Earlier this week, MTV finally announced that "$5 Cover Seattle"--the Lynn Shelton-directed docudrama about one weekend and 13 bands in the Seattle music scene--would begin airing as web series on December 15. According to the show's blog, the series, which was filmed back in summer of 2009, is supposed to "showcase Seattle's unique music scene." There's two minor problems with this description. First, "$5 Cover" is a semi-scripted drama where musicians are actually playing themselves as characters, so it's more like reality TV than a completely truthful look at the scene. (As Shelton told the Seattle PI last year, the stories were "inspired" by the musician's lives and some actors were used.)
Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the series, though--it received a standing ovation when it premiered in Seattle in March--the pseudo-reality aspect seems to work. Plus, those added moments of fictional drama probably better string together the "narrative threads" that Shelton designed the series around. But there's another issue with "$5 Cover Seattle" that's harder to rationalize in the name of strong storylines.
It's been nearly 18 months since the series was filmed and, watching the trailer now, it feels dated. "$5 Cover Seattle" is no longer a clear picture of what's happening in Seattle's music scene right now. For one, Weekend--Ryann Donnelly's project with Mark Gajadhar--is featured prominently, but the band barely exists in Seattle anymore, since Donnelly moved to New York this summer and took the name with her. And there's the Moondoggies: back in 2009, the band was still riding high on the success of its first album; since then, they've released the very different and more mature Tidelands, which could signal a less accessible and popular sound.
Finally, there's what "$5 Cover" doesn't show: any of the debuts to and changes within the Seattle music scene in the past year. There's the fast and furious rise of bands like The Head and the Heart, one of the bigger stories to come out of the local scene this year. What about Sub Pop's signing of the much-lauded Shabazz Palaces, the reunion of Carissa's Weird, or even the opening of the Columbia City Theater? The past year also brought debuts from Fences and Perfume Genius, and the real-life stories of respective musicians Chris Mansfield and Mike Hadreas would make for compelling documentaries with no need for fictionalizing.
Maybe the biggest accomplishment of "$5 Cover Seattle" is revealing, inadvertently, how quickly things can change in this city's music scene. Up-and-comers become established acts, other bands move away, and last year's buzz becomes this year's fading background noise.