Under the Spotlight

Under the Spotlight

MHz Networks and Austin Grill team up to spotlight local music.

It begins with footage of a band setting up their equipment in a large, curtain-decorated studio. The light fades to black and a spotlight appears, opening up on a group of musicians poised to perform. Fog fills the air, lights play off the gestured rockers and an in-depth look at the music ensues. This isn't a re-run of VH1 storytellers — it's a brand new television program devised by MHz Networks and Austin Grill titled "MHz Spotlight", which showcases a local band each week during an intimate 30 minute segment.

"You've got 30 minutes of music, interspersed with interviews with the artists," said Ann Williams, Station Manager at MHz Networks. "It's super casual and simple but it's clean and does a really good job of letting the artists get the music out there and say whatever it is on their mind."

WHAT IS SLATED TO DEBUT this Friday, June 2 at 8 p.m. on MHz — Comcast Channel 14 and Cox Channel 6 — "MHz Spotlight" was created to bring recognition to local musicians, adding to the growing support seen with events like DC 101's "Battle of the Bands" and the Six Points Music Festival.

"There are a lot of reasons to do it," said Chris Patterson, President and Chief Operating Officer at Austin Grill. "Obviously one — we would like to gain more exposure in the market place. At the same time, it goes back to Austin Grill's commitment to our neighborhood and community we live in. That happens to be the local music scene and we are giving them a leg up."

According to Patterson, the partnership between the restaurant and MHz "seems like a natural fit." Relating the show to "Austin City Limits," which is legendary for spotlighting famous country-western acts in a performance and interview, Patterson is excited about the opportunity "Spotlight" gives local bands to showcase their music and personalities.

"What we try and do is rather than have a band play for half and hour, give a little insight to the band," he said. "You get to know them as people and not just their music."

Already having recorded three of the upcoming episodes featuring local singer-songwriters at Austin Grill's Silver Spring location, the restaurant is the acting sponsor of the show, underwriting the costs of production. According to Patterson the cost of sponsoring the show "wasn't cheap, but we found it affordable."

WITH A SEASON of 14 episodes projected to run every Friday, the list of performers slated to air includes the season premiere with local band Monopoli, followed by episodes with Hotspur, Washington Social Club, Leaving TX., The Bicycle Thieves, a singer-songwriter showcase and Meredith Bragg and the Terminals — the majority of which were recorded at the MHz studio in Merrifield.

"It was a really fun time," said Meredith Bragg. "It's not every day you get to set up into a really large studio with fog machines and lights."

According to Bragg, whose band just released an EP in March titled "The Departures", their time in the studio was rushed by one band-member's need to return to work, but in all, it was an enjoyable experience with "rock-star" perks.

"It was the first time I had a really great 'green room'," he said. "They had sandwiches and coffee. I felt like a much bigger star than I ever felt."

But even though the recording went off without a hitch, Bragg is still a bit nervous about how it will turn out on the television.

"I was backpacking around in Australia and New Zealand and hadn't picked up a guitar or sung in weeks," he said. "I'm pretty apprehensive about it. I felt very rusty."

But as he admitted, "I'm pretty critical about what I do."

WITH A HANDFUL OF EPISODES in the bag, "MHz Spotlight" will be joining a program schedule that tackles international travel, world cultural news, Australian Rules Football and "MHz Presents", which features live performances and interviews by nationally and internationally touring bands.

"MHz has been producing live music for quite some time," said Williams. "We focused a long time on national and international acts."

But with the addition of a local live music show, one would think that the staff at MHz would be overwhelmed — Williams sees it in a different light.

"Surprisingly, most of the people involved in the show are really interested in music outside of work so we haven't really had a whole lot of challenges," she said. "It's been freakishly easy."

Set to air this Friday, "MHz Spotlight" will usher in a new attempt to expose people to the growing local music scene. Set to air at 8 p.m. on Friday nights, Bragg believes that this might act as a motivational device to get people to go to the shows.

"There are very few rock shows that start before 10 o'clock," he said. "They [the viewers] are getting ready. Maybe the show is about getting ready and being excited about going out to see music."

With the line-up of performers that rank at the top of the list in the local music scene, Williams is confident that they are presenting a solid line-up.

"We have done a whole lot of research. We were trying to find a good variety — anything from indie rock to bluegrassy, alt-country sound to ska," she said. "We try to mix it up but obviously we were looking for the highest quality performers we could find — luckily we were in DC."