The Envelope Please

Despite poor planning, local musicians win with the Florida Music Awards

"I had a friend who castrated himself," goes one Emo Phillips joke. "I didn't think he could pull it off." Hopes were similarly low for Wayne Koss, promoter of the beleaguered Florida Music Awards, which two weeks ago looked unlikely to happen at all. But happen it did, on Tuesday, May 21, at the Chili Pepper, against the momentum of bad planning that seemed determined to derail it.

First, Koss planned to hold the awards ceremony May 14 at the new Harbor Grille in Dania Beach. Given the venue's success with silver-coiffed white-guy acts like Firefall, Koss's venture, which was to have been headlined by former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts and current Jimmy Buffett guitarist Peter Mayer, should have fit in perfectly.

"[Koss] started a rumor that Jimmy Buffett was going to be there to accept an award," says Harbor Grille owner Neil Zucker. "But Jimmy Buffett wasn't going to be there -- he was going to be in Nashville. And it went downhill from there." Zucker adds that the venue would have been happy to have held the awards showcase had Koss presented contracts, a method to sell tickets, or plans regarding seating, sound, riders, and the like. "The nitty gritty is what he lacks," continues Zucker. "I always have to get a warm fuzzy that I'm going to sell tickets before I'm going to consider putting an act on." With Koss's event, Zucker confirms, that fuzzy never wuzzied.

So Koss decided to move the awards ceremony to the Chili Pepper on May 21, at the same time it became clear that his headliners weren't going to be performing anywhere near Fort Lauderdale. "It all just fell apart," Koss says of his negotiations to snag Betts and Mayer. "They never sent us a press kit or photos. And the numbers were all wrong." He then blamed the Harbor Grille for not making plans for extra parking or bathrooms -- arrangements for which Koss, as the promoter, was responsible, Zucker charges.

According to Steve Lassiter from APA of Nashville, Tennessee, who handles bookings for Betts, the guitarist was scheduled to come down and play. "But required with any booking we do is a contract that has to come back with a deposit," he explains. "And I never got that. I checked with folks at the Harbor Grille, and they had washed their hands of it. I gave Wayne Koss every opportunity to make this right. Being that it was the Florida Music Awards, I was even more patient with him. We were willing to bear with him, so to speak, and he kept giving excuse after excuse. So I talked to Dickey and said, 'Don't even bother going south.'" By then, Koss had rescheduled the show for the following week at the Chili Pepper and again tried to book Betts. "And I said, 'Wayne, that's fine -- you can do whatever you want, but we're not coming. We juggled Dickey's tour schedule to accommodate this, and you breached the agreement. At this point, we just can't come.'" Lassiter says Koss then offered to pay a 100 percent deposit, instead of the required 50 percent, to secure Betts. "I said, 'Upon our receipt of that, we'll come down,'" Lassiter claims. "And I never heard from him again. We see these kind of guys here and there. I don't really think he knew what he was getting himself into."

So, Koss was left with a rescheduled date and a slimmed-fast roster and was forced to halve his ticket prices (at one point, he thought he could charge $100 for VIP passes -- for Dickey Betts). Instead of national draws, he decided to carry on with the Sage Moulin Rouge Dancers, Bill Wharton the Sauce Boss, Miami rock master Derek Cintron, and Beatles tribute act Hello Goodbye, who play weekly at the George & Dragon British Pub. But as the show drew near, only Cintron remained committed.

"It's not at all the grandiose dreams he had for this thing," laughs Harbor Grille special events coordinator Mike Russell. "He said [Creed frontman] Scott Stapp was going to come and do an acoustic set!"

"The guy screwed us," complains Ruth Wharton, wife of the spicy Sauce Boss. "[Koss] was supposed to send back contracts and a deposit by a certain date. The contracts never came, and he never answered the phone."

It's well-known around these parts that the Sauce Boss will play anywhere, anytime if the money's right. So his cancellation was bad omen enough, but the Fort Lauderdale-based Hello Goodbye's ta-ta seemed even more surprising. If Koss couldn't pull even second-tier cover bands to his first Florida Music Awards, did he stand a slug's chance in a salt mine of actually making the event happen at all?

Somehow, against all odds (Phil Collins's bald pate probably had a better chance of filling in overnight), Koss refused to give up and the awards went on as promised. Only a hundred people, tops, made it to the Chili Pepper, but groups performed, awards were given, hands were clapped -- it almost seemed like a bona fide ceremony. Of course, no one Bandwidth spoke to regarding the event had seen a ballot or ballot box prior to the nominations, and the selections seemed peculiarly skewed toward South Florida acts, but it was hard to argue with the nominees or winners.

"Some of the musicians coming tonight are bigger and better than Britney Spears," Koss nervously stammered during the awards presentation. "Make sure when you clap that it's with authority, because these people deserve these awards!"

I guess after years of feeling underappreciated, Koss's strange display of affection was better than nothing for the participants. "It's so nice to see we're finally officiated by somebody," beamed singer Juanita Dixon, accepting her award for best female vocalist. Derek Cintron blew a kiss to his mom as he and his bandmates grabbed their trophy for best hard-rock artist, but problems with the sound equipment, he told Bandwidth, kept them from performing. Not sure what to expect, the smiling, shell-shocked Psycho Daisies -- winners of the pop/rock award -- emerged from retirement for a collective back-patting.

In short, it felt like the musical contributions made here were finally legitimized, even under circumstances as sketchy as these. And that felt good -- something everyone wants to see continue. "I was so excited, because it sounded like a really good idea," remembers Ruth Wharton. Actually, it's a great idea, and it's hard to imagine that Koss could have emerged from this year's experience without collecting a whole sack of suggestions on what not to do for next year. But he should take credit for making that night happen at all, especially when nearly every observer was waiting for the worst.

"I wouldn't recommend anybody doing an awards show," winces Jim Hayward, who ran the region's hard-rock-oriented Slammie Awards from 1992 until 1999. "You really have to know what you're doing."

Koss, who clearly didn't know what he was doing, says he's had experience with a small East Coast music award showcase a few years back. Maybe his previous attempts fared better than his Florida Music Awards, but at least he has a whole year in which to make improvements. In retrospect, the last-minute cancellation of the so-called big names just served to better illuminate hard-working talents close to home, even if some of them included teen-pop heroine TMarie and cruise-ship jazzsters Davis and Dow. Koss can make his ballots conspicuously public next time, focus strictly on our portion of the state, and look into the definitions of the terms catering, back line, monitors, and such in an effort to make next year's Florida Music Awards less likely to lack legitimacy.

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