From the Front Row at the Veer Local Music Awards
NPR theme maestro BJ Leiderman kicked things off with a “Ladies and Gentlemen, please stay seated for the National Anthem…of Love” before launching into The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and thus kicking off Veer Magazine’s Local Music Awards at the Naro Theater in Norfolk.
It was a fitting way to begin the show, as Leiderman is a Tidewater native who’s risen to great musical success writing the theme songs to hit radio shows like “Morning Edition” and “Marketplace.” But moreso in that the date was February 15 (Valentine’s Hangover) and the theme was Love Your Local Music. From the sold out theater and the lines outside hoping for admittance, we witnessed there are a great many who do just that.
The performance segued into a video montage of Tidewater bands and their fans talking about why this love persists and what makes people flock to bars and clubs to see acts not many have heard of to the tune of Joan Jett’s classic “I Love Rock-n-Roll.”
The ceremony sped through its first three categories, with Newport News’ Ferguson Center for the Arts upsetting Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for Best Performing Arts Center. As an employee of Ferguson all the way through its transformation from old high school to outstanding concert hall, we felt a little proud at this victory (and a little old when Director of Marketing Neil Burns reminded us the venue is now seven years old in his acceptance speech).
Best R&B came next, introduced by frequent Veer contributor Jerome Langston. He had lovely words about the genre and challenged the audience to take a chance on old school Norfolk and the sounds it created and continues to influence to this day. WHRO deejay and musician Jae Sennett (with his act House & Sennett) won.
After a quick acceptance by Alpha Music as Best Music Retailer (the closest category by a 0.1% margin), Annie Johnson and co. took to the stage in a nice-n-easy bluesy beginning to the night’s performances.
A few more awards and we heard from Lynne Seagle, Executive Director of acclaimed charity Hope House Foundation to present the inaugural Best Busker Awards. This one held special significance for us, as we were so involved in Norfolk’s passing the 2011 ordinance to allow busking on its streets and are so proud of the nominees as well as the handful of buskers performing outside the venue as the show began.
The incomparable Philip Roebuck won, but was not on hand to accept the award. Seagle’s parting words compared the spirit of busking with the spirit of many who receive support from her charity, defining both as “someone who stands up and has courage to be different.”
A few more awards and Kara McGehee, President of Tidewater Arts Outreach (and daughter of musician Lewis McGehee) spoke on the importance of TAO’s mission and how music and art impact us all positively.
The Crushes played next with The Supreme’s classic “Where Did Our Love Go?” Their ambition is catchy and so are their outfits. When I heard they’d really only been playing a few months, I was much more impressed with their gusto (and the amount of fans they’ve amassed in that time frame).
The NorVa won for Best Music Venue and The Jewish Mother Hilltop for the smaller version of the same.
Best Country was awarded to Gina Dalmas and Her Cowtipping Playboys. Drummer Gabe Baesden accepted with a nice sentiment about how rock and country are all cut from the same cloth and in that moment, no one could argue his point.
Quintessential rockers The Unabombers took the podium to accept Best Garage/Punk Band and thanked everyone in the audience not in a band, saying “if you’re in a band, it’s like cops supporting law enforcement.” And he’s right. The awards ceremony itself wouldn’t have happened without Veer publisher Jeff Maisey’s high level of support for local musicians, and many of the assistants, judges, and presenters were not actual musicians but rather those who spend equal amount of time blogging, managing, photographing, or moshing to ensure the music scene grows.
Weirdpop band DJ P & Mr. T played next, covering “Lovefool” by The Cardigan’s. Though they lost out to The Aragona Project for Best Indie Pop, their cover story on the February issue of Veer and their tight, yet silly, performance at the show secured them a plethora of new fans, nonetheless.
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to musician Bruce Gray, who’s been playing in bands since the early 1960s and has seen it all. His speech was long in the best way possible, as he listed all the bands he’s been in over the years, the venues he’s seen, the genres he’s experimented with, and finally, the woman he met and married twenty years ago.
Lifetime Achievement winner Bruce Gray
A few more categories and we finally got to the meat of the awesome with soul singer Jackie Scott (covering the immortal Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”). Good God! She was so great we couldn’t stop moving. She was on fire and she knew how to work the stage like a diva superstar supreme. By far, this was the best performance of the night thus far and received its first standing ovation. She later went on to receive the Best Blues award and was impressive once again in her humor and grace.
Next came the ceremony’s second inaugural award of the night: the Industry Award, which went to Out of the Box deejay Paul Shugrue. His concept of only playing new music and often local to boot was recognized by his peers and the man surely deserved the accolades.
Best Americana went to The Muckrakes and best Hiphop to J Pharoah (who also gave a stellar thank you to the crowd), and we were ready for part two of the double whammy of awesome stage performance: indie favorites Bison.
With their single “Switzerland” in heavy rotation on two Hampton Roads’ radio stations, and the heavy rumors of their impending deal with Universal Records, the band took to the stage covering U2’s “Love Is Blindness” in an ethereal, surrealist manner so unlike the original that it became an original again. They kept everyone glued to the stage throughout and rightfully deserved the night’s second standing ovation.
Bison and Virginia music blog Hardcore Norfolk (which actually covers events from Tidewater through Charlottesville and up to DC) dominated the rest of the night, trading back and forth in their acceptance speeches until the end of the show.
Hardcore Norfolk’s win for Best Music Video/Film was especially funny as its director Paul Unger was simultaneously directing the video backdrop to the awards ceremony itself and found himself running from the second floor control booth down to the stage over and over as the prizes began racking up. Hardcore Co-Founder Andrea Rizzo described the film as their love letter to us–Norfolk, Virginia, the fans…whatever she meant, I’ll take it to mean all three.
We ended the night back where we began, with BJ Leiderman calling himself a member of the old guard, and praising us all as capable of having the torch be passed. He said if we ever wondered if there wasn’t a music scene in Tidewater, this night proves otherwise. As he launched into John Lennon’s classic “Imagine,” I first thought how the song strayed from the rule that all song’s had to have “love” in the title, until I realized that sentiment had transformed itself from mere theme into a shared communion by all in attendance.
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