Most would probably argue that the inherent humility of local, independent music probably wouldn’t jibe too well with the glitz, glamour and out-sized egos normally associated with an awards ceremony. Which is largely why our first annual local music awards succeeded. It seemed as if everyone was there simply to enjoy themselves, less a competition between artists than a celebration among them, thankful to be a part of such a fertile local scene. There was no couture nor botox to be found at the Highdive on April 7, only local columnist and MC Mike Coulter pouring a beer over his burnished cranium in honor of his friend, local music booking legend and that evening’s lifetime achievement award-winner Ward Gollings. And of course, much excellent local music.
The evening began with Coulter and WPGU on-air personality Ryan Ricker who pretty much managed to offend everyone from Cubs fans to feminists to Jesus (probably) in the first few minutes. Good stuff. First up of the bands was Triple Whip who were debuting new drummer, Jane Boxall. Tha’ Whip turned in a typically charged performance with Boxall more than holding her own under the onslaught of Holly Rushakof’s grinding, thunderous bass and Santanu Rahman’s strident vocals and razor-wire guitar. For the finale they called Mike Clayton of locals Mad Science Fair to perform the classic “I’ll Kill You” by Clayton’s old outfit Hot Glue Gun. Rahman claimed onstage that it was, “a song three of you probably remember,” but those three people were apparently in attendance along with many others who were more than impressed by Clayton’s screamin’ and hollerin.’
As the crowd settled to a dull roar, the awards ceremony continued with the award for best DJ given to DJ Bozak who thanked his father’s Run DMC 45’s among others. Winners for best rock band, the impeccably dressed Lorenzo Goetz, graciously pointed out the talent of the other worthy nominees. And despite an unruly heckler, the members of Animate Objects genially accepted their award for best hip-hop band, followed up by a performance by The Former Fat Boys aka WPGU DJ Shampooh, who rhymed over some pre-recorded beats courtesy of his MP3 player. It was a post-Eminem type deal, replete with a cover of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.”
Next Brandon T. Washington, solo artist and frontman for Temple of the Low Men and Dawna Nelson took the stage for a laid back acoustic set of covers and originals. Nelson’s bluesy, soulful croon mixed just right with Washington’s booming intonation over an ideal cover of the highly underrated Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” The duo became a trio with the addition of Kilborn Alley’s Joe Asselin on harmonica for a bluesy workout, by the end of which Nelson was testifying a blues matched only by Asselin’s scorching harp solo.
The music took a break for a round of new awards. The always-unique local personality Chef Ra handed out the award for best Roots/American Band to a visibly surprised Beauty Shop. Off stage lead singer Jon Hoeffleur humbly commented, “I think it’s to be judged individually-we all have our own opinions, but I’m grateful that anyone would take any kind of time out of their life to vote for anything that’s got anything to do with me.” Brandon T. Washington reappeared to pick up his best male artist award, respectfully pointing out how deserving the other nominees were. Kate Hathaway thanked the C-U music scene as a whole for her best female artist award. The Living Blue showed their appreciation to the crowd for their best live show award while ironically tuning up for their performance.
Introduced by a breathlessly enthusiastic Cody Solkoski, of the Delta Kings, The Living Blue demonstrated exactly why fans voted them the number one live band in C-U. The band tore their way through a couple of hits from the back catalogue, compelling arguments for the continued vitality of smart, visceral guitar rock. For the last song, the boys debuted a new number, presumably from their upcoming debut for Minty Fresh, beginning as a riff-heavy jook joint stomper and building up into a frantic rave-up, guitarist Joe Prokop spraying fuzzy psyche scuzz all over the proceedings. When asked after the show what the secret to a good live show is, lead singer Steve Ucherek said simply, “We love. We love each other, and we love what we do.”
As earlier stated, Ward Gollings, booking agent for Highdive/Cowboy Monkey, pillar of the C-U music scene, and all around nice fella accepted his lifetime achievement award with much fanfare and chugging of beer. Best Record was handed out to The Living Blue for last year’s Living in Blue whereupon an inebriated Steve Ucherek returned to the stage and thanked everybody. And the moment everybody was waiting for, the award for best overall band, was bestowed upon Lorenzo Goetz. Lead singer Larry Gates gave perhaps the most persuasive acceptance speech, reminding the audience how lucky they are for having such a music community and how much work it takes to be in a band.
Lorenzo Goetz started off the last set with a nod to the scene’s past, covering Absinthe Blind’s “The Break” with ex-Absinthe Blind/Headlights drummer Seth Fein pounding the skins. They led the crowd through their latest single “Jesus Elephant,” a woozy piece of psych-pop, perfect for the upcoming summer. Finally the boys capped off the evening with a bit of what they do best, a reggae-funk workout that got those in attendance dancing and sweating. Ultimately, Lorenzo Goetz were a fine choice to close the evening’s festivities as the celebratory mood of their set caught the feeling of the ceremony, a bunch of friends and fellow artists coming together to recognize one another. As Ward Gollings remarked, “I thought it was fabulous. Everything went well. I think people are going to go back for the second annual show. It’s going to become a quasi-legendary thing, like the Great Cover-Up.”