With close to 150 nominees and 150 members from the general public in attendance at the 22nd Annual Review Music Awards, held at Sullivan's Black Forest on Monday, June 16th, it was decidedly an evening to celebrate all that is musical, original, and artistically significant in the Mid-Michigan area.
With musicians from all genres rubbing elbows and enjoying the early throes of summer, all ears were attentively focused upon the stage to listen not only for the winners announced during the stretch of our six month polling process, but the energized flex of musical muscle displayed on-stage from unique collaborations, alliances, and performances from the 2008 roster of guest artists.
The evening opened with multiply honored talent Bryan Rombalski and his band 3 Worlds stretching the musical boundaries of jazz, opening everybody's ears to a guest sit-in from keyboard Wiz Mike Brush and vocalist extraordinaire Julie Mulady painting a canvas that covered the full spectrum of jazz at its finest.
Apart from exemplary sets by The Lavel Jackson Blues Band, emanating a unique blend of music carrying the truth of the Gospel with grounded fundamentals of the Blues concocted with a melodic structure reminiscent of Motown, the audience was also on their feet for the performance of Sprout tending to each detail of The Band's legendary Last Waltz, with multiply honored Blues artist Mass Besey and guitarist Drew Pentkowski lending maestro guitar & vocal licks to Sprout guitarist Aaron Johnson's impeccable licks on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and also joined by John Krogman for a haunting version of the CSNY classic Helpless.
Best Rock Band Milligram Smile shook the rafters with firm musical muscle, while The Thunderchickens, Empty Pockets, and I Became the Sky all proved that the State of Original Rock is perhaps the healthiest industry alive in the Tri-Cities.
Unique collaborations between songsmith's Brett Mitchell, backed by his band, and Andy Reed, releasing a fresh new CD the day of the Awards, demonstrated the aural dimensions and reach that acoustic oriented music can achieve, especially from the traditional confines of a single guitar and a catchy simple melody. When Mitchell reached for exacting feedback tones from his stage monitor, it was obvious that all the old rules of so-called 'folk' music are being redefined.
Similarly, newcomers and newly honored from multiple wins, Cornpone demonstrated through their set - and the reach of their acceptance by fans & critics - that so-called 'Country' music and Bluegrass are being shown a new way of being courted. To paraphrase Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, 'We aren't in Texas or Kansas anymore' when it comes to following tradition.
As for how the many winners felt about being honored in the 2008 Awards, with only four days to deadline for this Special Edition, we solicited responses from several of the most numerously honored recipients
Here's what they had to say.
The Steel Wheels Band
Best Country Band * Best Country Drummer * Best Country Guitarist * D-Street Critic's Awards - Best Country Band
"Overall, we're honored, humbled, excited, surprised, amazed, and just happy that we're still able to be recognized in so many ways for the music we're putting out there," notes Dale Michaels on behalf of the group.
"For people to still find us relevant and still follow us and enjoy what we're doing after almost 5 years - that's just a wonderful feeling and we thank everybody who has ever supported us along the way."
"We feel honored as a group to receive these awards from both the review-mag as well as Dstreet. I think the band has a lot to be thankful for this year and these awards are a good catalyst to keep us doing what it is we do...delivering country music with the driving force of John Deere Tractors on Red Bull!"
"We are currently working on originals and have been doing some studio work and are hopeful that we can complete the Redneck Country Folk project by fall of this year.
"As the front man of the group I feel extremely fortunate to be working with these veteran musicians who all give a special contribution to the Steel Wheels Bands current sound and it makes my job as front man for the group a real pleasure."
"I would like say thank you to all the fans, friends, and colleagues who voted for us and tell you how much we enjoy being a part of all the great performers that grace the Tri-cities...see ya down the road"
The Banana Convention
Best Concert Group/Project * Best Alternative Band * Best Website * Best Rock Guitarist * Best Bass * Best Female Rock Vocalist * Musician Deserving Wider Recognition
"I pretty much never won anything in my life, so this award means so much to me. I spent a lot of my middle school and high school years practicing my solos over a digital delay loop pedal for hours at a time," reflects Ray Torres.
"Like I said during my speech, "This is not only for me, but also for all the nominees in this category, because everyone on that list deserves the award. I'll just be a representative for all of you who deserve as much as every musician around this area."
Vocal powerhouse Shar Molina waxes equally enthusiastic. "It is so awesome that our local scene does this for the musicians around here. There are a lot of extremely talented performers in the area, and every one of them deserves recognition for all of the hard work that they do throughout the year."
"I still cant believe I won the DWR award. I think that is just amazing. And I am honored to once again share the female rock vocalist award with Melissa May. She worked really hard this year and definitely deserves it."
As for Best Bassist Sean Drysdale, "Well I never saw that one coming," he laughs. "There was some stiff competition this year and being nominated the last several years I just kinda felt like, "Well its no biggie if I don't win this year". Then, when I won, I almost p@#$d myself and slithered up to say thank you. Simply put it felt amazing."
"We're extremely proud of the Award, Best Concert Group/Album/Project because that shows that our live show is one of the best in the area," states BC ringmaster, Monte Nothelfer.
"To be called the Best Concert Group shows that the work and energy we put in to our live shows are not unnoticed, and we do feel like our live show is one of the best around. That also carries over in to the Best Alternative Band category/award. We do feel like we provide a great alternative experience in our music and our show, and it's an honor to have our peers and fans acknowledge our efforts."
"I'd like to give it up to our webmaster, Matthew Nothelfer, who is the creative force behind all our great designs - including all our show flyers and our website. We're always complimented on our flyers and design work, and he's the one who deserves all that praise. Hours and hours have gone in to the web design, with more on the way. What we have now is just scratching the surface of what we want our site to be. We want a fully interactive site where fans can follow our progress while we're working on a new song from it's inception all the way until it gets to the point of it being played live and ultimately recorded for an album. We want people to go on that journey with us, and give us their thoughts along the way. The site is our tool for making that happen."
Review Artist of the Year * Best Original Band * Best Variety Band * Best Rock Drummer * Band DWR * Best Rock Instrumentalist * Rock Rookie of the Year * Best Female Rock Vocalist
"Review Artist of the Year is a very special award. It's the one award that isn't purely a popularity contest. It is a very special nod also from the Review staff. They see so many bands over a year and always have their ear to the ground for new and interesting music."
"Best Original Band and Best Variety Band are such bi-polar opposites, it's very cool. So many bands wrestle with integrity versus commercialism so it's nice to get the award for the categories honoring what I view as both," notes Josh Jekel.
"It's like our originals are at least palatable to the people that could care less about original music and local bands, but also our covers aren't so hokey as to alienate the fans of original music."
"We're very happy that Matt Kramer has won in Rock and Country categories now. He is no longer with the band, but he's still playing some shows with us and we are still friends and that's what's important"
"It's so awesome that Mel won Best Female-Vocalist and Instrumentalist. That is such an honor for her and us. She is what a lead singer should be, whether male or female. She is an amazing person and performer beyond all of that. Everywhere we go people are amazed at her stage presence command as a performer and say it's like nothing they've seen before. Her performance is really on the next level and hopefully we will find our way there, wherever that is."
"All this and Rock Rookie of the Year. Then I think, "There are still a whole lot of people that don't know who we are." I check out the bands with any kind of a name and they have been around years. So we are doing ok considering on the way home from our first show all of our equipment in a van burned up and the recent city tree crushing Mel's truck, both of which are total losses."
"But what's rock-n-roll without some stories to tell."
Best Country Bassist * Best Country Vocalist * Country Band DWR * Country Rookie of the Year
"Playing the Review Awards was an incredible honor. It is the one event that brings musicians together to see what we are all up to, states stand-up bassist Jeff Schrems.
"Playing music in the area, you know a great many of the fantastic bands that are playing every weekend, but unless you're doing a show with them, it is very difficult to see them. The Review Awards brings us all together."
"We all need to work together, support each other and help each other out, especially considering the treatment live music gets these days. I am just grateful there wasn't an award given to the area's best karaoke singer."
"Specifically for Cornpone & the awards we won, we honestly didn't know how people would receive us. There isn't a huge audience for country that sounds like it just rolled off the Hadacol Medicine Show. Genre really is a non-issue anymore. Musicians recognize talent and heart when they see it."
" So many people had kind words, it really meant a lot to us. Winning so many awards was great, but seeing great musicians like Brett Mitchell, Andy Reed, our brothers in Sprout, The Thunderchickens and being knocked out by poet/author Marc Beaudin and hanging out with great guys like Scott Baker & Al Limberg really made the night for us. The Review Awards always makes me realize that talent lurks in inconspicuous places."
"We just found out yesterday that we might have nailed an opening spot for Willie Nelson at the Woodtick festival in the U.P this August. Also, we plan on doing an official CD release party soon."
"As for the Future? Get back in the studio and put another album together, world domination, charity work, hiking Everest, raising Alpacas and probably just havin' a good time!"
Ah, yes the true Spirit of Rock 'n Roll: watch for more next issue!