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Backseat Idol

“Dollar Van Demos” turns a share-taxi ride into a talent show.


On a scorching June afternoon, passengers in Winston “Youngblood” Williams’s fifteen-seat commuter van—one of a fleet of share taxis that ferry riders up and down Flatbush Avenue for $2 a head—got an unexpected earful, not to mention a Flip camera in the face. The online music-video series Dollar Van Demos was shooting its third season as an extremely claustrophobic answer to Showtime at the Apollo. Joe Revitte started the series in 2009, inviting artists he discovered through Facebook, Twitter, ReverbNation, and Bandcamp to climb into a poorly ventilated stop-and-go backseat stage. The show’s YouTube channel has logged almost 250,000 viewers. The talent boards at the first stop, near Hoyt Street, and performs to taped music or an accompanying band as Williams picks up unsuspecting street hails on the way to the end of the run at Kings Plaza Shopping Center. Many of the musicians show real skills—some have even been signed by record companies. But much of the charm of the videos comes from watching fellow riders’ facial expressions, which range from oblivious to bewildered to sometimes indignant. There are always passengers like the one in Gucci shades and a Yankees cap who tried to punch the camera away. “People in the hood don’t like to be videotaped,” explained performer Tony Emcee. But since all Dollar Van Demos passengers–audience members ride free, the man in Gucci shades stuck it out and changed his tune by the end. “I enjoyed that,” he said, exiting at the corner of Church and Flatbush Avenues.

King Charlton
“I’m as old as my music is: timeless,” Hartford, Connecticut (originally from Jamaica, Queens)
Sound: “Reggae mixed with a little of everything else that I love to listen to, like hip-hop, R&B, rock, and pop. In one word, I’d say refreshing.
Career status: Currently working on an EP.
How’d it go? “When we made a stop in the middle of the taping, a lady was entering but looked confused and didn’t want to get in. It was a little awkward ’cause she seemed kinda scared of me.”

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