It has every type of music imaginable. From roots rock to soul to axe-grinding metal; and it even covers ground from traditional Country and Western to ultra-modern rap. There are speeches on the future of music, guidance from sage elders, sharing their secrets to longevity. It even has a super-secret multi-platinum album artist that shows up. Every year, as March approaches, Austin braces itself, and this magnificent production lands on its doorstep, in the heart of our town.
But it isn’t named SXSW. It’s the precursor to the 10-day long event, and it serves as both unofficial kickoff and microcosm to its bigger sibling. The Austin Music Awards, hosted this year at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, are how SXSW starts, ends, and achieves greatness, every year. This year only saw one slight difference, in that it was held a good week before the SXSW chaos began. Normally held in the middle of all the visitors and visiting bands, this year’s iteration of the Music Awards put some distance between itself and the endless parade of brands and bands, to refocus on what makes these awards great – namely, the Austin Musicians, Producers and Champions that are the backbone of “The Live Music Capital of the World.” In the process, the awards showed SXSW and the world at large just how great music is, has been, and will be in the years to come. It had all the things the world has come to expect of Austin in March. It was just more of a family affair – Austinites only.
The hosts, Laurie Gallardo and Rick McNulty, of KUTX, led the evening off, and their usual professionalism took a backseat to their incredible humility. Surrounded by talents and personalities they’ve worked with and seen flourish and grow, they peppered the night with a pervasive deference to the greats who built Austin into the music city it has become. They marveled at every performance, were proud of every winner, and could be seen getting down to more than one familiar groove. It made for a fantastic environment in which the mutual admiration of all the gathered talent could thrive.
Certain awards came as little surprise, as a few of these prizes should be named after their respective recipients – Warren Hood for best strings or Ephraim Owens for his jazz and horns or even Shinyribs for their annual assault on the awards – but others were an unexpected delight. Bidi Bidi Banda taking home the best cover band award was a particular highlight, showcasing not only the love and respect that the Selena cover band
has for their material, but how authentic their sound and how fervent their dedication. Heartfelt and infectiously proud, Stephanie Bergara, lead vocalist for the band, contributed to the explicit humility of the evening.
As for that talent, the evening kicked off with a heavy nod to the impossible-to-overstate influence of the late Margaret Moser, a titan of Austin music who was the champion of so many artists who are now household names in the Austin community and beyond. As if to prove the breadth of Ms. Moser’s effect on Austin music, the recipients of the “Under 18” award for music, The Tiarra Girls, three-time winners of their award, gave her the most elegant shout out of the evening, which is nothing to sneer at, with all the love for the industry legend flowing throughout the evening. It leaves one thinking that the future of music, so long as it is in such respectful and insightful hands, is not in any danger.
When the performances kicked in, the sheer horsepower of Austin’s music scene was on conspicuous display. David Ramirez’s performance of “Stone Age” was a true highlight, as he riffed his defiant anthem before a waiting and appreciative crowd. Not to be overshadowed by one genre, however, Third Root, an Austin-based hip hop band, brought Bavu Blakes on stage to aid in their high-energy, high message delivery of what could have, at times, been mistake for a throwback soul set. DJ Chicken George saw to it that no such mistake would be made and the beats made their presence as known as the voices on stage.
Still, the evening belonged, as 2018 is finally beginning to concede all things do, to the women. Lucinda Williams took the audience into her powerful hands to celebrate both Margaret Moser, as well as the recipient of Ms. Moser’s namesake award, hotelier and Austin bon vivant, Liz Lambert. And, as if that wasn’t enough for the crowd’s hungry ears, the Austin Music Awards did what it does best and brought an Austin-connected multi-million-record selling artist to the stage, and one who had been away from the spotlight for some time. Defiant, powerful, moody and brilliant, Fiona Apple played an emotionally charged short set for the crowd, and none in attendance could deny her the focus of their attention. Having lost none of her brooding stage presence or her unmatched vocal talent, the world renowned artist stole all the air in the room while crouched and singing her heart out to all within earshot. It’s the kind of highlight these awards are known for, and it was perfectly at home in the middle of the evening’s festivities.
Hall of Fame awards were presented to a host of victors, including the late Jimmy LaFave – who also garnered the Musician of the Year award (see feature image), which his brother and a host of musicians helped send up in mournful, but celebratory song – and Beto y Los Fairlanes. None of the awards was perhaps more interesting and funny and oddly indicative of how present Austin’s “weird” moniker still is, than the award presented to a band named in protest to an Austin landmark venue. After years in performance around the city, the F**kemos joined the Hall of Fame with long lists of thank yous and a lot of laughs about how Russell Porter and Ed Rancourt lived, played and grew in this city that adores music so much. Accenting just how authentic and tightly knit this community is, Porter took a moment to thank his son for “good behavior and great grades.” Clearly, when mixing psychedelic punk rock defiance and the naked humanity that involves shout outs to children, Austin’s weirdness is well-intact.
The night closed, performance-wise, on the heavy sound and national attention-grabbing riffs of The Black Angels, pushing the energy to a nice, respectable level, before letting the collective talent go out into the night, presumably to ready for the insanity that SXSW was to bring to their doorsteps. Despite the move to add a few days between the musical industry’s arrival, it is and remains fitting that, amid the international talent pool that descends into Austin, every March, no matter when it is set, Austin sees fit to bring the whole family together – in a city full of so much talent that nearly anyone in attendance could sit in for a set during an awards ceremony (and many did, in point of fact) – and celebrate just how great we have it here.
For a complete list of winners, visit ama2018.com.