MUSIC • BY AMANDA ZIADEH
The 26th annual WAMA awards kicked off a little after 8 p.m. on Sunday, February 19. As the line outside the State Theatre in Falls Church, Va., grew ever longer, musicians, fans, friends, and family waited for the show to begin while mingling, eating, drinking and clearly having a good time.
First host, broadcast veteran Alvin Jones, president of the Washington Automotive Press Association and executive producer of the television program Planet Vehicle, started off the Wammies with a crowd-going question, “Are there any musicians in the crowd?” he asked. Well, of course there were, and the crowd sure let him know that.
Jones’ humorous methods of crowd control did not go unnoticed either. He suggested — since the audience was not driving — to go ahead and text rather than talk. The laughter in the crowd was promising — and with that, the first performer and Wammie nominee, the band King Teddy, took the stage with their fun, upbeat and jazzy sound.
Because the awards were presented by past Wammie winners, current nominees, and distinguished people and musicians in the D.C. music community, it was evident just how appreciated music was to the community.
With every name Jones would associate with WAMA and the D.C. area, the crowd showed their appreciation with their applause and hoots.
Jones then awarded a Hall of Fame award to Johnny Gill, a local R&B singer/songwriter, whom he met when he was only 12 years old. Gill is also a member of the group New Edition. Though Gill wasn’t present due to a show in New Jersey, Jones showed a video interview he conducted with Gill.
The first of the Wammie awards, Folk Traditional Duo/Group and World Music Instrumentalist, were given to Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer and Seth Kibel, respectively.
Though some winners were not able to personally accept their awards due to illnesses, gigs or other reasons, those who did always came up and gave a little speech of thanks.
In addition, many dedicated this night and their awards to recently deceased Phil Mathieu. Mathieu was a local guitarist and most recently in the band Natty Beaux, though also played for other local bands beforehand.
As a member of Natty Beaux went on stage to accept their Wammie for Big Band/Swing Group, he dedicated the award to Mathieu, and touched the audience when he mentioned Mathieu’s last performance was with the Natty Beaux’s before his death.
After an outstanding guitar solo by The Thrillbilly’s during the nights second performers, Jennifer Cutting, whose band the Ocean Orchestra was also nominated for multiple Wammie awards, went on stage to present an award and gave quite the shout out to Takoma Park as she invited them to come party with the community for Mardi Gras.
However, nothing got the crowd going like the next performance by Afro Blue, Howard University’s unique a cappella jazz ensemble. Their performance included the assistance of members of the Howard University Jazz Band as they sang their rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Dancing in the Streets” (made famous by Martha and the Vandellas).
Not only was this the only performance that received a standing ovation from the crowd, but even got host Jones to start dancing on stage. Afro Blue won the Spotlight Award that night.
Second hostess, local radio personality Michel Wright, took over following Jones. The next award was given to The Sweater Set for Folk Contemporary Duo/Group, who thanked David Eisner, owner of Takoma Park’s House of Musical Traditions.
In addition, David Eisner, on behalf of the House of Musical Traditions, donated the grand prize of an Alvarez Guitar, Beater Beach Guitar and Ukulele for the raffle. The second prize was a $100 gift certificate at Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center.
The next performance was by the band Bad Influence, whose harmonica player with crazy glasses definitely made the band stand out.
The Special Recognition award was given to The Fallen Angels by one of the WAMA founders who knew of them back in the 60s. He described them as “devilish” and “ahead of their time.”
Billy Coulter won Roots Rock Male Vocalist, followed by a performance by the six-time Wammie nominee band Dead Men’s Hollow with BumpKin Pie. This performance, specifically the song “Working Girl Blues,” was a tribute to Hazel Dickens, who died last April.
Dickens, a local singer, well known for her bluegrass and folk music, was awarded a Hall of Fame award.
GODISHEUS, a rock/rap group, also performed at the Wammies and won Rap/Hip Hop Duo/Group. Their style of music, mixing rock instrumentals with rap, created a unique vibe.
Warner Williams, a Takoma Park local, and Jay Summerour, also performed and won a Special Achievement award. They too exemplified the unique yet impressive harmonica styles with their bluesy, folk and ragtime sound.
Though not all the awards were presented that night, other winners, but not all, included the Children’s Chorus of Washington for Choral Group, Bill Starks for Country Instrumentalist, Yoko K. for Electronica Artist, Be’la Dona for Go Go Duo/Group, Bruce Swaim Quartet for Jazz Duo/Group, Deborah Benner for Latin Vocalist, We Were Kings for Modern Rock Group, Anthony Pirog for Modern Rock Instrumentalist, Patty Reese for Roots Rock Female Vocalist, Billy Coulter for Roots Rock Male Vocalist, Black Alley for Urban Contemporary Duo/Group, and Jon Carroll for WAMA/SAW Songwriter of the Year.
See more Wammie photos by Voice photographer Mark Podger: Scenes from the 2012 Wammies