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Bash-ing the Bigwigs

Come Super Bowl week, you can still party downtown, even if you're not very important

As some of you may have heard, on February 1 there will be an athletic contest over at Reliant Stadium pitting the Carolina Panthers against the New England Patriots. The Super Bowl has never been known much for nuance or subtlety -- it's about as understated as a fire-red 30-foot-long Hummer with chrome rims -- and this year's model will be no exception. Houston's gonna be aswarm with corporate bigwigs, high-rolling gamblers, expensive call girls, rock and hip-hop stars, cross-toting Jesus freaks and junket-addled sportswriters trolling for free food and drink.

And most of them will be convening in clubs behind velvet ropes that almost none of us can afford to or will be allowed to cross. Wanna go to M Bar on Super Bowl Sunday and pester Steve McNair about all those goddamn penalties in the Patriots game, or ask Jay-Z how long he plans to stay "retired"? That's gonna set you back $150 for a peon ticket or $250 for a VIP ducat. (Or you could chill out at M Bar from Wednesday through Sunday -- which would give you the opportunity to mingle with Will Smith, Vivica Fox, Jada Smith, Cuttino Mobley and Tony Siragusa -- for a mere $825.) Wanna check out the "Super Bowl XXXVIII Big Texas Road Trip" at the (contradiction in terms alert) "Corporate Hospitality Village"? You gotta have tickets to the game -- and nobody with less money than Bob McNair has those. Or maybe you wanna chow down with the muckety-mucks at the "Super Bowl XXXVIII -- A Houston Salute" VIP reception and dinner. (There's more talk of VIPs and VIP rooms flying around than you'd hear on a Dirty South rap compilation.) That'll run you an even grand. Even the two-day Bud Bowl shindig -- featuring Tim McGraw, Cory Morrow, Staind and Jack Ingram -- is an invitation-only affair. Yes, you need to win an invite to see a "game" played by animated beer bottles…

So much for the VIP action. But where does that leave all of us who are merely "important" or who flat out don't matter at all? As it happens, there's an event for the rest of us: the five-day-long Super Bash, which runs from January 28 through February 1. Held in two of the approximately 70,000 downtown parking lots, the Super Bash is headlined by Sammy Hagar. (Who Racket is told does in fact refer to himself as "the Red Rocker." He actually leaves messages saying stuff like "Hey, this is the Red Rocker. Give me a call." Weird.) Rumors are swirling that there could be a Hagar-Van Halen reunion at this show, as for the first time in years Hagar and the Van Halen brothers are on speaking terms.

There's something for everybody on the Super Bash bill, which with its collision of genres and sheer size reminds Racket of the Press Music Awards, with a national twist. There are all kinds of odd stage-sharing juxtapositions: Deana "Strawberry Wine" Carter and Blue October; classic country cats BR5-49 and former Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell; honky-tonker Dale Watson and local dancehall/hip-hop outfit Dubtex. Better Than Ezra, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Los Lonely Boys, the Burden Brothers, the Gourds, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly, Moses Guest, Jesse Dayton and Vallejo are also on the bill, as are dozens of others, including unfortunate choices F.Co. and Pilot Radio.

"It's something the community needs and deserves," says Jeff Messina of Super Bash organizer/promoters the Messina Group. "The majority of the dance clubs in downtown Houston are having private events, but we're taking care of our local people. We're having this huge party for 20 bucks a night." (Some of the proceeds are earmarked for the Downtown Entertainment District Alliance, a nonprofit group that is striving to make downtown more like Austin's Sixth Street or Dallas's Deep Ellum.)

The Messina Group is one of the newest and already one of the biggest concert promoters in town. To call it new is somewhat inaccurate, as the outfit is headed by Jeff's father, Louis Messina, who founded Pace Concerts almost 30 years ago. (Pace's local highlights included the yearly Texxas Jams, which were later immortalized in Beavis and Butt-head.) Pace was later swallowed whole by SFX, which was in turn devoured by Clear Channel Entertainment. For a time, both Jeff and Louis Messina worked together for the Evil Empire, but Louis left Clear Channel in April 2001 and sat out a two-year noncompete clause, during which time he was allowed to promote shows by four and only four artists -- which sounds like it might make for some lean times chez Louis, until you hear that those four artists were George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney.

Meanwhile, Jeff was -- among other things -- Clear Channel's man in the nightclub trenches, the guy who handled the shows at places like the Engine Room and the Rhythm Room. When his father's noncompete expired, Jeff hustled over. There's more at play than just working for Dad -- you get the impression that Jeff would rather have his current job even if the Messina Group were run by a total stranger. While he has a lot of respect for individual Clear Channel employees, the same can't be said of his views about the company as a whole. "It's hard to run a concert business like a Fortune 500 company," he says. "It shouldn't take ten signatures to do one club show. It should be a very fast process. I was losing my passion over there."

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