A few random thoughts about last night’s Omaha Entertainment Awards at the Holland Center…
I was both pleasantly surprised and impressed at the turn-out (even though no one I spoke with actually paid for a ticket). We showed up at the VIP pre-party at the downtown library just after 6 p.m. and found the place packed to the gills with one of the most odd, eclectic mixes of people I’ve seen at any local event, everyone decked out in suits, sport jackets, tuxes and dresses, with a few rebels exceptions in jeans and the usual Midwestern rock gear.
When we got to the Holland at 7, the place, again, was jammed. My first impression: Somehow, some way, John Heaston — the main guy behind the award show after organizer Tony Lange flew the coop — pulled it off. High-brow, storied public figures and dignitaries stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the bar line with the cream of the Omaha and Lincoln music scenes. When was the last time that happened?
The program started at the stroke of 7:30 — on time thanks to television. And for the first 45 minutes — maybe an hour — I felt like I was at a real, big-time gala awards show. Despite the usual technical glitches and miscues (the TelePromTer was either broken or poorly operated) the presenters were professional, the voice-over announcer was first-class and the stage direction kept things rolling along. Spotlights, music, glam.
The entire first half of the show — the better-produced, better-run half — was dedicated solely to theater awards. Unfortunately, I know nothing about local theater, having not seen a stage play since Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Blue Barn a couple years ago. So while the awards were classy and the acceptance speeches perfectly sincere, I had no idea who I was being honored, nor did I care.
Conversely, those on hand for the theater awards obviously did not care about the live music awards that would follow, because after the theater portion of the program concluded, about half the audience got up and left. The live music awards got Omaha’d. Note to Heaston for next year’s show: Stagger the categories between theater and live music throughout the entire evening, forcing everyone to sit tight ’til the end.
I guess I can’t entirely blame the theater folks for leaving early. Just like a real awards show, after about two hours the whole thing became tedious and boring, and I, too, just wanted to get the awards awarded and go home. You can’t really expect people to sit tight for three and a half hours. If Heaston keeps this format, next year I shall arrive at around 9 p.m.
Of the music performances, the stand-outs were Little Brazil, who unveiled a new song from their upcoming album that blew up the stage (literally having blown out an amp during the rehearsals the day before). All LB band members wore shirt and ties, except frontman Landon Hedges, who wore his uniform-like white underwear T-shirt and black jeans — the same get-up you’ll see him in on any given night at O’Leaver’s. The other stand-out was the entry (and winner) for the night’s best cover band honor, Acoustic Groove. On the whole, half the acts were pretty good, the other half was real amateur-hour fodder, but that’s what you get when you put a show like his together. I wasn’t surprised to find, when I stepped out during the Jazzwholes song, that the lobby filled with people drinking, chatting, smoking outside, missing the entire performance.
Anyway, as far as the awards themselves, I batted around .500 on my guesses in yesterday’s blog. Here are last night’s winners:
Adult Contemporary: Sarah Benck. The Robbers got left off the nomination announcement and the graphic used on the huge big screen over the stage. They came up and accepted the award with Sarah anyway.
Alternative Indie: Bright Eyes, much to the consternation of the presenters. Conor Oberst came on stage (a surprise in itself that he even showed up) and thanked Satan, “who’s responsible for all of this.” This was a response to a previous winner’s acceptance speech, which thanked God for the same reason. Oberst also took a moment to recognize the performers who are just getting started, the ones playing two-dollar shows or the kids with the demo CDs. It was the nice sentiment.
Bluegrass Country: Forty Twenty. I don’t know if the music they play could be categorized as bluegrass, but regardless, I like what they do.
Blues: Kris Lager Band. The crowd seemed pleased.
Classical/Symphony: The Omaha Symphony. Nice acceptance speech. Where was Thom Wilkins?
Coverband: Acoustic Groove. They thanked their rhythm section.
Folk Americana Roots: The surprise winner, to me anyway, was Anonymous American. I knew Whipkey and Co. were going to snag at least one award last night. I didn’t think it would be this one, since their music isn’t folkie, rootsie or Amiericana-y. Whipkey beseeched people to go to more shows.
Gospel: Heidi Joy. Eek. She said she was shocked. She should be. She also announced that The Jazzwholes are her backing band, which explains a lot.
Hard Rock/Metal: Venaculas. Again, the presenters sounded disappointed when they read the name.
Hip-Hop/Rap: Another big surprise, the award went to a bleach-blond-headed Buck Bowen. Bowen seemed rather out of it when he accepted his award, saying that it should have gone to Surreal for everything he’s done for the scene. He then went on to mumble through a list of names before being cut off by the music and then forcibly removed from the stage. (Seriously).
Jazz: In one of the more bizarre wins of the evening, The Jazzwholes took the prize, even though the band all but admitted in their acceptance speech that they don’t play jazz music, and their performance on the stage earlier that evening underscored their sentiment. The win wasn’t the Jazzwholes fault, it was the Academy’s fault, and it was an embarrassment to them and the OEAs, especially when you consider that jazz legend Luigi Waits was in the house and hadn’t even been nominated.
Live Music Event: Bright Eyes in Memorial Park. Oberst accepted the award saying, “You’re off to a good start…” even though it came at Hour Three of the shows. It would be the last we would Conor on stage that evening.
Punk: Straight Outta Jr. High.
R&B/Funk: The Jazzwholes. Ironic, again, when you consider that they also don’t play R&B or funk.
Rock: Perhaps the most surprising win of the evening, the award went to Grasshopper Takeover, a band that hasn’t produced an original album in a few years. Grubb and Co. graciously accepted, saying something like “I didn’t think anyone gave a shit about us anymore…”
Slam Poetry: Johnny Tornado
Techno/Electronic (DJ Category): Brent Crampton
Traditional/Indigenous: Ellis Island
In the academy-chosen categories, the winners were:
Lifetime Achievement Award: Luigi Waits. Waits, I’m told, had to fly in from Atlanta to accept the award. He seemed genuinely touched by the recognition.
New Artist of the Year: Ladyfinger. Accepting the award, front man Chris Machmuller said, “I’m happy I wore my award cardigan.” Nice.
Best Musical Ambassador: The Omaha Blues Society’s Terry O’Hallaron.
Artist of the Year: Bright Eyes. By this time in the evening, Oberst apparently had tired of going on stage to accept awards, and who can blame him? No one seemed to mind that he wasn’t there, though. I saw him afterward in the hallway carrying around his hardware.
Album of the Year: Cursive’s Happy Hollow. Tim Kasher and Matt Maginn graciously accepted the award.
So in retrospect, was the event a success? It’s hard to argue that it wasn’t. People seemed to be having a good time, everyone I talked to was impressed (initially) with how everything was handled. I didn’t hang around to ask anyone their impressions after the show, as all I wanted to do was get home and get out of my shirt and tie.
The biggest flaw from the awards standpoint was in the categorization of bands. Again, it wasn’t The Jazzwholes’ fault that they got nominated — and then won — an award in the jazz category (and the R&B category for that matter). The nomination process itself is flawed. While public input is the right thing to do, it shouldn’t matter if 2,000 people write in to nominate Indigenous — a blues-rock band from South Dakota — in the Indigenous music category. Someone with some knowledge has to draw a line and throw out bands that don’t belong or else the whole thing becomes embarrassing both for the nominated band and the award process. In the end, Indigenous was thrown out. Unfortunately, a number of miscategorized bands were overlooked.
As for the program, next year they should only have performers, musicians, actors and actresses present awards — not media members, business owners and sponsors. One presenter was the guy who runs a local formalwear shop — what does that say about the award he’s presenting? It makes the whole thing look cheap, commercial, shoddy.
See you next year.
Tonight at O’Leaver’s, perhaps one of Omaha’s biggest buzz bands, Cloven Path, opens a show for Latitude Longitude and Kite Pilot. $5, 9:30 p.m.
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