Local rockers want your vote
"The exposure this has given us is great," said Justin Kristal of local rock band Smilin' Liar, one of seven Minnesota bands competing in the national Zippo Hot Tour at clubs throughout Downtown. "Zippo's promotion is totally rad. I mean, they've got ads everywhere!"
Six other groups are benefiting from this spotlight as well. Bring Back Tomorrow, daybreak, Iced Ink, Murge, Michael Quinn and the Virgin Suicides, and Throw the Fight have all been duking it out at local clubs involved in the competition: The Quest, 110 N. 5th St.; First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N., and The Urban Wildlife Club, 128 N. 4th St.
The bands range in style from roots rock to instrumental surf-jazz to heavy metal (see info box below), but all were labeled "up and coming" by Hot Tour organizers and online voters, and each would relish the chance to perform for record execs on the brand new equipment that comes with winning the competition.
Along with about 1,200 other bands, each locally competing group submitted a demo to tour organizers in the spring. Execs from Zippo, the lighter company, and marketing group FUSE combed through submissions and narrowed the pile to a svelte 104.
Event organizer Jeremy Stephan of FUSE, said bands were judged based on their "music, image and artistic ability."
Then new music fans listened to musical selections through the Zippo Hot Tour Web site and winnowed it down to just 62 bands from across the country.
"I kind of just wrote it off and didn't really think we were going to win, and [it was like] all of a sudden " 'Congratulations! You're a semifinalist for the Zippo Hot Tour!'" said Michael Quinn, frontman for Michael Quinn and the Virgin Suicides.
"Our winning that first round is kind of ironic, because all the other bands that are from the Twin Cities in the thing are 93X format, and I get compared to Tom Petty and Van Morrison all the time," added Quinn.
This was a byproduct of the democratic approach, not a Zippo bias, said Stephan, "The premise of the whole program is that the fans choose the bands. We're putting the power of music back in the hands of the fans."
Those who survived the online fan filter have been competing in a series of regional contests. The Twin Cities round started in October and wraps up later this month. Showgoers cast their ballots for their favorite band after each evening's performance. New music fans have just two local battles left to help determine the victor, Thursday, Nov. 11, and Friday, Nov. 19 (see end of article for details).
"The whole experience has been interesting," said Quinn. "The first time we played, I was really apprehensive about how we were going to go over with all these basically metal bands, when we're kind of a roots rock band. A lot of my friends don't go to the Quest, which is where we played the first show, so the turnout was just OK."
Much to Quinn's surprise, his band was well appreciated by both Zippo and Quest staff, "[They] loved us. Some of the other band members stuck around to check us out, too."
How the band fared with the fans won't be revealed until later. But in addition to the fresh sounds, fans were kept happy with either free or cheap cover charges ($2), plus piles of Zippo swag -- free hats, t-shirts and even a limited number of Hot Tour-themed Zippo lighters have been doled out to attendees who stood in line to have their vote for the best band of the night counted.
The bands also get plenty of Zippo-gear, not to mention local exposure. Quinn said the connections he's made has already helped his band to branch out, "The FUSE people have helped us set up some of the shows in Vancouver," he said.
But the ultimate winner of the regional level progresses to the final round and a chance to win: an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to perform in front of an executive from Island Records, all new instruments and gear from such promotional partners as Washburn Guitars, Tama Drums and Randall Amplifiers and national exposure as the poster child for the 2005 competition.
"Wow, I don't know what [winning would] mean," said Smilin' Liar's Kristal. "I don't know how to answer that question. It'd mean a lot. It'd be totally rad for the fact that the people appreciate what we're doing. Because it's the fans, they vote for the bands, and it would mean that people kind of accept what we have created."
Then he laughed and added, "So far as actually winning goes, I don't even worry about that stuff. We're just living in the now, and trying to have fun with it."
The last two regional Hot Tour band battles are Thursday, Nov. 11 and Friday, Nov. 19. On the 11th, Murge and daybreak will compete at The Quest, 110 N. 5th St. The show starts at 9 p.m. and there's a $2.50 cover charge. On the 19th, beginning at 8 p.m., Bring Back Tomorrow, Michael Quinn and the Virgin Suicides, and Iced Ink perform for free at a to-be-announced location. (The show was scheduled to be at First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N., which has temporarily closed.) For updates, check out www.zippohottour.com.