Every spring over the last four years -- both before and after the actual show -- tongues start wagging around town about the Madison Area Music Awards and how they could be improved. Originally organized four years ago by Rick Tvedt (publisher of the now-defunct Rick's Cafe music monthly magazine), the MAMAs have proven that Madison's musicians are invested in the city's scene, both through interest in and criticism of the event and its organization. This was certainly the case this year, as the MAMAs were celebrated last Saturday at the Barrymore Theatre.
Isthmus music contributor Rich Albertoni summarized the show with a top ten list shortly after the curtain dropped, emphasizing the high moments of the night in a brief commentary accompanied by the complete list of winner. He went into much more detail in a subsequent analysis of the annual party, pointing to its bifurcated high-gloss and bar bench character, the relative lack of younger participants, the suitability of the Barrymore as a venue, and its emphasis on the city's most established musicians. He noted:
Let's face it. The MAMAs is a lovefest among the city's longtime resident musicians. It's a family gathering where patriarch Clyde Stubblefield and matriarch Jan Wheaton sit at the head of the table. And all the while the city's beloved house band, the Gomers, provides the soundtrack to our lives.Albertoni also focused upon the voting process, describing it as "a 'pay to submit, nominate and vote' system that guarantees the show does not reflect the scope of Madison music." He suggests the organization -- which is organized as a charity for music education in the city -- drop this system and replace it with an open-voting process wedded to a membership-based support network.
And that's not such a bad thing. There is no event that comes close to celebrating the ongoing cultural contribution of local music like the MAMAs.
Similar thoughts about the MAMAs were also expressed in detail by two active members of Madison's music scene.
On the morning after the show, drummer Robin Davies of The Motor Primitives published a critique of the MAMAs. While thanking Tvedt and his organization for their work and dedication to music education, he concluded that the awards' were ultimately flawed. He wrote:
An award ceremony in our little burg is a sham. Simulated self-importance is not our strength Madison. Want to celebrate our quality and diversity and help the city's youth music programs? How about pointing the red carpet toward the School board meetings(and elections) and effecting change at the base level instead of patches on the surface? How about a true convergence of music talent in the schools? I spoke last year on my distaste for music teachers. Now if Clyde Stubblefield or Felicia Alima had visited my music room instead of the weirdos and nut cases that I had for music teachers, then maybe I could be excited about music education in the schools.Davies concluded with a series of lists comparing the "yin vs. yang" of the show along with a series of "single jabs."
An extensive and thoughtful analysis of the event was published several days later on Dane101 by Bessie Cherry, who is responsible for booking shows at Café Montmartre. Beginning from the perspective of somebody who attended the show for the first time this year, Cherry discussed the online voting system, the concomitant involvement of Broadjam, the awards nomination system, the number and breadth of nominees, the number and breadth of winners, and numerous memorable moments from the show itself, favorable or not. " I disagree with naysayers who have asserted that Madison can't support a local awards show," wrote Cherry, noting the city's pop music history and diverse options for nightly live music. She concludes:
It seems illogical to put a free instrument in a child's hands, provide them with free musical education, and then turn around years later when that child has turned into a young adult making a name for themselves in a local band, and tell them that musicianship has more to do with self-promotion and marketing than practice and talent. Instead, why not focus on inspiring them? Rally around a broader spectrum of what Madison has to offer. Show them that whether they choose to play bass guitar in a hardcore band or trumpet in a brass band there will be a place for them here. Show them that it' possible to put together a nationally recognized EP before they're even out of college. Show them that they don't have to follow the lead of others who have left Madison for 'greener pastures' but that they can stay in Madison, be successful, and be in good company amongst well-known mainstays of the scene and young upstarts alike.
There were also more than a few musicians who celebrated their winning of one or more MAMAs, thanking their fans and expressing support for the organization's focus on music education. These include:
- The Clyde Stubblefield Band: Blues Artist of the Year
Saxophonist Bryan Husk wrote:
And much respect to the organizers of the MAMAs. The organization is financially stable after its fourth season, and thousands of dollars were raised for our local youth music programs. It was a great party Saturday at the Barrymore Theater, filled with music and laughs from the areas finest music artists.
- Clear Blue Betty: Rock Album of the Year, Rock Artist of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year
Likewise, lead singer Beth Kille emphasizes the charitable objective of the awards show:
Thanks to everyone who voted to help make this dream come true for us. We can't thanks the MAMAs organizers enough for all the amazing work they are doing to help raise money to support local school music programs while recognizing all the fantastic area musicians.
- ENDIF: Electronic Artist of the Year
- The New Kentucky Quarter: Rock Song of the Year
- Polydream New Artist of the Year
- Art Paul Schlosser: Compilation Album of the Year
- Sparetime Bluegrass Band: Country/Bluegrass Album of the Year
- John Statz: Folk/Americana Album of the Year
The singer-songwriter concludes:
The show last night was very well run and I enjoyed it through and through!
Others attending the MAMAs also had comments about the festivities."Last Saturday I went to the Madison Area Music Awards (MAMAs) -- because my husband was performing there and my school was being awarded a grant to buy new instruments, " wrote one audience member. "So I walked into the pre-show party wearing my very best t-shirt and clogs, and stopped in a panic when I saw all the sparkly evening wear and 'little black dresses.' I felt like I should check the bottom of my shoes for cow manure -- and this is Madison!" Then there was a brief list of MAMAs impressions were shared by Tom Geer, who zeroed in on six highlights from the show.
Video footage from the show is also available for viewing online. This includes a pair of clips published on Dane101, featuring live concert footage of Felicia Alima (with Rob Dz) and Alakrity.
Finally, and direct from the Barrymore itself was a little live-blogging by drummer Wendy Lynn Staats and bassist Mike Huberty of the trio Sunspot, which was nominated for Rock Band of the Year. They published photos and comments as the night progressed, including a brief preview, a little praise for host John Urban and house band The Gomers, a nod for rock presenter Susan Masino, and congratulations to Clear Blue Betty for its trio of awards.
Discussion of this year's MAMAs is certain to continue, particularly as the specifics for next year's awards begins to take shape publicly. For now, several people are sharing their thoughts on TDPF about what they particularly enjoyed from the show. "Most of all I like the fact that this show makes people feel like they are part of an actual music 'community' in Madison," concludes one Madison musician. " Everyone there is going through the same thing to make music and live in this town and for one night no-one feels alone in their art."
More blogging about the MAMAs can be found in Madison Miscellany on The Daily Page.