They juggle their musical passions with side jobs, playing late shows and getting up early.
They make music their No. 1 priority while working at Lowe's, or as a lifeguard or a home decorator.
And they live to chase the kind of breakthrough opportunities offered by Hard Rock Rising, a global battle for local bands longing to hit the big time.
The contest, hosted locally by the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, features an international grand prize: a world tour in six cities, including the Hard Rock Calling festival in London featuring Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi, the chance to make an album and music video as part of Hard Rock Records, and $10,000 in new equipment.
Alma Vertical, a groove-driven band with Christian messages, will carry the banner for Tampa after emerging as the local winner last week from a competition that started with 123 bands.
Alma Vertical has been in the music scene for 11 years. Cesar Rios plays the lead guitar, Tito Ortego is on the rhythm guitar, Eric Omar Rodrigues (or Blue Rodz) sings and plays bass, Louis Alicea bangs the drums, and you'll see Chris Bonafe on the piano. Tito and Chris are recent additions but are producers from the area.
Ultimately, earning the local title involved outperforming two other finalists: Scilter and Malaya.
"We felt ecstatic and completely blessed to not only have shared the stage with these amazing bands but to come home with the grand prize," Rios said. "We almost can't explain the feeling of joy. God is good."
Each band emerged from a field of 123 videos submitted for the contest and then won semifinal competitions after making the final nine.
Scilter started nine years ago with two brothers, Kyle and Kerry "Papa Bear" Adams. They came up with the name Silter, then added a "c" to remember their friend Cameron Bineshtarigh, whom they met while students at Zephyrhills High. Bineshtarigh died in a car accident in 2003.
"He isn't here, but he's always with us," Kerry Adams said.
Like most bands, they came together through a series of coincidences. They added drummer Brad Miller after finding him at Pizza Hut and discovering that he already knew their music.
Aaron Loveless joined through the Tampa Bay Music Network. They saw each other play and wanted to jam together. Voila.
They describe their sound as lyric and guitar driven, and hold the distinction of being the music network's favorite rock band of 2012.
Malaya began with Adam Irizarry and Robin Carbonell. The two 22-year-olds met at Blake High School and have been dating, and playing together ever since.
"His dad kept telling him, we should be in a band," Carbonell said.
After years of auditioning new members, they just recently formed the band they had in mind.
"Since we started we wanted to find a career," Irizarry said. Many members just didn't have that same dedication, so they continued the search by advertising on Craigslist. In 2011, Dan Reitmeyer responded to their ad. He's the drummer. A week or two before recording a three-track demo, Dan O'Neil stepped in as the bass player, and Nicholas Oliver Quinby joined as a guitarist.
On March 14, each band had 45 minutes to wow the judges.
Alma Vertical performed first. The guys were dressed in dark colors, ripped jeans and shiny vests. The pianists, in true mysterious musician style, wore dark sunglasses. They started with their backs to the crowd, then turned around as the lights brightened. Smoke swirled by their feet as they rocked the stage in Spanish and English.
Malaya took the stage with a big presence. The singers' blue hair whipped around the stage as they jumped and jammed. Their first song, Dodge the Bullet, was about bad relationships.
Scilter took the stage last but had the biggest crowd. Fans rocked Scilter T-shirts and knew all the lyrics. The band shook the cafe with the bass and bright red guitars. Kyle Adams rocked a guitar with glow-in-the-dark strings. They cut it close to the 45-minute mark but managed to pull off one last song in two minutes.
Judges crowned Alma Vertical the winner and the recipient of $250 in cash and $250 in a cafe gift card. Now the 95 local winners will be narrowed down to the top 25 bands worldwide via fan voting on participating Hard Rock Facebook pages from April 22 to May 1.
Once the top 25 are determined, a panel of music industry professionals, including Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band and Live Nation senior vice president of music Toby Leighton-Pope, will select the grand prize winner and two runner-up bands.
No matter who won, all the bands could agree on one thing: It was great exposure.
Arielle Waldman can be reached at [email protected]