Sunday, December 28, 2014

Writing for The Washington Post and how Hialeah's Humbert helped

Hialeah's Humbert and lead singer (and good friend/justice-of-the-peace-at-my brother Juan's-wedding) Ferny Coipel's marketing antics at South by South are partly to blame for landing my first gig at The Washington Post.

Here's how the story goes: I was about four months away from getting out of the Navy. Looking to kick start my too-long-dream-deferred of being a music journalist, I went to South by Southwest primarily to make some contacts and, as a nice bonus, to enjoy what can only be described as an ass-ton of live music.

Armed with a shoulder bag full of resumes and a hit list of people to meet, I was on my way. The people on my hit list who were on some kind of panel were easy enough to accost. I simply waited until the panel was over and made my move.

But then-Washington Post pop music critic Josh Freedom Du Lac - number one on my hit list - was a different story: it was like finding THE needle in the haystack mosh pit. With about 12,000 to 16,000 registrants to the music conference alone (the Film and Interactive portions draw about 32,000 registrants), finding Du Lac was borderline stupid ambition. Even so, I knew what the dude looked like and my Myers-Briggs-certified, introvert personality was ready to make a concession and approach a total stranger.

I arrived in Austin on a Tuesday, checked into my log cabin a few miles away from the convention center. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: no luck running into Du Lac. By Saturday, I had given up hope and decided to enjoy my last night without trying to give my 30-second elevator speech or hand off any more resumes (all terribly draining for an introvert type, you see). I had mapped out my strategy for who I would go watch on the last night - you have to do this, what with literally hundreds of bands playing simultaneously and all vying for your attention.

Among the must-see for me were Humbert, if for no other reason than to support my brother Juan's good friends. Early in the evening, I ran into Ferny and the other members of Humbert and their elaborate marketing contraption, which involved a generator, some speakers, a projector and a Red Flyer wagon. They were blasting their music and projecting videos on just about any flat vertical surface they could find along Austin's famed Sixth Street - ground zero for the SXSW concerts.

Their marketing ploy along with learning that they would be playing the not-ideal Blender Balcony Showcase at The Ritz, requiring coming off Sixth Street and going up stairs to a loft-type venue, only reaffirmed my commitment to show up. Despite their heroic efforts to promote themselves, there were only a handful of people by the time Humbert came on. Despite this or perhaps because of this, Humbert delivered a blistering, intimate set.

As I'm lost in their psychedelic candy grooves, I look over and notice a guy with a reporter's notebook taking notes. Holy effen hell, it's Du Lac! Of all the places and just about at the 11th hour, I found the dude. After their set, I approached him trying to keep my enthusiasm somewhat in check, so I don't scare him off. I gave him my spiel about being this guy getting out of the Navy trying to pursue this crazy dream, yada, yada, yada. I asked him what brought him to see Humbert. He was captivated by their marketing tactics. I handed him my resume. He gave me his card.

Long story short: A few weeks later, he assigned me my first concert review for The Washington Post, which led to getting hired by The Post and four-year residency there as a communications consultant and an on-and-off freelance music and now travel journalist. To this day, Du Lac's card, along with my first published article for The Post on Juan Gabriel, hang in my house framed. This is a little Christmas gift from the Humbert boys - their rendition of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

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