Highlights Abound From the 37th REVIEW Music Awards

This year's event at Bay City' Westown Theater celebrated a diverse array of talent

    icon May 18, 2023
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Falling up can be a pretty good look, especially when receiving an award in a room filled with friends and musical peers. More on that a bit later, but first…

The entire evening that encompassed the 37th Review Music Awards, from the Opening Remarks at 5pm by Review Publisher Robert Martin to psychedelic rock ensemble Kush Robinson’s closing set at 11pm, was energized with wall-to-wall hugs and high-fives at Midland Street’s Westown Theater. 

Blessed with a wellspring of talent that could hold its own with any large market, the Tri-City music scene was well-represented, especially by the area’s female artists, with three of the six bands that performed during the night being fronted by women (Lori & the Darlings, Michelle O’Neil & Friends, and Winaschnitzel for those keeping score).

Back in Bay City after a 5-year hiatus, the Review Awards offered its latest evening of accolades and musical performance to recognize the area’s best in all aspects of live music. 

All That Jazz

The Voortex Jazz & Blues Band, which picked up honors for Best Big Band during the jazz awards, would light up the stage a few hours later with a showcase performance that featured the band’s nucleus, Kelly “Papa” Kiszka (vocals, harmonica) and Mark “The Moose” VanVoorhees (bass) along with Chuck Edwards (keys, vocals), Stevie Nyquist (drums), Rhett Yocom (guitar), Jeff Grassl (saxophone), Darrien Loehne (guitar), and Kalysta (vocals). 

Before the night was over, three of the guest performers from that powerhouse lineup (Rhett Yocum, Darrien Loehne, and Kalysta) would be back onstage to receive their own respective awards.

The evening of music officially kicked off, however, with Lori & the Darlings, performing songs from their debut EP, Gratitude (Side A), which took honors for Best New Album or CD Release (tied with Winaschnitzel). 

“We got to open the ceremony, and that was super cool,” enthused Lori & the Darlings singer/guitarist Lori Keisler. “It took a bit to take in everything that happened,” she said, reflecting on the band’s three wins. 

“[Drummer] Eric DiAigle and I went last year and he said to me, ‘I really wanna play that stage next year.’ And I said, ‘Alright, let’s see what we can do.” 

When looking for a videographer for their first video, the band hit the jackpot with CMU student Christian Grant, who they found through the university media program. The group’s song, “Lucky” was a double winner, earning Best Rock Video and Best Blues Video.

Having gotten their first taste of public and peer recognition, the band plans to capitalize on the momentum. Keisler says they are working with a booking agent and will embark on a “mini-tour” from Chicago to Kentucky in the coming months. In September, they will return to Reed Recording in Bay City to start work on their next EP.

Heart of the Country

After Lori & the Darlings relinquished the stage, the country awards took the spotlight. Among the highlights, Family Tradition Band earned nods for Best Country Band and Best Country Video, while the group’s frontman, Randy Badour, was named Best Country Instrumentalist. 

“Family Tradition has been the most successful thing I’ve been a part of,” says Badour, a 25-year music veteran. Besides being named Best Country Band by Review voters for the past 3 years in a row, Family Tradition Band has a strong standing outside the area.

Founding member Kyle Palermino  who lives in Metro Detroit, started the band with his dad, who has since retired from performing. Palermino states in the early years before performing together, before he and Badour’s collaboration with FTB, they knew of each other but never had actually formally met. “We performed on many of the same events in our own previous bands and saw a lot of each other coming up in the scene, including Faster Horses the first couple years, [and] other fairs and festivals around the state.” 

After opening for the band on a couple gigs, adds Badour, “the opportunity presented itself for me to step up and be the singer.” He officially joined in 2019. “It’s been cool to put our powers together.”

The summer heats up in the Thumb for Family Tradition Band, with highlights to include opening for Rodney Atkins in Bay City at the Labadie Rib Fest on July 28 and the Munger Potato Fest on July 29.  “I grew up in Munger, so Potato Fest for us was like the Super Bowl every year,” Badour says. “You’d look forward to next year the day after it was over. So, it’s really special to me to go back and play on that stage.” 

The band is currently promoting its new single, “Hank Williams, Jr.” and plans to release another single this summer and an EP in the fall. 

After the country awards, Michelle O’Neil & Friends took the stage. O’Neil was joined by a backing band of Cody Busch (guitar), Melissa Curry (vocals), Loren Kranz (keys), Joe Balbaugh (bass), and Todd Miller (drums). This stellar lineup also included a few award winners, which the evening would reveal a bit later. 

Nestled among the collection of awards labeled “Miscellaneous,” the ensuing category, were Most Innovative Artist, Best Streaming Musical Series, and Best Recording Studio.

Picking Up the (Miscellaneous) Pieces 

Asked how he interprets his award for Most Innovative Artist, Matt deHeus puts it thusly. “I think that means I don’t do anything twice. I’m not innovative so much as I cross genres a lot,” he explains. deHeus also earned trips to the stage for Best Country Songwriter and Best Male Jazz Vocalist.

“On my new project (Matt de Heus & the Juice), I want to sound like The Gap Band, [or] Chic. I wanna sound like my record collection from the ’70s and ’80s. Cuz disco doesn’t suck,” he adds without a hint of irony. The project, which features members of Euclid Motel, will release new music in the coming months, promises DeHeus. 

Scott Baker has made numerous trips to the stage at the Review Music Awards for his musicianship, first being nominated in 2001. The past couple years, though, his other project, the Michigan Music History Podcast, has been growing its audience and receiving accolades. Baker started the podcast in 2021 with Gary “Dr. J” Johnson, Fred “Sir Fred” Reif, adding Mike “Mr. Mike” Beattie last year.

“It was nice to see a full house at this year’s awards, and I was just blown away by the talent, seeing Aaron Johnson, Matt Besey and Stephanie Noel with [Winaschnitzel guitarist] Conor Larkin was amazing. I’m a huge Michelle O’Neil fan, and Sir Fred was blown away by her. And Winaschnitzel just smoked it.”

An annual highlight of the Review Awards is the Lifetime Achievement Award, and there is no disputing this year’s recipient, Jeff Poirier, has made his mark in the community through The Sinclairs, Acoustic Cocktail, and various bands and music fundraising projects, including the annual Band Roulette event, which benefits local music nonprofits.

“Bob called me several weeks before the event, and at first I thought he was asking me for nomination ideas, so when he told me, I was floored,” says Poirier. The experience was much different than the surprise of hearing your name called when nominated for an award. “It was bizarre,” he recalls. “I’m honored but it’s such a weird feeling to sit there and have someone heap praise on you.” 

Self-conscious that his acceptance speech might be too long, Poirier edited it on the spot and realized too late he had left his wife and kids out of his thank-you’s. He rectified the omission in a subsequent Facebook post. 

Blues of Every Shade

As the night progressed, the music was just hitting stride. Next up, the Blues awards featured wins for Matt Besey (Best Blues Instrumentalist), Melissa “Mel” Curry (Best Female Blues Vocalist), and double wins for Rhett Yocom (Best Blues Band, Best Blues Songwriter).

“I’d gotten Best Blues Band before, but never Best Blues Songwriter, so that was special,” Yocom says. Another special aspect of the evening was playing with the Voortex Jazz & Blues Band. Yocom joined as a part-time member in late spring 2021. “Larry McCray called me and said they were looking for a guitarist, and I’ve been their first call since then.”

As he preps a new batch of tunes for the studio, Yocom has stepped back from the bar circuit, focusing on festivals and showcases. The band, which features Denny Fisk (keys), Jeff Grassl (sax), Scott Causley (drums), and “Gypsy” James Marcet (bass), will open for Michael Allman on June 17 at Scotty’s Sandbar. The band also has an event booked on the Princess Wenonah for Labor Day Weekend.

Reflecting on her evening, Mel Curry recalled earning her first Review Music Award at age 22 – Musician Deserving Wider Recognition (a category that has since been eliminated). “I was so happy to sing with Michelle,” said Curry. “She’s been my singing soulmate for the past 10 years.” 

After taking a break from performing for the past 4 years, during which she waged a successful battle against cancer and alcohol, Curry is looking forward to launching her new venture, Treble Chef, a food truck with a built-in stage for music performance. A Grand Introduction is scheduled for May 26 at White’s Bar, with live music, including a performance by Acapulco Gold.

“All the females in our scene are killing it,” Curry added, pointing to the wealth of talent performing and being recognized in 2023.

Defying Categorization

In what is becoming an annual ritual at the Review Awards, singer / trumpeter Andy Hahn, front man for Marsupial Creampie, was summoned to the stage to receive recognition. This year, Hahn earned Best Rap / Hip Hop Performer and Best Male Blues Vocalist, while Marsupial Creampie was named Best Original Band and Best Funk Band. The eclectic trio, which also includes Terry Poirier (percussion/vocals) and Amelia Jo (guitar/vocals), has versatile appeal. 

“In previous years, we’ve been Best Variety Band, Best Alternative Band – I was joking with Terry the only category the band hasn’t won is Best Country Band - we might have to do a year of country [shows] and get recognized for that,” said Hahn. The band’s videos, which capture the group’s quirky bohemian style, are produced by Amelia Jo, who was also recognized for Best Videographer.

In addition to Creampie, the trio also performs with Drew Brady as En Voyage, and will also be playing the Renaissance Festival circuit this summer with a fiddle player. On top of these projects, Hahn still fronts Venomous Lemon, the venerable Bemo’s house band, featuring six-string savant Steve Hornack (Bemo’s, incidentally, was voted Best Live Music Club or Bar.)

No Such Thing as a Bad Rap

When it came to rap / hip hop (as well as a few other categories), the dominant force for the evening was Chris Redburn, who took home honors for Best Songwriter, Best Video, and Artist of the Year. REDBURN’s “Hell No” was also recognized for Best New Single Release, Best Rock Video, Best Rap Video, Best Music Video and tied for Best Rock Video. REDBURN also won for Best Band Website.

The Westown is our second home, so it was cool to be there,” says Redburn. “It’s nice to see newer, younger bands starting to come on the scene,” he added. 

The eponymously named REDBURN formed in 2014, and after one of their first shows were recruited to support Rehab on a 40-city tour that catapulted the band to success. REDBURN folded in 2015, a month after its debut at the Review Awards, as Redburn was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He recovered and made his return to music in 2019 with a new album. Then COVID hit. He performed at the virtual Review Awards held at a quarantined Hamilton Street Pub in 2020. 

Looking ahead, the rapper has a Linkin Park cover video that will drop in late May and an EP coming out this summer. 

Rock of Ages

In the rock category, some new names entered the mix along with a few well-known local artists. First, The Euclid Motel earned its stripes as Best Rock Band, with members Darrien Loehne (Best Rock Guitarist) and Nathan Siefferly (Best Rock Drummer) also being recognized. 

“It was the first award I’ve ever gotten in my life,” said Loehne on his Best Rock Guitarist honor. “I was horrible at sports growing up. To get an award for guitar playing? That’s pretty cool.” 

William Patrick Hystad, lead singer and guitarist for We, the Infamous, made a couple appearances onstage – first as a presenter and then to accept the award for Best Male Rock Vocalist. 

We, the Infamous performed at the 2022 Review Music Awards, with Hystad being named Best Rock Guitarist. The group recently added a horn section, which is inspiring a new direction with the band’s music.

“The Westown was a fantastic choice as a venue,” remarked Hystad, adding, “It’s wonderful to get us all in the same room because as working musicians we’re all fighting for the same weekend somewhere.”

Another artist who found his way to the stage multiple times was Joe Balbaugh. Bass player for Adaboy! and a sought-after accompanist for many local artists, Balbaugh was recognized as Best Rock Bassist and Best Multi-Instrumentalist. In addition, Adaboy! earned Best Alternative Band, with Singer/Guitarist Michael Richards earning Best Male Country Vocalist. 

“Some of the newer releases that we’re doing lean toward [the country] genre, and also alternative folk,” said Balbaugh, attributing it to the fact that the band has been recording in Nashville, getting the opportunity “to rub elbows with some pretty cool people.”

“I was up for Best Country Songwriter, which was kind of a surprise as well,” he says, adding that the band’s current and next single (“Time [Voices Run], and Shades of You, respectively), have an “alt-country folk upbeat” flavor. 

Adaboy! will open for 38 Special at Wenonah Park on July 21.

And Now for Something Completely Different

In a tie for Best New Artist, Twenty Dollar Dog and Pesky Kid shared this year’s honor. The former is a five-piece band fronted by guitarist/vocalists Bob Wall and Patrick Fairfield, while the latter is the stage moniker of Benjamin Champagne.

Champagne previously ran Counter Culture, a Saginaw club that hosted Patchwork Music Festival and Fun House and was nominated for Best Venue during its years of operation from 2014 to 2019. After the venue closed and the pandemic hit, Champagne started making his own music. 

“There were no concerts, and I wanted to start a soul band,” says Champagne, who started making hip-hop beats. His new single, “Sweet n Low,” is out May 24, with another single, “Keys to Heaven,” due in June. An EP, titled “Benny,” will stream in July.

Champagne voiced appreciation for the effort, coordination, and planning that goes into the Review Awards, which presented 58 trophies in myriad categories during the 6-plus hours of show. “Putting art into the world is not easy,” he says. “Pushing for new artists is really important. We have our established artists that everyone knows and supports, but for new and upcoming artists to have support is important and I think REVIEW  does that.” 

Falling Up: Not a Bad Look

A fitting finale to the evening’s festivities was provided by Bay City’s own Melissa May. Earlier in the evening, May and music partner Brian Coonan won for Best Duo and enjoyed a brief celebration before Coonan headed home and, since they had driven together, dropped May off at her place.

At that point, sitting in her driveway, May had two options: Return to The Westown by herself, with no expectations other than enjoying a sober evening out with her fellow music community, or give herself credit for having made an appearance, and call it a night.

After all, she had already been called up to the stage once. In 2022, May and Coonan had been nominated but did not win for Best Duo. “This year, we came, with no expectations, just to have a good time.” 

Resisting the urge to stay home, May returned to The Westown, where she was nominated for two more awards. She recalls what happened next when she heard her name called for Best Female Rock Singer and made her way to the stage. 

“I tripped up the stairs and face-planted. I was all by myself, I wasn’t with friends, I didn’t have a partner with me, it was a big deal,” she recalls, adding with a laugh, “Falling is funny, as long as no one’s hurt.” Completely sober, the only thing she could think to say was, “I’m not drinking!”

The resulting jolt of adrenaline generated by her public tumble released any underlying tension and insecurity she might have been feeling prior to that. 

Then, following Best Female Rock Singer with another honor, for Best Rock Songwriter, was the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. For May, the subject matter in her songs delves deeply into personal matters. 

“I’m breaking a cycle of trauma through alcohol and family,” she says. “My recent songs have focused on that.” While it may be “kind of depressing” on the surface, May says she’d like to lift the stigma that prevents people from talking about – and working through – such issues.

Until the 38th Review Music Awards nominations start, keep supporting local artists, venues, and businesses; you want to be ready when we ask for your favorites in 2024.


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