From the looks of it, Saturday night's Rock Lottery in Denton could have been held a week before the election, not the week after. Matthew Barnhart, former Little Grizzly member and co-owner of the Echo Lab, fronted his band wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Bush and the words "International Terrorist." Cheeky band names like The Kim Jong Illness and Megaforce Five and the Weapons of Mass Destruction reminded Kerry supporters in the house--and was there anything but?--that though the battle may be lost, the war rages on. (For more on the Rock Lottery, see Set List on page 82.)

The Denton music scene is somewhat of an anomaly in the metroplex--full of eccentrics and freaks and stiff-arm college liberalism--and I love it for that. Maybe it's the 10 years I spent in Austin, but every time I make that wretched 40-minute drive north, I'm struck by how comfortable I feel among the college dives and punky art galleries and eccentric clientele. Even at the Rock Lottery, a show that basically felt like I was crashing someone else's party, it's hard not to appreciate the recklessness and artistic energy that fuels that crowd. I left early that night; I have to admit, I felt a little jealous.

The following evening, I stayed home to watch the American Music Awards on ABC. Vapid and predictable, the AMAs are nonetheless a comforting childhood habit for me, like eating the crusts on my sandwiches first. This, of course, was a vastly different musical landscape from the one I'd seen at Dan's Silverleaf the night before: Here, in glittering Los Angeles, it was as if rock had never existed, as if the world's music were ruled by some mighty triumvirate of Usher, Alicia Keys and OutKast, with redneck country filling in on fiddle. At the top of the show, Diana Ross gave a tipsy shout-out to the troops, but other than that, politics was not on the table. Usher thanked his stylists. Big Boi plugged his new movie (twice). Anna Nicole Smith thanked TrimSpa and her breasts and babbled about other things that made everyone feel vaguely threatened and uncomfortable.

As entertainment goes, I'd rate it a C+, with standout performances from host Jimmy Kimmel and--of all people--Jamie Foxx, whose musical introduction to Kanye West's "Slow Jamz" was the classiest performance of the night. In other words, the actual musicians were pretty lame. John Mayer, Rod Stewart, Josh Groban, Jessica Simpson--yawn. For my money, Usher may be the most charismatic pop entertainer working today, and Alicia Keys is a double-barrel knockout of beauty and talent, but their duet "My Boo" is an absolute snoozer. Watching them struggle to shake something interesting out of it is like seeing two brilliant performers locked in a high school play.

"Rock is dead," my boyfriend muttered after they handed out the award for best pop-rock music. The nominees? Usher, Norah Jones and Jessica Simpson. "I thought there would be at least one token nominee," he said. I mean, come on--throw us a bone.

But the American Music Awards are based solely on album sales, and these days, that isn't rock. The best alternative band award went to Linkin Park--a band I have never once considered alternative. (I'll have to stop slagging 102.1 The Edge for playing them.) Now even mainstream rock is part of the same fringe.

That's fine, I guess. I love pop music and hip-hop. I even like Gretchen Wilson's slight, charming little "Redneck Woman." It's just frustrating to watch a show honoring achievements in music when none of the music you love the most is represented.

Somehow, I always forget I'm in the minority. Always have been, really.

And maybe that's why I felt so comfortable at Denton's Rock Lottery, too--there with all the other people whose values and beliefs aren't represented by the mainstream, all those musicians in their anti-Bush shirts and knee socks and tattoos and mutton chops. Let the rest of the world have their Usher. In the meantime, we'll always have rock.

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Sarah Hepola