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Controversy erupts over criticism of St. Louis music event, An Under Cover Weekend [Opinion]

Disclaimer: This piece is the opinion of Scott Allen and does not necessarily the represent the views of the other writers at 3 Minute Record.By Scott Allen

This morning the Riverfront Times Music page posted a story that outlined some criticisms of An Under Cover Weekend, the two-day music extravaganza where St. Louis bands cover well established artists in a 30-minute tribute set. The story sent the St. Louis music scene into a buzz. Social media, pardon the pun, was atwitter.

After the initial tweet from @RFTMusic promoting the story I took to Twitter with a response:

Twitter screenshot
Twitter screenshot

After receiving some text messages about my tweet I decided to clarify my position.  Now, I have a few points that I would like to discuss.

First, I would like to applaud the writer for her take. To go out there on a limb and state your opinion on something takes guts and Jamie Lees showed she has those in spades. This is the United States of America and the Bill of Rights guarantees that we have the Freedom of Speech. Lees is a writer that contributes to the Riverfront Times and it’s her right to state how she feels on an issue.

While I don’t know Ms. Lees, I do know the organizer of An Under Cover Weekend, Michael Tomko. He is a personable, kind person that would do anything for anyone in the St. Louis music scene. A natural-born promoter with a wide smile an unmatched enthusiasm, Tomko curates creatively organized events such as the Indie Rock Ice Cream Social and An Under Cover Weekend that bring music lovers out to shows with a sense of fun and genuine camaraderie. People leave these events with big smiles on their faces and Tomko can go home knowing that he did a good job in promoting the event.

Last year I met with Tomko at a St. Louis bar to discuss his plans for An Under Cover Weekend. We sat down and got to know each other having never met in person. Eventually, he discussed his plans and I found him very organized and clear in his vision. He asked me to join in doing a couple of interviews of bands for the event and I immediately agreed. Later I got the chance to sit down with the members of Via Dove and Troubadour Dali and met many more St. Louis musicians in the process.  Those interviews were great experiences and are some of the most read posts on this blog.

Some readers may take issue with Ms. Lees herself for writing such an article. Surely she knew that there would be some sort of backlash to her words and was therefore must be willing to receive it back in kind. One issue seems to be from the advertisement of the shows. Lees writes, “The AUCW shows are being promoted online ad nauseum. It's smart business to advertise your show in any way possible, but the AUCW crew has gone into over-saturation mode, and it's enough to make me want to skip the show in protest.” In this economy and with many possessing a short attention span, the promoters need to push shows hard and do what they must to fill up a venue and get people standing in front of the stage. If she doesn’t like her social media feeds filling up with links advertising the show she could unfollow until the event was over and start-up again later. However, if she has a personal beef with Tomko, Lees needed to address that directly to him and not via an article.

The biggest issues that Lees seemed to have with An Under Cover Weekend was with what she called “better cover show events” and “self-congratulatory videos.”  Her take on other cover show events is subjective at best. This seemed like a music scene feud between the ultra-cool hipsters on Cherokee St. and Tomko’s choice of bands and the acts they were covering. In the past, Tomko has told me personally that he wanted to get more people in the whole St. Louis region out to an event like An Under Cover Weekend to demonstrate that there are music venues in the city that showcase great music nearly all week. As a musician friend of mine pointed out - people who bitch and moan that promoters are working events too hard are jealous they aren’t doing it or don’t have the contacts and talent to do as good of a job.

Lees continues her critique on the “self-congratulatory videos” when she writes,” I'm not sure what they add to the experience. We just want to go to the show and have a good time.” The videos show that the bands are determined to bring the concert-goer their best impression of the band they are representing. Rather than just covers, most bands want to transform into the band they are honoring with the covers. Furthermore, her slam on these videos demeans Tomko’s sense of history of the event and the fine work being done by local artists to capture these videos themselves. The St. Louis music scene has a great group of talented people behind the scenes to document what happens all year in the clubs and venues. From writers, photographers and videographers to club owners and promoters to sound engineers and producers, St. Louis is lucky to have a dedicated group of people who love music and want to share it with the masses.

Others inside the St. Louis music scene may criticize RFT Music Editor Kiernan Maletsky for running such a piece on the day the event begins, but I can’t take that side. From the point of view of the RFT this piece takes a side and that creates page views, which in turn creates ad revenue. As editor, Maletsky’s job is running a business and page view counts are very important to an online weekly that is owned as part of a national chain of independent newspapers. His other job is to present pieces that will stir discussion on a topic. Sometimes things become stale and a little controversy to stir the pot is a good thing. We can discuss the topics brought up in the article and grow as individuals and groups.

One point where I think people in St. Louis get caught up is in the criticism itself. The citizens of St. Louis are generally nice people who don’t have harsh words for anyone. People from the coasts travel to the Midwest and remark how everyone is so nice here and how they received great hospitality. When someone is doing something to promote the general good and receives backlash, the citizens rally around that person and attack the attacker.  Let’s be frank though - if we were in Boston, New York,  Chicago or even Los Angeles, someone with a snarky opinion would have put fingers to keyboard years ago and the callouses would have built up by now. However, Tomko is one of the nice guys and I can see where feelings were hurt and I’m sorry if my initial tweet added to those hurt feelings.

There are several people, myself included in that group, who will side with Tomko and what he is doing with music events in St. Louis. One of my oldest friends, Christian Powell, guitarist for Heroes of the Kingdom and Ring, Cicada, chimed in with a comment to my tweet on Facebook, “Want to know why great touring bands are beginning to come back to STL? It’s because the people putting on AUCW are bringing them here, established a great venue, and are doing all-ages shows for music fans. This is their weekend to just go to a show and have a good time.” I concur. To contrast the 1990s, the St. Louis music scene here is much more vibrant and strong today and has potential to keep growing and become more of a national destination rather than a pass thru city.

Personally, I plan to attend the first night of An Under Cover Weekend tonight at The Firebird (2706 Olive St.) and plunk down my money just like everyone else. I would encourage the local readers of this blog to do the same. In my opinion one story published on the day of the show will not affect the attendance of the event at all. If Ms. Lees does decide to stay home this weekend in protest then she might miss some great performances from a group of hard-working local bands and then again she might not, but overall I guarantee that group of 200 to 400 St. Louis music fans will have a good time.

Epilogue -

Upon the suggestion of a friend I have officially started my own personal Twitter feed away from the official 3 Minute Record feed.  If you consider me your friend and would like to follow me there in a capacity where all opinions are my own then I would welcome you do to so. Follow me on Twitter @ScottCAllen.