax and bass and spunky MCs. They won the contest.

Will and the Diviners did put on a respectable show and got an enthusiastic response. Sadly, the event planners' requirement for the band to do a 1 p.m. sound check didn’t serve the Diviners well, because the levels were all off during their performance of Remember the Beatitudes.

Waiting for the results was agonizing. Members of Will’s band and WMNF posse began techno dancing to alleviate the boredom. Seeing bassist Brian Lane – who’s even taller and much thinner than the towering Randy Wynne – shake his booty to drum and bass is truly a beautiful thing.

The result: Will Quinlan and the Diviners came in fifth. Hey, they were at least in the Top 5 – and they got some interesting swag.

"It was a big and interesting haul," said keyboardist Soraya. "Two pairs of SkullCandy headphones. I stole the big red ones and Scott got a pair that had camo fabric on them – stylin'! Plus a bunch of audio software that I hadn't heard of, a decent microphone, a $100 Sam Ash gift certificate, some other $50 gift certificate. I think that's it. We still had to pay for our drinks. … Man, talk about making lemons of lemonade, though. That evening ended up being a blast."

-- Story and photos by Julie Garisto

[Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 4:50pm]


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