Dreaming the Impossible Dream
They say that the most segregated hour in America is noon on Sunday, and that old saw holds as true in Houston as it does elsewhere, but here, midnight on Saturday runs a close second. For the most part, the multitude of races that call this city home go their separate ways to play as well as worship.
Local producer/manager Alex DiSaggio has set out to change all that with his 4/20 Music Fest April 19 at the International Ballroom. The all-ages event, which kicks off at 4:20 p.m. and ends a full 12 hours later, will feature a split bill of local rock acts, including Astra Heights, Infinity's Twin, I.O., Naked Content, Overshot, Savile, Tin Henry and Valentino and an equal number of rap acts, including Big Tyme and Reign, CeStyle, Darque-Seed, Dank Dasterdly, Run Yo Mouf, Spanish Armada, Southcoast Productions and Mary Jane. Miz Bellah (R&B), Major Riley (reggae), DJ Clear (electronica) and Kit Likwid (acid trance/progressive house) round out the bill.
"The flow of this is great," DiSaggio enthuses. "Each artist gets four tracks -- nobody's gonna get bored with anybody. We won't be having any slow songs -- they're all meant to get the crowd involved. I actually told all the bands to get the crowd involved on at least one song."
The band order is designed to segue seamlessly from one style to another as afternoon becomes evening and evening becomes the wee hours. "We're gonna start out with rock/ alternative stuff," says DiSaggio. "That's gonna be all-ages -- we're gonna have families out there for that part. Then we're gonna have programs that say, 'Parental advisory after 10:30.' That's when the hip-hop will come on -- light hip-hop at first so it blends together with the rock better, and later on we'll have the hard rap, and then a DJ for 30 minutes to close out the night."
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DiSaggio is a recent transplant from Miami, and he sounds the part. He talks fast, real fast. And long. During one of our interviews, he rattled on with missionary zeal for about half an hour almost uninterrupted. Trying to squeeze a few questions into his onrushing spiel was like trying turn back a ten-foot wave. He also looks the part, with silk Italian suits, slicked-back hair and a little gold around his neck.
"I'm a dime a dozen where I come from, but over here I stick out like a sore thumb," he says speaking of his attitude toward clubbing, but the statement could just as well be applied to his appearance.
Don't expect him to look like a South Beach playa at the fest, though. Instead, he'll be dressed as Willy Wonka. "We had to have a theme that all ages and races could relate to and smile about, and I thought to myself, Willy Wonka," he says. "It's very symbolic because he said, 'We are the dreamers who dream the dream.' Willy Wonka had his chocolate factory because he loves chocolate. Well, this is Alex DiSaggio and his music factory, because I love music. And the people are gonna enter into my music factory."
The Wonkadom doesn't end with DiSaggio in disguise. "The stagehands will be dressed up as Oompa Loompas," DiSaggio reveals. "So during that ten- to 12-minute set change, Willy Wonka's gonna be addressing the people while the Oompa Loompas are changing the set."
The text of these faux-Wonka messages will be one of racial harmony and e pluribus unum-style patriotism. (Indeed, DiSaggio chose to hold his event on the unofficial International Stoners Day because we're all, like, one nation under a spliff.) "I'm gonna be on stage saying things like, 'Look, you're all here together involved in a movement. Look at your neighbor -- there's a black man next to you, a white man, an Asian, a Hispanic and an Indian, and we're all here together for the music. And we're all here peacefully, and we're all here for America.' Especially at a time like this when there's a war going on, I think this is what the people need. I'm trying to show Houston what America is about. It's not about segregation -- it's about living together for one cause -- liberty and the pursuit of justice and happiness. If anyone were to get in a fight at this event they would just have to feel so stupid about themselves." (Especially after they get locked up. DiSaggio added that he will have tight security on hand for those who don't heed his words.)
The fest will also have some aspects of a trade show. Each of the acts will have a booth at the venue, where concertgoers -- DiSaggio is hoping each band will bring 100 people for a total of 3,000 -- can meet and greet the musicians and buy CDs.
DiSaggio claims that talent scouts from Warner Bros. and Columbia will be in attendance. "And I've invited people from Elektra and Atlantic, too. But just from the major ones. I'm not letting people from labels like Dope House and Swisha House in," he jokes. "I don't want them anywhere near these artists."
DiSaggio says the artists on the bill will feel like they're already signed when they're on stage. "It's a show," he explains. "For that 20 minutes that they are up there, they are gonna be stars. Nobody's going up there just to strictly perform. There's gonna be lights and smoke, and I'm talking to another guy about doing laser lights."
The fest is the culmination of DiSaggio's first ten months in Houston, a period in which he grew as frustrated by the way music business is done here as he was enchanted by the talent he found. DiSaggio moved to Houston last July, three months after graduating from Florida State University. "Since this was my new home, I hopped right into the club scene," he says. "I started meeting artists and trying to find the hottest artists in town that were not already on the radio."
The first thing DiSaggio noticed about the nightlife here was the disturbing segregation of it all. "When I would go to a hip-hop show, it would be all black people. The rock shows were all white people. It was very segregated, it was very targeted, it was very profiled, and it was very ridiculous.
"I told some veteran promoters here that this was crazy. Rap's one of the most popular styles of music out there. More than just black people like it, and the reverse is true, too. Not just white people like rock. So I told the promoters that, and they looked at me like I was reinventing the wheel or something. They said it was impossible, that it's just not done that way here, that this is Houston and that's the way it is. And I told them that it's only done that way here because you guys keep saying that."
By contrast, DiSaggio says that in Miami "a rainbow" of people attend a wide variety of shows. "There's no reason that things couldn't be like that here except for the way people think."
Not only is after-dark Houston racially segregated, DiSaggio contends, but it also discriminates against those older than 25. "Right now, the club scene is only for people 18 to 24," he says. "In Miami, people keep partying from 25 to 45 to 55 to 65, you know? They're out there partying, fuhgeddaboutit. You only have one life. Why stop? Houston's like once you turn 30 it's time to go home and sit on your patio for the rest of your life."
Thus the fest -- DiSaggio's first, and he hopes last, salvo in his attempt to "revolutionize" the way we go out. "I'm not a promoter, I'm a producer and a manager," he says. "I don't want to do this event ever again. I want people to see, hear and feel that this event took place, and I want them to copycat it as much as possible." And should a few copycats come along, DiSaggio hopes to book the acts he manages onto the bills.
This event is fraught with perils. Thirty bands in 12 hours is a lot of set-changing -- those Oompa Loompas had better be as on the ball as Wonka's bunch. Also, old mind-sets die hard. It's going to take more than one show to change over a century of legal segregation and a few decades of the de facto variety. And a goal of 3,000 people is a pretty tall order. Nevertheless, an event like this is just what this city needs.
And even if it doesn't work out as well as DiSaggio hopes, you get the feeling that he'll do it all again if necessary. "Mark my words now," he promises. "One year from now, this scene is gonna be different."
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