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WCVE-TV 23 turns the spotlight on local musicians with "The Music Seen." 

Seen and Heard

The buzz surrounding WCVE-TV's "The Music Seen" is promising. Take some of the area's best bands, interview the players, put them in front of a live audience for a couple of nights, set up cameras and lights, tape the show and air the results on the tube. Not only does it give deserved exposure to some talented musicians, but it also appeals to a younger audience and broadens PBS' demographics. I wondered how the plan would come together when I headed out to the taping last month. And now that I've seen the live side of it, I'm even more curious to see how the show translates to the small screen when the first round of gigs airs as a one-hour broadcast Thursday, Oct. 26, at 10 p.m.

The first night's filming at Shockoe Bottom's Canal Club takes place on an unseasonably chilly September evening. A smallish but decent crowd of 21-year-old college couples, hippie chicks, older North Side neighborhood folks and young professional types fills the venue as the WCVE crew puts last-minute details in place.

There's anticipation in the trailer outside where Producer Mason Mills, Executive Producer John Felton and WCVE technicians sit in a cramped portable studio waiting to do their part behind the scenes. Banks of small television screens are in place, and the team readies to listen to the audio, choose camera angles and take the preliminary steps toward shaping a product. Mills is the director and he's jazzed about the project. A part-time musician himself, he chose the six bands for this show and says he hopes this is the first of many similar events. "In Virginia we have so much music, so many kinds," he says, "I want to hit a bunch of regions…anywhere in Virginia."

About 8 p.m., film starts to roll, and master of ceremonies Steve Douglas from Plan 9 and Planetary Records ambles on stage. He urges the crowd of 75 or so to move close to the stage and, for mercy sake, please turn off those cell phones.

The Janet Martin Band, the night's first act, plugs in and cranks up. A longtime area favorite, Martin shows why she's a total entertainment package, and her fine band is in top form. Bass player Mic Mueller slips Martin her guitar slide between beats and the group is hitting on all cylinders. The band ends its 25-minute set with a rock 'n' roll roar that sets high standards for following acts.

"I think this is a really great idea for all the great bands that can't be heard," Martin says after the show. "I was very flattered they asked me and very excited to be a part of it."

After some down time to move equipment, 18-year-old Charlottesville singer-songwriter Devon starts her solo show. She's an edgy, waiflike presence who sings romanticized songs about tough times. It takes a couple of tunes, but by the end of her set the young girl's intensity is impressive As she packs up her guitar, she says she tried not to think about the recording or the cameras too much. She also hopes her new shiny red shoes are captured on film. "I'm really excited about these shoes," she gushes.

With two acts down and all running smoothly, WCVE engineer Darryl Baker has time to sit down and relax. Executive producer Felton says this is a good sign: "He's the barometer of how everything is going."

And as the Hogwaller Ramblers take the stage, all is well. Some fans have come in from Charlottesville with them, and the band's rocked-up, hoedown mountain music puts extra diversity in the lineup. As the Hogwaller boys raise a ruckus onstage, producer Mills is the animated conductor of a multiscreen symphony inside the production trailer. Unfortunately, guitar strings break and there's some amplifier buzz, but the television folks take it all in stride. There may be too much going on logistically and instrumentally onstage, but on-screen it's an orderly world.

The evening is deemed a success, and the television crew looks forward to the following night when the Ululating Mummies, the Waking Hours and Dragstrip Syndicate perform.

Out in the parking lot, Joe Sheets of In Your Ear recording studio climbs out of a sound truck. He's just recorded the show and says there are about five hours of mixing ahead before the audio is put in-synch with the video. "It's a simple process," he explains. "It just takes a s—tload of gear and people to make it happen."

It does take a load of cooperation to make "The Music Seen." But if audiences and WCVE are pleased with the outcome, this and other similar efforts could give a huge boost to local and regional musicians. Producer Mills is optimistic.

"We have this energy now…," he says. "There's no kind of music we should
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