No matter how big it gets, no matter how many non-Austinites (or for that matter, non-Texans even) come to town, in the body that is SXSW, the Austin Music Awards will ever remain the heart. In its 31st year, it’s still a celebration of that magic spark that breeds something like SXSW. It’s REAL easy to get cynical about awards shows, any awards show. But this one is ours. Where else but the Austin Music Awards will you find punk rockers Lower Class Brats (who took home the award in the Best Punk category), folkies Wild Child (Best Folk), hip-hopper Trampia (Best Hip-Hop), musical sorcerer Sorne (Best Avant-Garde/Experimental) and bluegrass madmen Whiskey Shivers (Best Country/Bluegrass) in the same room–let alone the same building–hobnobbing and mixing with Old Austin, the folks that got the ball runnin’ in the first place.
That’s the beauty of the Austin Music Awards, and number Thirty-One was anything if not special. It didn’t have the glitz of a Boss drop-in, but that (and it really pains me to say this) was a good thing. Last night’s awards were a celebration of US. By that I don’t mean the station (not to toot our own horn, but we took home a few plaques ourselves), or the music scene, or any one band. It was a celebration of a city like ours that can nurture a Sorne just as easily as a Gary Clark Jr. (who took home enough plaques that his family helped him to show ’em off on stage, AND flew in from friggin’ FINLAND just to be there). It felt like home when the always lovely Trishas or forever-young Ben Kweller was onstage. And when, at the end of the night, Bill Carter jammed with Clark to “Willie the Wimp,” (a tune Carter penned for Stevie Ray) it wasn’t a passing of a torch. It was business-as-usual in the best possible way. We are a city that makes that sort of thing happen.
Last night’s show was also, of course, a celebration of the late Brent Grulke, one of the men without whom 2000+ bands wouldn’t want to drive, fly, train, sail to our little city on the Colorado for a 15-minute shot at greatness. The night’s festivities began with a fitting musical tribute to Grulke. The Wild Seeds hosted a cavalcade of guests playing some of Grulke’s favorite music. Spoon’s Britt Daniel joined Hall and The Seeds on a Wannabes tune. Adrian Quesada and the Grupo Fantasma horns helped out on a Los Lobos song, and Alejandro Escovedo (and the reunited True Believers) did a blistering version of AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).”
The song was rockin’, but when you live in a city like ours, you really don’t have to go a very long way to find rock ‘n’ roll (or whatever you’re into). It’s all around you, not just during a few crazy days in March. And it’s a beautiful thing that we have something like the Austin Music Awards to remind us of that.
(NB: KUTX was a radio sponsor of this year’s Austin Music Awards)