Something (or a few things) unanticipated usually happens at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards show every year. After all, it's a night where hundreds of local musicians are put together in a room with loud music and multiple cash bars.
But the biggest unexpected element of last night’s CEAs at the Madison Theater in Covington was its runtime. Not only a first for the CEAs but perhaps a first in the history of all awards show, the briskly paced show was over early — in about 2 and a half hours, 30 minutes sooner than expected. Efficient stage management and a more streamlined run of show that kept the focus on live performances and the 19 award presentations (winners listed below) helped the event wrap up in record time.—-
Though short on any major production curveballs, there were plenty of revelations, most of them related to the remarkable live sets turned in by each of the night’s performers. The CEA show has a history of highly memorable performances, so the strong showing by the 2010 participants was foreseeable. Masterful showman and Outlaw Country marvel Dallas Moore and his band gave the CEAs a gritty, electric kick in the ass, while Kim Taylor’s always gorgeous and mysterious songs hung in the air elegantly dancing with the smoke.
(Speaking of which, I’m a courteous smoker who does appreciate not having to dash outside for a few puffs and missing parts of the show, but in the spirit of the caring, supportive community unity the CEAs always brings out of local artists on awards night, having the show go non-smoking would be a cordial gesture.)
Two of the nominees for “New Artist of the Year” provided tight, compelling introductions to the many potential new fans that filled the fairly large concert venue. Its second year hosting the event, the Madison (which was pretty packed but refreshingly not sardine-can crowded) again proved to be a great fit for the CEAs’ vibe and set-up. The stage and sound are excellent, showing the performers in their best light — attendees had a vivid view and were able to clearly hear every note being played. It was a great way to experience No No Knots’ layered, spellbinding Art Rock live for the first time; the setting wonderfully illuminated the group’s progressive, multi-hued backdrop of edgy, creative guitar, buoyant beats, electronic undertows and engrossing, radiant melodies from charismatic vocalist Molly Sullivan.
Fellow “New Artist” runners-up (Pop Empire won the category) The Guitars showcased their crisp, classics-informed Pop songs, superbly written nuggets that live up to the members’ avowed inspiration from classic Soul Pop from the ’60s (noticeable in both the arrangements and instrumentation) and also possess some of the vintage hookiness of the better ’60s Brit Invasion popsters (who were largely learning it from those American Soul machines — it’s a musical circle of life).
Foxy Shazam’s Molotov cocktail of a performance was one that would be on the 50th anniversary DVD of Cincinnati Entertainment Awards’ most memorable moments (if we had filmed all 14 years of CEA shows and if we didn’t think we’ll all be watching movies on microchip implants inside of our eyelids by then). Foxy’s animated, high-drama mash-up of Punk force, proud Prog audacity, surrealistic Pop and twisted Broadway musical pomp might not be for everyone, but it’s hard to imagine someone not finding the band’s live show highly entertaining. With perfectly placed horns from funky ensemble The Cincy Brass, the Foxy fellas whirled perpetually in frenzied motion as soon as they hit the first note, their live act being a natural reflection of the cheeky absurdity, maniacal intensity, barely controlled chaos and fearless abandon inherent in their imaginative songwriting (pictured above).
Mustachioed singer Eric Nally — who spoke only in left-field non sequiturs all night — had a bottomless bag of stage move tricks and didn’t hesitate to use all of them (and then some), from being a cymbal stand while the drummer bashed away and riding around on the guitarist’s shoulders to his non-stop dancing and multiple stunts involving the mic and mic stand (James Brown and Lux Interior would have been proud). All of the Foxy members were furry bundles of energy, but keyboardist Sky White came closest to keeping up with Nally’s peacock strutting. While Nally’s mic stand flips and twirls nod to James Brown, White (whose keys are an essential part of Foxy’s unique sound) is like an exaggerated version of another musical performance pioneer: Jerry Lee Lewis. White abused his keyboard (brutally bashing, stomping and standing on the keys) like it was made out of rubber.
It was fitting that Foxy Shazam won their first CEA after they performed and that it was for “Best Live Act.” The group’s live show is undeniable, as everyone in attendance had just seen. The band won a 2010 CEA-high three awards in all, also scoring “Artist of the Year” and “Best Musical Ambassador For the City.”
The show featured a few short segments with updates on some ongoing projects related to Cincinnati’s important musical past, including a presentation about the in-the-works King Records-inspired King Studios, a planned community arts center, education facility, museum and working recording studio in the legendary label’s original Evanston neighborhood. Veteran King session drummer Phillip Paul was part of the presentation and seemed genuinely moved when talking about the “new” King at Xavier University, which he said he was happy to live long enough to see. (Check here for more on King Studios.)
Members of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, who helped get historic markers placed at the original King facilities and at the former Herzog studio where Hank Williams (and many other icons) recorded key tracks, took the opportunity to announce their involvement in getting a memorial marker placed on the plaza of the old Riverfront Coliseum in honor of the 11 people who lost their lives in 1979 after being crushed by fans pushing to enter the venue to see The Who. While it might seem to be a different direction for the Heritage group, the tragic incident was a significant event in music history, forever changing security and the way crowds are managed at concerts.
As winners collected their plaques and presenters tore open envelopes with their names on them, there was a common thread in most of what was said on stage. No, not that “George Bush doesn’t care about white people,” as a member of Small Time Crooks said in his acceptance remarks. Repeatedly, artists and presenters talked about what an unusually supportive music community we have in Cincinnati and how lucky we all are to live in a city filled with such consistently strong and uniquely creative musicians. The CEA celebration is the community’s annual reminder to not forget those very things.
Check out the photo gallery from last night for 186 slices of CEA heaven.
Here’s who won what at the 2010 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards:
Alternative/Indie: The Seedy Seeds
Americana/Folk/Roots: The Tillers
Bluegrass: Rumpke Mountain Boys
Blues: Ricky Nye
Country: Dallas Moore Band
Electronic: You, You're Awesome
Hip Hop: Small Time Crooks
Jazz: The Faux Frenchmen
Best Live Act: Foxy Shazam
Metal/Hardcore: I Am the Messenger
Best Musical Ambassador for the City: Foxy Shazam
Punk: Mad Anthony
Singer/Songwriter: Kim Taylor
World Music: The Pinstripes
New Artist of the Year: Pop Empire
Album of the Year: The Lions Rampant: It's Fun to Do Bad Things
Artist of the Year: Foxy Shazam
(Performance photo of Foxy Shazam by Danny Nader.)