More Life, Less Ordinary

A weekend of live music, pirate garb, female fisticuffs and a reality-TV show tryout.

click to enlarge GET REAL: Sali Cordero and Johanna Manzi sign up to audition for The Amazing Race at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
GET REAL: Sali Cordero and Johanna Manzi sign up to audition for The Amazing Race at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Spectacle, spectacle, spectacle. I don't know how your weekend unfolded, but mine was filled with extroverts. Everywhere I went, there were folks making the scene, making a scene and making themselves seen ...While hundreds of hip young fans sweated, danced and posed during Friday night's sold-out Hot Hot Heat show at the State Theatre in downtown St. Pete, a slightly older crowd of live-music aficionados and regulars took in an intriguing low-key double bill down the street at the smoke-filled Emerald. Singer-guitarists Drew Thompson and Edo McGrady are both alumni of late Pinellas-born national rock act The Gotohells; Friday's gig put both men on the same showcase for the first time since their band called it quits a couple of years ago. They played separately, each in an acoustic, singer-songwriter mode.

Thompson had already commandeered the railed-off square of floor that passes for the Emerald's stage as we slid through the back door and tried to look like we were all just coming back from the bathroom at the same time, or something. Shirtless and sporting a cocked baseball cap, shades and some sort of feather boa thingie, the buff, tattooed singer and his semi-Afro'ed percussionist ran through a long, throng-pleasing set of upbeat originals and funk and soul covers. The whole thing would've been ridiculously funny - in a defiantly Lenny Kravitz-channeling sort of way - had it not been for the fact that both players, goofy or no, are obviously talented.

After a lengthy interval, McGrady launched into a batch of rootsier fare. His presence and style was the polar opposite of Thompson's: intimate and gritty. It made for compelling atmosphere, but full immersion was hampered by both the patrons' constant conversational roar, and a pall of cigarette smoke thick enough to draw complaints from the most black-lunged drinkers.

We headed to infamous Fourth Street dive Brandy's, where we thought we were gonna get karaoke, but were instead treated to two thick, inebriated women upstaging the Southern rock band by attempting to beat the shit out of one another …

Saturday night found me solo at the pirate-themed Ybor City watering hole Gaspar's Grotto, where proprietor Eric Schiller (he of the entertaining scallywag e-mails and the drive to ban those under 21 from the district's bars) and his comely crew were trying to turn the Johnny Depp vehicle Pirates of the Caribbean into this decade's Rocky Horror Picture Show. Forty or 50 regulars - many of whom, like the staff, were decked out in booty-pillaging garb - gamely joined in at first, ringing bells and hollering at key points and phrases.

But by the time Captain Jack Sparrow found a crew for his stolen Interceptor on Tortuga, most fans had become too infatuated with the images on the wall of TVs, and the various costumes drifting about, to play along. It was a good time, though, with a great movie and an idea that uninhibited bar-goers looking for something different should get behind.

Hell, let's do The Cell at Masquerade and that wonderfully reprehensible Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula at The Castle. The mind reels with interesting, associative drink specials …

Sunday brought naught but post-Moving Day aches, a cat trapped under the old back porch, and a stunningly early pre-midnight bedtime, so I could get a gander at Monday morning's auditions for The Amazing Race, being held at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

The Amazing Race is one of reality television's more readily watchable offerings, for both its myriad exotic locales and its consistently eclectic lineup of contestants, which always ranges from "eminently likeable" to "I hope you die." What's more, its grueling, globe-spanning, multi-tasking format generally precludes having wannabe actors (Big Brother is easier), felons (passports and visas are a problem) and outright morons (who couldn't find the planes, or the countries the planes are in) as entrants. There's a sense of, well, reality to The Amazing Race's competitors that's seriously lacking in so many of the genre's other programs.

What struck me most readily when I hit the Hard Rock's ballroom a little after 9 a.m. on Monday was the sheer normality of most of the maybe 75 pairs of folks - some of whom spent the night wandering the casino, killing time until the morning - I saw waiting in line to sign up for an audition. No Wiccan couples in hemp robes. No guys with facial tattoos and multiple piercings trailed by quiet girls with jet-black hair and stockings on their arms. Nobody came dressed in that horse costume that requires two people.

The crowd of average, alert and overwhelmingly white folks ranged from college-age friends to middle-age couples, from smiling, laid-back women to antsy, anxious men, from trim and tanned to the opposite of that. It was not, however, the gaggle of attention-starved yay-hoos that one usually associates with this type of cattle call, the ones who've worked so hard to display their individuality that they're completely unbelievable as real people.

They were just regular Americans, moving from line to line and filling out the forms handed them, waiting to sit in front of a camera and explain why they'd be perfect for The Amazing Race, in the hope that they'll end up traveling the world on national TV.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty spectacular.

"Hollywood Dave" Wright, who with his band the Hotheads was a fixture on the Bay area beach-bar scene, died in his sleep on Sat., July 16. He was 49. Ricky T's (10601 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island, 727-363-7425), will hold a public memorial service for the popular, larger-than-life entertainer this coming Saturday, July 23, starting at 3 p.m. There will be a big tent behind the bar, free food and a stage where people can get up and talk about Dave. Many of the area's top musicians are expected to perform in tribute, as well.

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