MusicMusic Features

Better Than Puppies

When it’s as hot and humid out as it was on the night of Thursday, June 17, there’s absolutely no reason to get all pretty to go out on the town. Absolutely no reason, that is, except for the Flagpole Athens Music Awards, the annual event that signifies the official beginning to AthFest’s weekend-long musical bonanza.

In its sixth year, the show provides audiences a chance to check out several local bands, and for the first year featured the Athens Film Foundation’s screening of and awards for local music videos. The music awards are chosen entirely by Flagpole readers in a month-long poll leading up to the show, with the top three vote recipients listed as finalists.

Don Chambers + GOAT

Don Chambers opened the show, which took place at the historic Morton Theatre. Backed by his band GOAT, Chambers performed two songs from his Southern gothic repertoire. His banjo twang and whiskey-soaked gravel voice filled the theater, and Goat’s percussionist Jim Wilson was a crowd favorite; he beat upon his “instrument” – hubcaps and other metal objects attached to a small step-ladder – with an infectious, enthusiastic stomp.

After a brief introduction from Flagpole bigwigs, Solponticello Records headman, local musician and Flagpole contributor Erik Hinds presented the first set of awards. The Artie Ball Swing Band’s frontman James Cook made a brief dash to the stage to accept the award for Jazz/Swing band. Violinist Andrej Kurti, of the classical duo Viktor & Andrej, accepted the award for Chamber Music. The always-gracious Kurti thanked his competitors in the category (Audition With Max Reinhardt and the Georgia Guitar Quartet) before announcing he’s accepted a professorship in Louisiana and will soon leave Athens. Garbage Island’s Craig Lieske accepted the award for Experimental Music, and a representative for Bain Mattox accepted the award for Rock Band and explained the band is currently touring.

The boys of the Park Bench Trio – who would later on in the evening return to stage to accept the Blues Band award – performed two of their Stones-inspired, bluesy heavy rock tunes, after which Clay Leverett (Lona, The Chasers, Now It’s Overhead) made his way out to present a new batch.

Lionz took the Jam/Improv win; the band, which won the 2003 award for Cover Band, has made inroads into the local jam scene this past year. Members of the group delivered a forceful speech speaking to their love for the local scene, and the benefit of being able to perform so frequently with local acts. The Cover Band award recipients for 2004, Just These Dudes, were unavailable to accept their award in person as they were performing three blocks away at Wild Wing Café, where the band has just set up a lucrative every-Thursday-this-summer gig.

Athens’ soon-to-be-expat Chris Cates and his band Parakeet Nelson edged out Ori and Entropy in the close R&B/Soul/Funk category. The first half of the night’s show wrapped with the Athens Film Foundation’s presentation of “Ratbot”; The audience at the prior night’s music video festival held at the 40 Watt voted, and the Audience Choice Award went to the video’s directors Brian Smith, Paul Nunn and Peter Keane.

After a brief intermission, the entire Morton Theatre sat silent, captivated by the trapeze performance by Canopy Studio’s aerialists, who doubled as the evening’s stage assistants. The intricate, dizzying performance of the piece “Palindrome” saw Andrea Fores and Nicole Mermans intertwined, clad in pink, spinning on an suspended metal ring.

Parker and Lily

Parker Noon and Lily Wolfe, the snappily-dressed duo known easily as Parker & Lily, presented the first set of awards of the show’s second half. Dan Geller and Amy Dykes of the electronic disco-pop act I Am The World Trade Center accepted the award for DJ/Electronic. (This year’s award, designed as in years past by local artist Pattiy Torno, should make a fine addition to the duo’s growing collection.) Bain Mattox took the Singer/Songwriter award in absentia again, and the guys from Guff won the award for Punk Band.

The Film Foundation – and the apish 8-Track Gorilla – presented the judges’ choice for best local music video – Josh Borger and Stewart McAlpine’s direction for the Maserati song “Closer Than You Know How” showed that the shadow of local filmmaker Jim Herbert stretches long; the video took his use of multiple projections as a starting point for its abstract visuals.

Rap duo Fairmount Fair performed a brief song unhampered by distance – as MC Fluff-N-Stuff is currently on tour with Elf Power in Spain, his image and sounds appeared projected on a video screen with which MC Great Games interacted. After Fairmount Fair’s performance, David Zwart, the Alpine frontman of Daisy and owner of Clocked, presented the next round of awards. As Ishues wasn’t on hand to accept his award for Hip Hop/Rap (he’s currently on the road with rapper KRS-One), local Dreaded Mindz member Life appeared in his place. The band Modern Skirts (formerly known as F.F.S.) won the Pop award, and perennial Athens favorites Drive-By Truckers nabbed the Country/Americana/Roots Rock award, largely on the merit of the recent Decoration Day. Ron Lewis, whose samurai-themed artwork graced the cover of Ishues’ album Reality Flow, took the award for Favorite Album Cover Art.

The night’s final full performance came from garage pop act Murder Beach. Though hampered by some iffy vocal mics on the band’s first song, the quick tempo and bubbly energy of the group’s songs made up for that brief shortcoming.

The night wrapped with award presentations from Timi Conley, Aqualove’s funky frontman. Dressed in a shimmery, sequined leotard, oversized sunglasses and plush monster slippers, Conley handed the Best Up and Coming award to Modern Skirts. Upon winning Strongest Supporter of the Music Scene for the second year in a row,

The Drive-By Truckers

WUOG 90.5 FM staffers gathered on-stage en masse while General Manager Allison Taffel gave words of tribute to Athens music. Parakeet Nelson’s Risky Biscuits album beat out tough competition (scene favorites Drive-By Truckers and Ishues) for Album of the Year – it was a nice moment for Cates, who’s about to move to Germany. The Truckers came back in force, though, with the award for Band/Performer of the Year, and with another album slated for a fall release, the band seems unstoppable.

As the crowd stood to leave, Conley invited all award winners up on stage and performed a glammed-out rendition of “We Are The Champions.” People hugged, people shook hands, people high-fived, people sung along. It was a very “Saturday Night Live” wrap to the evening’s festivities, and the anticipation for next year was front and center as the house music provided by the Dan Nettles Band escorted everyone back into the open air, and back into another weekend of AthFest events.

2004 Flagpole Athens Music Award Winners:

Jazz • Artie Ball Swing Band

Chamber • Viktor & Andrej

Experimental • Garbage Island

Rock • Bain Mattox

Jam/Improv • Lionz

Cover Band • Just These Dudes

R&B/Soul/Funk • Parakeet Nelson

Folk/Bluegrass • Packway Handle Band

DJ/Electronic • I Am The World Trade Center

Blues • Park Bench Trio

Singer/Songwriter • Bain Mattox

Punk • Guff

Hip Hop/Rap • Ishues

Pop • Modern Skirts

Country/Americana/Roots Rock • Drive-By Truckers

Favorite Album Cover Art • Ron Lewis for Ishues’ Reality Flow

Best Up and Coming • Modern Skirts

Strongest Supporter of the Music Scene • WUOG 90.5 FM

Album of the Year • Risky Biscuits, Parakeet Nelson

Band/Performer of the Year • Drive-By Truckers