Hotel Free TV creators Jordan Kovach (L) and Myf Mars (R).
Tuning in to Hotel Free TV
By Annie Lyons
Hotel Free TV promises to introduce you to your new favorite artist. Created by Myf Mars and Jordan Kovach, the new virtual platform boasts DIY mentality, glitchy retro visuals, and a funky ’70s space synth theme. The residency program collaborates with Hotel Vegas to produce hour-long YouTube episodes spotlighting Austin artists that are part concert, part late-night public access TV.
Each episode is filmed at Hotel Vegas before being streamed for free online, with the venue also holding watch parties at its currently open outdoors patio. The featured artist hosts and helps curate the lineups for that month’s shows, in addition to performing a set of their own.
Before COVID-19, Kovach and Mars worked at Barracuda and Hotel Vegas, where Mars still bartends. As the city’s music scene struggled, they wanted to create a supportive platform for local artists, while providing germ-free catharsis for audiences at home.
“[Hotel Free TV] could be its own little world and a safe place to get out of your own head for an hour and exist in this other thing,” Kovach describes.
When Sabrina Ellis approached them about a collaboration, the project kicked off with Sweet Spirit’s October residency, followed by Lord Friday the 13th for November. Other big Austin names have played Hotel Free TV shows, including Fat Tony, Jackie Venson, Jake Lloyd, Pleasure Venom, Tameca Jones, Van Mary, and Half Dream.
Hotel Free TV differentiates itself from other virtual concerts by going beyond the music for a complete music venue experience. Each month involves a new t-shirt, and they produce fanzines featuring interviews from the artists who perform.
Mars explains a lot of livestreams started only out of necessity in response to COVID-19, so it’s hard to not feel like something’s missing. “We wanted to do something that was different than just a band-aid, something that was cool in its own right,” she says.
That mentality also reflects how they film and edit each episode.
Quirky homemade commercials intersperse sets, and the hosting artists banter with all the comedic beats of an old sitcom. The most recent episode opens with an extended scene of shoes tapping on the floor and a conversation about socks. Shot on VHS cameras with eccentric editing, Hotel Free TV strives for more dynamic visuals than just a stationary tripod planted in front of a stage.
Both Kovach and Mars have a history with DIY spaces and enjoy a deep love for public access television, inspiring the playful, hand-drawn charm of the project’s graphics. Kovach details how he grew up in the ‘90s on a diet of public access shows like TV Party.
“It was a creative utopia, before the internet really got involved,” he says. “The studio with cameras where weird freaks would get in and film whatever they wanted, and beam it out into people’s homes. [The] idea was, let’s just get the weird freaks from Hotel Vegas to do the same kind of thing, and figure out how to make this and show our community to other people.”
While the live music lovers both come from creative backgrounds, Hotel Free TV prompted Kovach and Mars to learn everything from directing to lighting to marketing. The process underwent growing pains, but Kovach says it’s given them a focus during a time when it’s easy to “go dark.”
“After the first day of filming, we were so stoked to be in the room with people playing guitars, and we’d forgotten like, ‘Oh my god, this is so cathartic and really fun to just sit and hear live music,’” he says.
Now that the team has nine episodes worth of experience under their belts, they hope to make the setup more sustainable with greater compensation for the artists involved. They plan to continue the project as long as they feel a need for it.
While Hotel Free TV receives a small amount of funding from Hotel Vegas’ management, the pair has been paying out of pocket for the bulk of the operation. All donations go to the featured artists. To support their small crew and additional costs, Kovach and Mars fundraise through merch, raffle tickets, and a Patreon where a monthly subscription grants you exclusive content.
Starting this month, the creators decided to slow down from their weekly episode format in favor of more elaborate bi-weekly shows.
This week, they’re building hype for pop princess P1nkstar’s January residency with The Telethon, a livestream fundraiser starting at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17. Hosted by Lord Friday the 13th, the event spotlights a slew of guests: P1nkstar, Sabrina Ellis, Chris Stewart (Black Marble), Emily Whetstone (Van Mary), Fern Rojas (Sheverb), Reno Feldkamp (Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band), Nevil, and Blank Hellscape. Then, on Dec. 27 at 2 p.m., P1nkstar will give an artist talk on trans-futurism and collaboration.
To close out 2020, the aptly themed Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Before Christmas premieres on Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. with Blank Hellscape and Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band.
Ultimately, Kovach and Mars hope to give every artist who crosses Hotel Free TV’s virtual stage their time to shine.
Mars laughs, “I just want to make everyone look like a fucking superstar.”
Learn more about Hotel Free TV and its upcoming events here.