By pure coincidence, the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the recording of legendary Bluegrass track "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in Cincinnati's Herzog recording studio on the same evening as Earl's grandson — former BR549 member and successful Indie/AltCountry singer/songwriter Chris Scruggs — is playing just across the river at Newport’s Southgate House.
Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist S.R. Woodward is not your average clean-cut, guitar-strumming, doe-eyed heartthrob. No, this guy is far too weird for that racket. Combining slightly-flat-yet-charming harmonies sung in a baritone warble with peppy, synthesized musical backing tracks, he’s a troubadour of minimalist ditties that lie somewhere between cheeky and heartfelt.
After months of rising anticipation and weeks of weirdly intermittent and torrential rain, Bunbury's first day looked to be a winner. A great announced lineup, no precipitation in the forecast and nothing but sunshine expected for the day; against all odds, that's exactly what we got. But it wasn't the rain to come that presented a problem, it was the rain that had already fallen; the area on the Serpentine Wall that had perfectly pocketed the Rockstar Stage last year was completely swallowed by the rising Ohio River, and the stage had to be moved to the opposite end of the field housing the all important Main Stage. It turned out to be a pretty decent fix, all things considered.
After securing my Level Three media pass (which, in the hierarchy of accessibility, I think meant that if any band needed help moving equipment, I was obligated to roadie for them), I headed for the Bud Light stage for Public. I had done a story on them back in January; they were home for Christmas so given their proximity, they came to my house and we did the interview in my basement. My daughter had answered the door and let them in, and for weeks afterward she was telling her friends about the cute guys I had interviewed at the house. Public's teenage girl effect was fully evident at their Bunbury appearance, as squealy females shrieked their appreciation for every song, and randomly shouted "I love you!"s arced over the rather sizable crowd. The trio did songs from their self-titled EP, a new tune called "Honey Bee" and, taking a page from the infinitely talented and creatively twisted Richard Thompson, offered a thunderously blazing turn on Britney Spears' "Toxic." In the studio, Public has the sound of a ramped up Modest Mouse, but in the live arena, they definitely blister and kick a little closer to the Led Zeppelin vibe they claimed as inspiration during our conversation, adding a dollop of harmonic Pop to sweeten the deal. If teenage girls are any indicator — and they usually are — Public could be headed for Walk the Moon territory pretty quickly.
Next up, it was Alone at 3AM at the Lawn Stage. I love these guys; super solid, crunchy heartland Indie Pop/Rock that states its case without a lot of unnecessary flash or padding. The band had plodded along for close to seven years before solidifying a dedicated line-up behind vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Max Fender and bassist Joey Beck and moving forward; a good deal of growth occurred with the additions of Sarah Davis on keys and Chris Mueller on drums (and business savvy). That in turn lit a fire under Fender, leading to a pair of albums in the last three years — 2010's Cut Your Gills and last year's Midwest Mess.
For A@3's Bunbury slot, the quintet was showing off their new guitarist; Clay Cason's recent departure left a gap which has been admirably filled by Jake Tippey, taking a busman's holiday from his howling duties in the Frankl Project and proving every bit as valuable in a Pop/Rock context. The band roared through songs from their most recent albums, introduced a couple of new songs (Chris mentioned after the show that A@3 would be working on an EP, and then tracking a new full length for imminent release) and even dipped back into their debut album, City Out of Luck, for a spin through "Mexico." Max's gruff voice sits comfortably in the Paul Westerberg/Bruce Springsteen range and it's the perfect vehicle for expressing his blue collar love-and-life songs. Can't wait to hear the new stuff in the studio, kids.
Before setting out for the Rockstar Stage, I caught the opening of Ohio Knife, one of Cincinnati's brightest new entities. Initially a side project for the Chocolate Horse, vocalist/guitarist Jason Snell, guitarist Andrew Higley and drummer Joe Suer — who all played together in Readymaid as well — ultimately put the Horse in the stable to concentrate on the Punk-scrubbed Blues of Ohio Knife, and with good reason. The trio is a sweat-soaked hurricane in the studio (their 2012 EP was a marvel), but the live translation hits with the force and heat of a flamethrower in an ammunition dump, and it won't be long before the CEA nominees for Best New Artist wind up taking home some bling. Where are we with the full length, guys?
After a quick shot of Ohio Knife, it was time to motor to the other end of the festival to check out the Dunwells. The UK outfit fronted by, logically enough, the Dunwell brothers, has found a good deal of success with their debut album, Blind Sighted Faith, and its ubiquitous single "I Could Be a King." When they played the single, frontman Joseph Dunwell thanked Q102 for their support, but it bears pointing out that, WNKU has been beating the drum for the Dunwells for quite some time now (just as they had for the similarly Folk/Pop toned Mumford & Sons). That being said, the age of the crowd seemed to indicate that Q102's demographic was probably best represented here today, so perhaps the win should be scored in their column after all. However the commissioner decides to rule, the Dunwells put together a crisp and wonderfully vibrant set that pays homage to the West Coast sounds of the Eagles and CSNY. The one exception to that sonic blueprint is the aforementioned "I Could Be a King," which offers an irresistable Pop edge that shimmers like the best of Crowded House. When brother David Dunwell strapped on the old five string to play the hit, he noted wryly, "I think every Englishman should at some point come to America and stand in front of an American audience holding a banjo with no idea how to play it." I think he was being graciously self-deprecating. The Dunwells seemed to go down a storm and I think they would find a large and enthusiastic audience if they returned outside of the auspices of the Bunbury Festival. Quick note: If you see a Dunwells album titled Follow the Road in stores (for you youngsters, a building where your parents buy music) or online, it is actually a re-sequenced and remixed version of Blind Sighted Faith, with a few alternate versions tossed in for flavor.
I briefly considered heading over to the Bud Light Stage to see some of Everest (a pick from Bunbury worker bee extraordinaire Jacob Heintz), but opted to check out a bit of Tegan and Sara at the Main Stage before making a definite decision.
I've interviewed both Quin twins over the years — most recently, I talked to Sara the year after the release of 2009's Sainthood — and while I lean toward their early work as far as my personal taste is concerned, their last trio of albums have been fairly well stacked with radio-friendly Pop songs with the potential to reach a massive audience. The enormous turnout for their Bunbury set would seem to support their decision to go the pure Pop route, but the fact is that Tegan and Sara have been cultivating a large and diverse audience for the past decade and a half, and their synth-driven Pop direction was not enough of a departure to alienate any portion of their slavishly loyal fan base. Predictably, the bulk of their set was devoted to Heartthrob, along with faves from The Con and Sainthood; they also reached all the way back to 2002's If It Was You for "Living Room" and they threw in a cover of Tiesto's "Feel It in My Bones," on which they originally guested. As expected, the adrenaline and volume of the live experience ferments Tegan and Sara's sugary Pop confections into something with a little more bite. Even for those who weren't completely sold on their recent work (my hand is up), Tegan and Sara's live presentation could make you see the light.
After T&S, it was time to hit the Amphitheater Stage to see Buffalo Killers. If you missed seeing the James Gang in 1971, here's your chance. Because I'm old enough to have actually missed the James Gang (with Joe Walsh, that is; I was lucky enough to see the even rarer sight of the James Gang with Tommy Bolin. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls …) that joke is only marginally funny. Luckily, Buffalo Killers have approximated the trio's fuzzy guitar assault and maniacally furious rhythm section here in the 21st century to give an indication of what Joe and the boys might have sounded like if they had stayed together a little longer and gelled a little better. And even though Buffalo Killers have managed to inject a bit of poppy sunshine into their bunker-busting sound, in the live arena the band still rumbles and shoots like a rhythmic Sherman tank. The Killers hit all of my teenage buttons (which were installed long ago and have never been fully deactivated, same as every man on the planet, I suppose) and any opportunity to witness their feedback-through-an-elephant-gun glory is a chance to time machine back to the days when electric dinosaurs roamed the earth and their squalling racket could be heard from sweaty and sparsely attended auditoriums to densely populated arenas. I love Buffalo Killers. They remind me that there is wisdom in remembering the past, joy in celebrating the present and excitement in anticipating the future.
After a brief stroll around the grounds to grab something to eat, it was back to the Amphitheater Stage for a healthy dose of Rock hard Americana with Those Darlins. The Nashville outfit has been down a Darlin since early last year when Kelley Anderson opted out of the band to pursue other musical projects (her new group, Grand Strand, got a good buzz after touring with Richard Lloyd last year), and her amicable departure has obviously changed the group's dynamic, particularly the absence of their signature three-part harmonies. The remaining Darlins — Jessi (Wariner), Nikki (Kvarnes) and drummer Linwood Regensberg — are carrying on with the-show-must-go-on determination; new bassist Adrian Barrera seems to be slotting in quite well and Those Darlins' core sound, along the lines of the Pandoras if they'd been influenced by Wanda Jackson and the Ramones, remains largely intact. Their Bunbury set did display a good deal more Rock and a good deal less twang than you'll find on their first two albums — 2009's Those Darlins and 2011's Screws Get Loose — and it's a safe bet that the new album they're currently working on will follow that blueprint as well. No one at the Amphitheater seemed too dismayed at the shift, particularly the hyperactive dance contingent in front of the stage. Two Darlins is clearly enough Darlins to make Those Darlins.
I bailed out of Those Darlins a bit early to make the long walk back to the Rockstar Stage to take in the Gypsy Jazz goodness of DeVotchKa. I've long been a fan of the Denver-based outfit (I came to them through 2004's How It Ends, fell in love with their version of the Velvets' "Venus in Furs" from the Curse Your Little Heart EP and adored their work in Little Miss Sunshine) but have never had the opportunity to see them in the flesh, and when I saw them on the Bunbury schedule, I knew there was little that could draw me away from their show. Luckily, their 9 p.m. slot meant they weren't programmed against anyone else, so the way was cleared for my first live DeVotchKa experience.
DeVotchKa lived up to and surpassed all advance billing with a set that walked the wire between frenetic and atmospheric but maintained high energy from start to finish. Even when they slowed the pace, there was an electric tension in their presentation that made clear something explosive could happen at any moment. And it usually did. All four members of the band — Nick Urata, Jeanie Schroder, Tom Hagerman, Shawn King — play multiple instruments so almost any sound is available to DeVotchKa, including theremin, boukouki, accordion, trumpet and Melodica. And Schroder does the heaviest lifting, either plucking with power and subtlety on her enormous upright bass or blowing away like Dizzy Gillespie on steroids into a gigantic sousaphone that looks as though it would be the punishment instrument for getting bad grades in high school band ("Okay, Baker, D in Orchestra, 10 solos with the death tuba..."). It wasn't a performance to analyze or interpret, it was a Gypsy Jazz soundtrack for a magic show, a feeling to wash over you like cool waves on warm sand, a Slavic Rock and Roll dance party. More than a few people on DeVotchKa's Facebook page declared it the best show of Bunbury's three-day weekend. It was most assuredly one of them.
Finally, it was time for fun. Not the fun that we'd been having all day at Bunbury, but the fun. that's topping the charts and recently played Saturday Night Live and won a couple of Grammys this year. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the band. I like their sound to a certain extent, it's energetic and entertaining and I really like Nate Reuss' voice. I actually interviewed him a decade ago when he was fronting the Format; ironically and perhaps presciently, he used the word "fun" a half dozen times to describe his band at the time.
At any rate, I hung around to see the show to be able to report how it was to my daughter, and because the band clearly doesn't take itself too seriously. When they accepted their Record of the Year Grammy for "We Are Young," Reuss said, "I don't know what I was thinking, writing the chorus for this song. If this is in HD, everybody can see our faces, and we are not very young." All in all, I was expecting a pleasant if unassuming concert experience.
And that's pretty much how it started, with the "Some Nights" intro, the title track to their sophomore album (it would show up in its entirety during the band's two-song encore, leading into "One Foot" from Some Nights). In fact, fun. performed almost all of Some Nights (save for "All Alright"), and over half of their debut album, 2009's Aim and Ignite, perhaps best represented by "At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I Used to Be)" and the nearly eight-minute closer, "Take Your Time (Coming Home)." Of course, they saved their anthemic signature singles for the second half of the set, first "Carry On" and then, two songs later, the epic Grammy-winning Pop of "We Are Young." Sandwiched in between though was a very charming version of The Rolling Stones’ "You Can't Always Get What You Want," an interesting lead-in to "We Are Young," a song that would seem to sport a diametrically opposed message. By the time fun. concluded with "Stars" as the second song of their encore, they had fired a confetti cannon (there was still yards of fun. confetti on the field when The National played Sunday night), performed the majority of their two studio albums and put on a show that proved they were worthy of their first-night-closing status. While I think they should remove the rather severe punctuation from their name, I have to say I was at least slightly converted toward a fun. lifestyle.
Revitalization group 3CDC's live music programming throughout the past few summers has helped turn Fountain Square into the heart of Cincinnati's increasingly active downtown area, drawing thousands to the Square every week to catch everything from Reggae and Salsa to Hip Hop and Indie Rock.
The group will be doing the same thing in Over-the-Rhine at the newly renovated Washington Park across from Music Hall. The Park officially opens tomorrow (July 6) with a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. The christening will be followed by tours of the park, then a free 5 p.m. World Choir Games "friendship concert" at the Bandstand.
Like with Fountain Square, Washington Park's weekly music series will showcase local musicians, with live performances on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Wednesday will be "Bandstand Bluegrass" night, featuring some of the best area Bluegrass artists. The shows begin July 11 and will run every week, starting at 7 p.m., until Sept. 5. On Fridays, the Park features "Friday Flow," a night of R&B and Soul that starts July 13 and runs each Friday through Sept. 5.
The lineups for Wednesdays and Fridays have yet to be announced, but more details have been made available about the every-Thursday Jazz in the Park series. Beginning July 12, the lineup has been curated by local Jazz pianist Chris Comer, who held a similar role on Fountain Square last year. The first Jazz in the Park concert is July 12 and features Comer and his quintet, plus special guest Napoleon Maddox from the progressive Jazz/Hip Hop group IsWhat?!
Jazz in the Park performances run 7-9 p.m. through Aug. 30. Other shows in the series include the P&G Big Band (July 19); The Cincy Brass (Aug. 2); Steve Schmidt (Aug. 9), Ricky Nye Inc. (Aug. 16); and the Dick Sorice-Dan Jackson Quintet (Aug. 23).
Along with many other special concerts — like Over the Rhine's (the band) free show July 22 and the rare joint performance featuring Cincinnati Pops, May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet — the Washington Park summer schedule is filled with other types of events, from community festivals to "dog programs" to movie nights and special "Curiosity Saturdays" for kids.
One of the coolest physical changes to Washington Park is the interactive Classical Music Walk of Fame, a project in conjunction with the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and InfoTrust which will enable visitors to use their smartphones and tablets to play various musical selections through the park's sound system or through the very cool "musical fountains," which will change appearance/flow/color depending on which music is selected.
Here's a quick overview of how the interactive Classical Music Walk of Fame will work.
To read about all of the things Washington Park has planned just this summer alone (remember, it will be a primary venue for the MidPoint Music Festival at the end of September) click here.
Ill Poetic — the multitasking Hip Hop artist who made his bones in the Cincinnati and Dayton scenes and writes a monthly words-of-wisdom column for CityBeat called Hip Hop (Un) Scene — will be providing some dispatches from the road this month for us as he embarks on the J. Rawls-headlined “#Ohio Takeover Tour.” The tour (featuring a roster of Ohio acts) is an early promotional push for The Hip Hop Affect, the anticipated new release from Rawls, a renowned DJ/producer whose credits range from work on the first Black Star album to working with Madlib and The Beastie Boys. Recently, Rawls leaked the new track “We’re on Top (#ohiotakeover),” a “posse cut” featuring 23 MCs from the Buckeye State.
Music Tonight: Ohio musical pioneers Rocket From the Tombs perform at the Southgate House with local greats Buffalo Killers and SS-20. Formed in 1974 in Northern Ohio, the pre-Punk legends might not get the credit of some of Punk's other earliest engineers, from New York and the U.K, but their importance in shaping the music (and the New Wave/Alterntaive/Indie music that followed) cannot be overstated. Like many great artists (Van Gogh, Poe, Kafka, etc.), RFTT weren't appreciated in their time, something not surprising considering they existed for only about a year and never released a lick of music. The band's split spawned two other wildly important bands — Dead Boys, featuring Stiv Bators and TFTT's Cheetah Chrome, and Pere Ubu with RFTT's David Thomas and Peter Laughner (who passed away in 1977). Both "new" (and distinctively different) bands took some Rocket tunes with them — Dead Boys claimed songs like "Ain't It Fun" and "Sonic Reducer," while Pere Ubu took with them "Final Solution" and "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" — all "Punk" classics. In the ’00s, RFTT compiled live and archival recordings so the band would finally have something in the record stores and, in the process, reconnected and, in 2009, the band convened to record its official "debut album" nearly 35 years after originally forming. Read Steven Rosen's interview with frontman (and Art Rock icon) David Thomas for this week's CityBeat here. Showtime tonight is 9 p.m. and admission is $15. Click below to listen to Rocket From the Tombs' rendition of "Sonic Reducer."
This Saturday is Record Store Day, which began in 2007 as a way to celebrate (and draw business to) independent, brick-and-mortar record shops all over the globe.
In the Cincinnati area, four longtime record shops with loyal fanbases will officially participate — Everybody’s Records in Pleasant Ridge, Shake It Records in Northside, Mole’s Record Exchange in Clifton Heights and Phil’s Music & Memories in Latonia, Ky. That means you’ll be able to get your hands on some of the thousands of exclusive, RSD-only releases coming out this year from a wide range of acclaimed artists, new and old. (See the huge "The List" of exclusives below.) Other stores may also be doing fun, interesting stuff for the "holiday"; be sure to visit all of your favorites. That's what the day is all about.
• The local shops usually do it up big for RSD. At Everybody’s Records, you can listen to live music (including a 2 p.m. acoustic set from Jody Stapleton and Brandon Losacker of Jody Stapleton and the Generals) and DJing (from local Reggae DJ squad Queen City Imperial Soundsystem at 5 p.m.) throughout your RSD adventuring at the store.
• At Shake It, Grammy-winning (for his work on Dr. John’s last album) rocker Brian Olive performs at 6 p.m. (he and his band play MOTR Pub later on Saturday for free), while Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker of Wussy play at 8 p.m. Shake It is offering a 10% discount on purchases for anyone bringing non-perishable food items for Churches Active in Northside’s Choice Food Pantry.
• Shake It’s “record label” branch is also getting in on the RSD fun, putting out a pair of new, limited, exclusive releases by a couple of local music giants. Saturday at the shop, you’ll be able to pick up a live vinyl album featuring a performance at Shake It by The Greenhornes over a decade ago. The Live at Shake It Records 2001 LP featuring 14 tracks representing the band’s first three albums (one song was previously released by the label on a 7-inch in 2002, but it went out of print instantly).
Shake It will also release an EP of songs by Walker and Cleaver — a.k.a. Wussy Duo, which plays when the full band is not available. The CD features seven tracks from the slimmed-down lineup.
• With Record Store Day falling on 4/20, it should be no surprise that critically-acclaimed Cincy-area rockers Buffalo Killers would get in on the action; pot references are sprinkled throughout the band’s discography and their deft blend of vintage Psych Pop and swampy Blues Rock is certainly THC-friendly. The trio — which tours frequently and has made fans out of The Black Keys, The Black Crowes and many others across the U.S. — is coming through big with a new six-track, 12-vinyl EP titled Ohio Grass. The follow-up to the band’s fourth and finest full-length, 2012’s Dig. Sow. Love. Grow., has more than just a title reference to the smoky stuff — the EP’s cover (see above) features a giant, burning joint and the vinyl itself is colored “Herb Green” (as noted on the pot-leaf sticker also gracing the cover). The EP is a Record Store Day exclusive through the band’s label, Alive Naturalsounds Records.
The Buffs will be spending 4/20 in Dayton, performing an in-store at Omega Records to celebrate the release and RSD, but on Friday, Buffalo Killers perform a free show for Cincinnati fans at MOTR Pub with special guests, The Cincinnati Suds. Showtime is 10 p.m.
Click below for a huge list of Record Store Day exclusives from the RSD official site. (Click here for more, including the special RSD releases that will still be available post-Record Store Day.)
On Sunday night, hundreds of local musicians — as well as the many of the fans who love them — had Covington's Madison Theater packed to capacity to celebrate the 16th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
It was another love fest, as the music, laughs, camaraderie and drinks flowed throughout the tight three-hour ceremony/party CityBeat founded over a decade and a half ago as a means of honoring Greater Cincinnati's music makers (and, originally, local theater artists and productions).
Though it has lessened over the years as more people have grown to understand the CEAs better, there is still plenty of griping about the awards every year. The vast majority of complaints are about who gets nominated. It's understandable in light of the talent that is overlooked annually. Having so many talented and deserving artists in our city making quality music is a good problem to have. But if every worthy musical act in the Tri-State area were to be nominated for a CEA each year, the categories would include dozens of nominees and the show itself would have to be a sleepover affair. You think the Oscars are too long? Sit through one 16-hour CEA show and you'll be begging for a witty Billy Crystal musical number.
Like every year, the sport of CEA bashing is quickly forgotten once inside the venue for the ceremony. The awards celebration is the one time of the year where fellow musicians from every genre — some friends already, some friends-to-be, others perhaps only known via social media messages — gather in one place. There doesn't seem to be a ton of competitive spite within our music scene and the musicians I've talked and worked with, for the most part, are always pretty down to earth. (As if on cue, the griping returned right after the show — a comment on Sunday night's blog post featuring the winners of this year's awards deemed the whole program an embarrassment. Sixteen years of my life, wasted! Oh, anonymous trolls, where would you be without the internet?)
The CEAs can't help but become a communal love fest. (Yes, the drinking probably helps this quite a bit, as well.) In general, there seems to be a lot of internal support amongst local musicians, and it feels like external support and appreciation (outside of jerky, anonymous comments) is on an upswing. The CEAs are always a great reflection of that community spirit.
Ben Davis of Indie Pop duo Bad Veins kicked off the CEAs with his trademark taped accompaniment, but without bandmate, drummer Sebastien Schultz. Davis' performance was still compelling, capped off by that timeless ode to magic and mystery, The Muppets' chestnut, "Rainbow Connection." The singer/multi-instrumentalist set the tone (and the bar) for the night's performances, which included plenty of revelations and some fun, novel surprises.
Those unexpected moments are always the performance highlights of any awards show and this year's CEA lineup and production provided loads of highlights. Local Boogie Woogie torchbearer Ricky Nye rumbled through a great set of rollicking Blues, building up to a cool collaborative climax as Blake Taylor and Jonathan Reynolds of fellow CEA "Blues" category nominees 46 Long joined the pianist/singer. Nye and 46 Long had been embroiled in a mock online feud leading up to the show. Music heals! (Nye ended up winning the category.)
International Punk sensations The Dopamines gave the show a jolt with their explosive performance, launching into Guided By Voices' "A Salty Salute," but only after bassist Jon Weiner managed to insult nerds and "old fucks" in his introduction (they're "Punk," he reminded everyone later). From there, the trio launched into a mini-set of their own adrenalized anthems with fiery swagger. Fans were made.
The same can be said for singer Jess Lamb, the soulful vocalist who wowed the crowd with a few hypnotic songs, joined by her guitarist and bassist (who doubled on throbbing kick-drum). The sparse set-up belied the soaring sounds conjured, guided by Lamb's remarkable voice. Lamb was nominated for a CEA in the R&B/Funk/Soul category, a testament to her unique sound, which comes closer to resembling Florence and the Machine than, say, Usher. We may need to create an "Alternative/Soul/Rock" category to accommodate Lamb next year.
The Hip Hop/Rock band Gold Shoes are also keen hybridizers, and their CEA performance was a great display of the group's unique spin on Hip Hop fusion. The band provides a dynamic backdrop that's spiced with elements of Funk, Rock, Pop, Jazz and beyond. But the group isn't just providing a playground for frontman Buggs Tha Rocka to unleash his tight, captivating flow. The group writes melodic songs with strong, unique chorus hooks. Their CEA performance was a clinic on how to combine Hip Hop with other types of music without sounding like a cheap Pop grab (" … featuring Adam Lavine!"), Gym Class Heroes or, God help us all, Limp Bizkit.
The Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, which provided a great experience for VIP ticket buyers in the balcony, reminded everyone of the Queen City's place in shaping popular music with a segment presented by the group's president, musician Marvin Hawkins. After talking a bit about the organization's plans to continue honoring the area's rich musical past in 2013 (expect a lot of King Records-related events in honor of the locally-based groundbreaking label's 70th anniversary), Hawkins joined a host of local Roots musicians for a spin through a pair of songs from the recent collection, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a project spearhead by Bob Dylan that involved writing songs from a cache of unearthed lyrics written by the American music icon. The all-star band assembled — including Magnolia Mountain's Mark Utley and Renee Frye, David Rhodes Brown and Sylvia Mitchell — expertly played songs they had recorded at the Music Heritage Foundation's downtown headquarters, in the same space once occupied by Herzog studios, the site where Williams recorded "Lovesick Blues" and other classics.
The CEA show itself ran smoothly and first-time host Ted Clark proved to be a great fit for the show. Clark's deadpan, sardonic humor — familiar to those who flock to his "live talk shows" at MOTR Pub — was reminiscent of Zach Galifianakis and sometimes he had great lines that were maybe to subtle for the CEA's "party atmosphere." But from those of us paying attention — bravo, Mr. Clark.
There was an array of entertaining acceptance styles from the winners, ranging from choked-up and sincere to pumped-up and enthusiastic to more matter-of-fact. Wussy had a huge night, taking home the Album of the Year (for Strawberry) and Artist of the Year CEAs, capped by some funny lines while accepting. Drummer Joe Klug joked that, for anyone doubting they deserved the Artist award, Wussy "played Little Rock, Ark., four times in the past year."
The award presenters — a collection of local music supporters and personalities, mostly from radio and press outlets, as well as sponsor reps — did a great job hammering home the "support local music" message of the CEAs' mission. But presenter and CityBeat Arts and Culture Editor Jac Kern provided one of the funniest bits in CEA history with her tribute to Beyonce — via a soon-cut-off lip-synced performance of the National Anthem.
Culture Queer capped off the show (or warmed up the after party?) with a set that captured the fun of the night, rocking out a trio of quirky, animated Electro Indie Art Pop gems with their trademark film backdrop. The sprightly CEA trophy hostesses came out for some dancing on finale "Born Again," their funky get-ups matching CQ's twitchy, offbeat anthem — and the jubilant, colorful energy of the entire night — perfectly.