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Philadelphia band Pawnshop Roses' star rises on YouTube

Daniel Rubin
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA - The Pawnshop Roses weren't quite sure what to expect, winning an award from a company that not too long ago was operating out of a garage.

But seeing as how that company was YouTube, they had hopes.

The ride, waiting outside Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station, was a nice touch. "It can't be the limo," guitarist/songwriter Paul Keen recalls thinking. They'd been looking for a van. The Philadelphia roots rockers had arrived.

This was last week - hours before they were to meet with the YouTube people, who were flying in from L.A. Awaiting them was a night on the town, new equipment from Gibson, and - too bright and early on Wednesday - a date with Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America." She was to present them with a Golden Mouse award for having the best live performance video on the user-generated Web site.

The Pawnshop Roses did what any self-respecting guys who play real rock `n' roll with a country twang would do. They bought a case of beer - OK, Coronas - and started working on them in their room. The contest people had put them up in the W Hotel on Times Square.

"A great lobby with a bar downstairs," said Keen, 27. The only thing: The room was smallish and had only two double beds. There are four of them.

"We sort of have gotten used to it," he said, sighing.

Bassist Justin "Blaze" Monteleone, 28: "The whole thing's been awesome."

The band had won its 15 minutes of fame off a song about coming up poor called "Gets So Hard." Each member holds down a 9-to-5 in addition to playing in the band. Only Keen is playing music otherwise. Four days a week, he performs around Philadelphia, acoustic sets of the Rolling Stones, the Allmans and Tom Petty, never his own stuff.

A couple of times a month, the two Philadelphians get together with guitarist Kevin Bentley, 29, and drummer Rich "Figgs" Fogg, 36, who are from Norristown, Pa., to play at a local club. That's how filmmaker and friend Scooter Lammey shot their show this summer. They put a couple of videos up on YouTube.

Lammey entered them in the contest, then encouraged people he knew to vote, Keen says. A friend made a poster promoting the video and the contest and put it on their MySpace page. YouTube people e-mailed them, appreciating the effort. They heard last week that they were going to New York.

A release from YouTube and cosponsor Cingular Wireless states the band, up against a couple of thousand other groups, made the finals from hundreds of thousands of votes from viewers. Then Alexandra Patsavas of Chop Shop Music Supervision selected them with three winners in other categories. She has supervised music on "The O.C.," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Without a Trace." By winning, there's a chance they could land a song in a film or television episode, the release promises.

There were some surreal elements to their New York trip - trouping along to a comedy club with the other winners and some YouTube folks, who put the whole evening on their credit card. Then waking up at an hour when they're used to going to bed, and waiting in the green room at "Good Morning America" with some famous NASCAR drivers in suits - but they don't watch NASCAR, so wouldn't know them in decals. Then being called.

Keen: "You see it on TV, and you think it's going to be bigger and you're going to be more nervous. You sort of just walk in the room and talk to Diane Sawyer. It didn't seem like `Good Morning America.'"

They spent the rest of the day at Gibson's Hit Factory, picking guitars and meeting with industry types as a chef catered to their hungers.

Which is a far cry from their origins. They picked their name a couple of years ago during a late night at a pizzeria at a table with plastic flowers. "Pawnshop?" someone suggested. No, taken already. "Pawnshop flowers?" No, a little prissy. Then, Pawnshop Roses.

They describe their sound as a hash of Hank Williams, the Stones and the Replacements. Given the vocals, maybe more Black Crowes than Stones.

They've been talking to labels this week. Earvolution MP3 blogger Jeff Davidson said he hoped they would become his first act as he builds a record label from his site.

"We definitely are going to sign something," Keen said. After they come down.

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