The 15th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Nov. 20 at Covington’s Madison Theater once again brought together people from all facets of the Greater Cincinnati music scene and gave them one hell of a party. Along with offering one of the best people-watching experiences of the year, the packed crowd in attendance was treated to great “mini-sets” (on average, about three tunes) from local bands Pomegranates (who also played the event’s after-party at the nearby Mad Hatter), Young Heirlooms, Los Honchos, Two Headed Dog and Wussy, who closed the night out with songs from their recently released fourth album, Strawberry.
“Thanks for voting for us,” Wussy’s guitarist/vocalist Chuck Cleaver deadpanned as they began.
While Strawberry is among the (if not the) best albums released in 2011 so far, it missed the cut-off to be nominated for a 2011 CEA. (To be in the running, albums had to have been released between early October 2010 and October 2011.) Maybe (probably) next year, Wussy!
The musical acts all played strong sets, which is always a good idea when performing at the CEAs in front of so many potential new fans. Pomegranates opened the show with their enchanting, shimmering Art Pop, followed by the first exposure for most people in the audience to singer/songwriter/pianist Kelly Fine’s new band, Young Heirlooms, who were up for the “New Artist of the Year” prize. Decked out in duds befitting a 1920 Jazz ensemble (particularly Fine, who looked stunning in her retro-chic wear), Young Heirlooms did all they could to capitalize on the moment, performing a flawless collection of bright, horn-laden Indie Pop.
The sound at the Madison was occasionally muddled, something that comes with the territory when presenting a show of this type, with five disparate acts who each play in different instrumental configurations. (The crowd chatter, which, like usual, grew louder as the night progressed and people got more drunk, is probably also an issue.)
The most challenging set-up for a performer that night seemed to be the most simple and pure. Local Bluegrass legend Ma Crow and her new band, the all-female Lady Slippers, huddled close around a few microphones, which was the source of the amplification for the instruments.
Though the band soldiered through and proved to be wickedly talented and charming, the quartet was largely drowned out by audience chit-chat.
Two Headed Dog no doubt attracted a lot of new fans as well, performing a short set of their dirty, swaggering Rock & Roll, which showed the influence of a few all-time greats like The Stooges, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. With all the talk about how the CEAs are primarily just a party and celebration, Los Honchos were a great choice to have play. The “R&B/Funk/Soul” nominees played an infectious, incredibly tight set of their trademark barroom Garage Soul shimmy.
The ceremony didn’t run as smoothly as it has the past few years. The fluidity was marred by lulls in the stage production. The time between when show-closers Wussy were introduced and when they performed was around 10 minutes (Cleaver had apparently just gotten off work). By the time they actually played, there was only about a quarter of the crowd remaining.
Twenty different acts took home a groovy CEA plaque last night — 2011 was a rare year without any multiple award winners. (Roots music legend David Rhodes Brown accepted two awards: one for his win in the “Folk/Americana” category and one for 500 Miles to Memphis, to whom Brown often lends his lapsteel magic.)
Another rarity was the number of winning bands who were unable to attend due to touring duties. Bluegrass winners Rumpke Mountain Boys were in Colorado to do several show dates. “Best Musical Ambassador for the City” award victors Foxy Shazam practically live on the road these days, touring internationally well over half the year (which, actually, makes them highly qualified to be an Ambassador of Cincinnati music). The night of the CEAs, Foxy Shazam were rocking in the U.K. on a tour with campy Hard Rock/Metal band The Darkness. Meanwhile, DJ Clockwork, the Hip Hop trophy winner, was out traveling as the tour DJ for Hip Hop star Mac Miller.
The 2011 CEA winners for Artist of the Year, Walk the Moon, will play a big homecoming gig at the Madison Theater this Friday, but on the Sunday of the CEAs they were in Chicago, continuing their tour with buzz band Fitz and the Tantrums.
In one of those moments that’ll likely end up a defining memory of the 15th CEA show, the new RCA recording artists’ mothers took to the stage when WtM’s name was called for the final award of the night. With huge, proud grins, the moms happily accepted on their sons’ behalf. (They're pictured above with the CEA trophy girls.)
Having so many CEA winners out of town made for a couple of awkward moments, but having that many acts working hard to spread the good word of Cincinnati’s local music is another indication that our local scene is as strong as it’s ever been. Now that’s something to celebrate.
[See tons of photos from the 2011 music CEAs here.]
Here were the winners
Artist of the Year: Walk the Moon
Album of the Year: Brian Olive, Two of Everything
New Artist of the Year: SHADOWRAPTR
Best Live Act: 500 Miles to Memphis
Best Musical Ambassador: Foxy Shazam
Alternative/Indie: The Seedy Seeds
Bluegrass: Rumpke Mountain Boys
Blues: Voodoo Puppet
Country: Tex Schramm & the Radio King Cowboys
Electronic: Pop Empire
Folk/Americana: David Rhodes Brown
Hard Rock: Banderas
Hip Hop: DJ Clockwork
Jazz: The Faux Frenchmen
Metal/Hardcore: Mala In Se
Rock: The Kickaways
Punk/Post Punk: The Dopamines
R&B/Funk/Soul: The Cincy Brass
Singer/Songwriter: Josh Eagle
World/Reggae: The Cliftones