According to just about everyone involved, Alex Lozano's Washington Avenue 420 Music Fest went pretty well, from a musical standpoint. About 300 people bought wristbands, and perhaps an equal number of band members and hangers-on braved the rain and the fact that it was Easter Sunday to revel in music and fragrant clouds of smoke at the event, which was billed as benefiting the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"It was the best event I've ever had with Alex," said one local musician who's been on several other Lozano bills. "Nothing went wrong."
Until the show ended. That was when, as the musician put it, "Alex completely fucked NORML."
According to Houston NORML president Dean Becker, the trouble started around 11. He and promoter Herman Garcia, the original mastermind behind the fest, had just taken a preliminary count of the receipts at two of the fest venues -- the Rhythm Room and the Warehouse -- and had returned to count the money at the Pamland Central club cluster of Silky's, Fat Cat's and Walter's. Then Lozano showed up.
"He's saying, 'Well, y'all weren't taking in all the money y'all should have. I saw a couple of people in here without wristbands, and I'm losing money right and left,' " remembers Becker. "So he just seizes the opportunity. He just grabbed the money and stuffed it in his pocket and said, 'Well, y'all ain't gettin' shit,' basically."
In fact, Lozano told Becker that NORML owed him money. Becker scoffs, "We had about 12 people out there volunteering -- manning the doors and stuff like that. About 200 man-hours. But he's like, 'That's my money.'"
The argument got heated. "I said, 'Look, Alex, we just want our 30 percent. That was the deal.' And he said, 'Well, y'all didn't provide anything anyway. You didn't do anything to help this.' "
Becker countered that he had promoted the show and bands on KPFT, the station that carries his 420 Drug War spots, and even had some of the bands in-studio on his biweekly one-hour show. Becker also promoted the show once on KLOL. "We did help, but that's beside the point," Becker says. "We were supposed to get our 30 percent no matter if we did nothing. Thirty percent of the door and whatever we raised off the guitar we raffled -- that was the gentlemen's agreement I had with Garcia, and I realize that's probably not gonna stand up in court."
According to Becker, Lozano also took the guitar with him before it could be raffled. "It was supposed to be raffled at $10 a shot," Becker says. "We had about $150, $160. Lozano took the guitar with him. We couldn't raffle the guitar and we had to refund the money."
Becker won't be taking the matter to court. Luckily, during the argument that Sunday night, a quick-thinking if forgetful NORML volunteer stashed an envelope containing about $200 of receipts in an ice chest, and that money was found Monday night at a NORML meeting. Becker also told Racket that Garcia -- who had brought Lozano on board after shaking hands with Becker -- had paid NORML his half of the 30 percent and even offered to pay the entire amount. (Becker declined to accept this offer and took half instead.) He also says that Garcia sent an open letter to NORML in which he stated that Lozano had "cut him out" of the deal, apologized to the organization for bringing Lozano on board and vowed that he will never work with Lozano again.
"I hope to do this again next year," Garcia says. "But I will definitely be more careful about who I partner up with."
Nobody's claiming that the event turned a profit. But evidently both Garcia and Becker understood that NORML would get 30 percent of the gross, not 30 percent of the net. "I thought about this all day Monday, and what I decided was this: An agreement's an agreement -- it doesn't matter if the event loses money or not," Garcia says. "I've got to pay what I agreed to pay."
Lozano doesn't see it that way. After all, the agreement, such as it was, was between Becker and Garcia. "My attorneys say he can just bring it on," Lozano chuckles. "I didn't sign nothing with that guy at all. I never said anything about giving them 30 percent of the door. Everybody knows, unless you're an idiot, that the first thing you take care of is the cost of production. Talk to Carolyn Farb, talk to any 501(c)(3)."
On learning that Garcia had decided to pay NORML, Lozano was flabbergasted. "Herman's gonna pay that guy?" he asked. "I hope not, man. He's just caving. That's blackmail. Becker wanted $600 -- you know that's exactly what a pound of weed costs."
(Not so, notes Becker. "Weed's free if you've got a seed," he chuckles.)
But what about the guitar that went unraffled? A raffle, as it is traditionally understood, is not contingent on tickets sold. "Yeah, yeah -- they gave all the money back, bro. How can we give away a guitar if they gave back all the money for the raffle tickets?"
Maybe because Lozano had already left with the guitar? "That's a lie," Lozano says. "A straight-up lie." But why would NORML just give away the money? A hundred and fifty bucks is 150 bucks, after all. "I don't know," Lozano answers. "To fuck me up, I guess."
But Lozano clearly wasn't happy with the way the raffle was going. "It was, like, 15 tickets sold for a $1,500 guitar." (Actually, a similar guitar was for sale online for $350 at www.madmattsmusic.com/2108.htm, and a Rockin' Robin guitar shop employee told racket he would sell the same guitar for $250.)
Question him enough about the guitar and Lozano launches into a jumbled rant about NORML's lax door management. "See, dude, Becker's the beneficiary of it -- I made the fuckin' mistake of letting their people take the door. I wanted to step away from it. I was going, 'Herman, quick, get the money from the Rhythm Room and the Warehouse!' They took the money from Walter's I've got tons of witnesses that'll say When I got them to do their head count, I said, 'All I'm asking is for you guys to [stay] late.' And this guy who's the vice president of NORML who is in a wheelchair or whatever, when I came and talked to him and said, 'Okay, which one of you guys watched the door?' he looked at me like I was hooked on phonics. He goes, 'I just heard about this just a couple of days ago.' "
So there's your answer. In a nutshell, the guitar went unraffled because the handicapped vice prez of NORML found out about the show late, and so they handed back all the money, and some Nigerian guy was gonna give me $40 billion out of Idi Amin's frozen account. Or something like that.
Meanwhile, Lozano's off to the races again. He says that NORML has had a "hard-on" for him ever since he called into Becker's radio show about a month ago and asked his guest -- former Dallas Cowboy all-pro/current Texas NORML president Mark Stepnoski -- why the organization, or Stepnoski himself, hadn't kicked in some moolah toward the Houston 420 fest. "He's a famous Cowboy, and I'm pretty sure he's a millionaire," he says. "What's up? What's wrong with Houston?
"I'm pretty sure that's why Becker doesn't like me," Lozano continues. (For his part, Becker says he barely remembers the exchange. "It was like a fly buzzing around the studio," he recalls. "Some guy calls in and asks for money ")
As for Garcia deciding to settle up, Lozano attributes it to naïveté. "He's one of the sweetest guys in the music business. I told him from right off the bat: I don't mind being the bad guy. I piss people off all the time just for speaking my mind -- it's my constitutional right. Anyway, Herman's only been in the business two and a half years -- he's not a veteran like myself. But it's only me and him and maybe a couple of other people who give a shit about Houston music."
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Lozano is deeply worried that Racket might give him some bad press. After all, Lozano is in it for local music and worthy causes. If his name is sullied, he says, nobody "will be out there buying PlayStations for poor kids." He also tells Racket that I had better have my facts straight, and mentions how he once frightened one of Racket's predecessors -- one who branded Lozano the "self-anointed champion of good causes" -- by coming up behind him at Dan Electro's and roaring out his name. "He just shit in his pants, man," he laughs.
Becker says he experienced some of Lozano's intimidation tactics in his war of words after the fest. "I asked Alex if he wanted a bad name in this community. I asked him if he was gonna work in productions and if this was gonna help him. NORML's a 501(c)(3) charity, and people are really starting to adopt us."
Then, Becker says, Lozano started puffing out his chest and making his right hand in a fist. "I'm about five-ten and 170 pounds, and he's a big guy -- I'm not about to try to take some money out of his pocket. And he had one guy with him that was bigger than him and another guy almost as big, both standing about five or six feet behind him."
Fortunately, they didn't come to blows, but that's about the only thing fortunate in this rock and roll deal gone bad. "I admit I should have looked at this harder, but I believe in the nobility of human beings," Becker says. "I made a big mistake." Then he sighs, "Once again, the potheads are getting ripped off. Everybody loves potheads because they're so easy to rip off."