For the first time in CityBeat’s 17-year history of producing the annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, honoring the music makers of the Greater Cincinnati music scene, the show was booked on the same night as a certain other music awards program — The Grammys.
While the CEAs lacked a Metallica/Lang Lang power jam and Taylor Swift’s perpetually shocked “Who, little ol’ me?” face (even when just the fact that she was nominated was announced!), the “local Grammys” were a fun and entertaining night full of funny moments and, most importantly, excellent performances by eight nominated artists and one surprise guest.
That surprise guest was Cincinnati Rock legend Rob Fetters, who opened the CEA show at the Madison Theater on Jan. 26 with a solid set showcasing songs from his fourth solo album, the recently released Saint Ain’t (in case you were wondering why Fetters and his excellent album weren’t nominated, the album was released just after the 2014 CEA eligibility deadline). Performing as the Saint Ain’t Mangled Angels, Fetters was joined by longtime bandmates from The Bears and psychodots — bassist Bob Nyswonger and drummer Chris Arduser — as well as special guests Brian Lovely (guitar) and vocalists Clyde Brown and Krystal Peterson.
My colleague Jac Kern (CityBeat’s arts and culture editor) did a great job as first time host, even putting together a “CEA Bingo” card for audience members to play as the show moved along (players could mark off key CEA moments that often occur, like “Audience member falls asleep during long acceptance speech” or “Bathroom drama” if any fights or meltdowns were spotted in the loo). Kern had some really funny lines, though they often got lost in the CEAs’ “loud cocktail party” atmosphere. Which isn’t a horrible thing. The CEAs are a party for local musicians and those who support them, so, with the addition of copious amounts of alcohol, constant chit chat and even-shorter-than-usual attention spans are to be expected. Still, many of you in attendance missed a lot of the funny.
After an especially strong performance by the excellent Honey & Houston (whose sound lands perfectly at the intersection of modern and classic Country), Marvin Hawkins and Elliott Ruther of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation (which is the beneficiary of some of the show’s proceeds) talked a little about their work shining a spotlight on the area’s rich musical past and also mentioned some of the local musicians (and hardcore local-music supporters) we lost in the past year. This led into an amazing performance by Cincy Folk trio The Tillers, who dedicated their excellent two-song set to their former bassist Jason Soudrette. The bassist tragically passed away late last year after a long battle with AML leukemia. It was hard to not get choked up as images of Soudrette and his friends and family flickered behind the trio as they performed. It was definitely the CEAs’ “lump in throat” moment.
Several of the night’s CEA winners gave appreciative acceptance speeches that inadvertently showed just how much they’ve accomplished in the past year, both in their hometown and around the world.
For those who felt the wrong performer won in almost any given category, the litany of the actual winners’ accomplishments should’ve silenced them immediately. Punk CEA winners The Dopamines admitted they weren’t exceptionally active in 2013 — but, oh by the way, they did tour Europe. And a band mate of Blues winner Ricky Nye accepted Nye’s award for him because the Boogie Woogie pianist was in Brussels finishing up a long string of dates overseas. Garnering attention outside of Cincinnati city limits isn’t required to win a CEA, but it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances for a nomination if you’re an artist who works hard to become more than just a hometown hero.
The members of Hard Rock crew Moonbow showed why they deserved their Hard Rock/Metal category win with a blistering, anvil-heavy performance. The group of local music veterans (including past members of Lethal and The Afghan Whigs, plus Ryan McAllister of Valley of the Sun, a fellow nominee in the Hard Rock/Metal category) gave one of the most powerful performances of the night, with singer Matt Bischoff’s hearty, full-throttle vocals guiding the way.
The Yugos followed Moonbow’s set with some tight, quirky Indie Rock. The nattily attired band members gave the audience a quick blast of their slanted Pop/Rock, marked by some compelling guitar interplay and strong melodies. The Upset Victory followed The Yugos with an energetic blend of tricky rhythms (including some phenomenal bass playing) and anthemic power choruses.
Valley High, a legitimate Hip Hop “band” featuring live instrumentation, gave the most entertaining and audience-engaging performance of the night. MC’s Moxy Monster and M.O. were like ping pong balls shooting across the stage and tossing lines back and forth effortlessly. There was true showmanship in the group’s performance, with both MCs climbing on top of the club’s PA speakers at various times during their 10-minute set. M.O. was especially pumped up, risking life and limb by tossing himself all over every inch of the stage and launching himself into the not-ready crowd members gathered in front, then mugging for the photographers and even licking the lens of WCPO photojournalist Emily Maxwell (she later wrote on Facebook that the same lens had been licked by a cheetah a few months earlier — ewww!). Valley High went on to win the CEA for Best Music Video for their “8 Ball” clip and M.O. was no less animated in his acceptance speech.
Funk/R&B/Soul nominees The Almighty Get Down — who wowed at last year’s MidPoint Music Festival — kept the high energy going with a monster groove, a full horn section and the flashy, soulful stylings of frontman Willy Morren, whose permanent smile, charmingly disheveled fashion sense, electrifying guitar playing and stirring vocals made him come off like a mix between Prince and Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The DAAP Girls — who were nominated for a record five CEAs, taking home the award for Indie/Alternative — also brought a horn section and provided a great, adrenalized closing performance full of swagger and soul. Buggs Tha Rocka came out to join the band on the final song of their set, during which DAAP frontman Stuart MacKenzie did his best James Brown and shimmied across the stage with almost religious fervor.
There were a lot of great acceptance speeches, most of which expressed awe and appreciation for just simply being a part of such a strong and supportive music community. Something special happens when musicians across all genres get together in one room and party together — it seems to give everyone some perspective that can’t be gleaned by staying at home and watching the live stream or just randomly bitching about the program on Facebook. Our music scene isn’t just great because of the incredible music being produced; the musicians who make it mostly seem like really supportive, good people, too.
Speaking of perspective, Artist of the Year winners Walk the Moon have an especially unique one. The RCA Records recording artists have experienced commercial success and grown a huge fanbase all over the world thanks to steady touring (and a great live show), but, as their acceptance speech made clear, they’re still very appreciative of the local support and they proudly proclaim their hometown pride at every single show they play.
“We’re never prouder than when we get to say, ‘Fuck yeah, we’re from Cincinnati, Ohio,’” guitarist Eli Maiman said while accepting the award.
“And we do, every time,” Walk the Moon frontman Nicholas Petricca continued. “You guys have given us the privilege of going all over the world and every single night we say we’re from Cincinnati, Ohio, so fuck yeah.”
When I logged on to social media the morning after the CEAs, I saw many posts expressing how much fun people had at the show (and how much of a hangover they had that morning). I also got to see the usual blast of criticism, though they were mostly ridiculous and mercifully drowned out by posts about how absolutely, tragically horrible The Grammys were. It seems people solely watch televised award shows now so they can go online and complain about them. It’s too bad those angry, self-appointed Grammy pundits didn’t get off their couch for one night and take advantage of going to a music awards show in person. (I watched Grammy highlights and, though perhaps watching it out of context makes it more enjoyable, there were some really great moments and performances. Social media has seemingly turned everyone into angry assholes who hate everything in the world.)
Award shows by nature are polarizing, but it seems like most people who attend the CEAs get that the show is more about celebrating all local music and spotlighting what a great thing we have going on in our city. I understand being disappointed about not winning or not being nominated — which is where most of the hate directed at the CEAs seems to emanate — but a lot of the angry CEA posts I see are insulting. Not to me, not to CityBeat, not to the CEAs, but to all of the hard working, creative and talented artists who did win or were nominated.
You shouldn’t make music to win awards or get famous. You should make music for yourself and be creative because it makes you feel good. It’s nice that the CEAs seem to mean so much to a lot of people, but if you aren’t nominated or don’t win, keep doing what you’re doing, work hard and put yourself in a position where you cannot be denied.
I think Melissa Fairmount (who, along with Fairmount Girls bandmate Dana Hamblen, handed out their “Fashion Trashies” awards at the after party) said it best while presenting some of the final CEAs of the night.
“Record. Play. Practice,” she said. “Record. Play. Practice. Record. Play. Practice.”
It’s a mantra by which all musicians should live. ©