Winners take mall

When the readers voted the rock, the Old 97's came away 'big' winners

On a windy and colder-than-usual Sunday night in April, more than 3,000 people showed up in Deep Ellum to do nothing more than hear local bands. There were no street fairs, no free food, no mimes, no apartment open houses. No, these people piled into Blue Cat Blues when Josh Alan played; they crammed into Club Clearview to hear the Old 97's and Tablet; they stood one against the other in the Dark Room to hear Meredith Miller and Broose Dickinson play their guitars and sing their quiet songs. They lined up outside Trees to wait their turns to get assaulted by Stinkbug, and they shook their asses as Bobby Patterson brought soul music to Naomi's for the first time.

It was something else, all right, even if ASKA didn't show up at the Galaxy Club (and how's that for a slap in the face, rock fans?) and Shabazz 3 got delayed as they went to Garland in search of a DAT machine. All told, the Dallas Observer Music Awards showcase in Deep Ellum last Sunday went off without a hitch: You came, you voted, you rocked, and you voted the rock. And in the meantime, we raised about $3,000 for Habitat for Humanity, which means everyone came out a winner--on at least one night.

In the end, of course, it's not whether you win or lose an Observer Music Award, but how well you played last night, and how well your next show goes. To butcher an old saying, tomorrow's not the next day, it's the next gig.

In perusing the list of this year's winners, it strikes me that for the second year in a row, there's really not one big winner--no Reverend Horton Heat or Tripping Daisy cleaning up with six or seven awards, no Sara Hickman walking home with a guitar case filled with statues. The Old 97's are, perhaps, this year's biggest winners at 3 1/2 awards (they must share the Single Release award with Funland, and there's no shame in that); and the Toadies walked away with three Music Awards, but two of those went directly to frontman Todd Lewis and sidestepped the other three band members.

So what does it all mean? Either we managed to detect all the stuffed ballots this year, or there really is no one band in this town that attracts the spotlight more than another. After all, a major-label deal is no more a sign of talent than being caught in a motel room with cocaine and hookers means you have a substance-abuse problem. And in a town where every band is either courting a record company or beholden to one for three guaranteed records and a $1.5-million advance, it's nice to see REO Speedealer, the Grown-Ups, and Meredith Miller get a small piece of the recognition they deserve.

Get a hold of yourself: The Dallas music scene still isn't a scene, merely hundreds of bands fighting it out for a weekend slot opening for a touring band at a decent club and trying to make enough money to cover expenses. Some bands will make homemade demo tapes and sell them at shows, some will accrue a decent reputation on Elm Street, some will release CDs on a local label, some will shoot past their peers like rockets before crash-landing into reality.

I can't even tell you who won the New Act award four years ago--not because I don't care, I really do (and I could look it up), but because you can't just pin a ribbon to music and expect it to be good. There's not one musician on this list who doesn't deserve to be here, but there are plenty more who could have been included with good reason. That Bedhead hasn't ever won is proof that rock and roll is, most nights, a popularity contest; that Ronnie Dawson keeps getting shut out is proof that playing well night after night for 40 years is the best revenge a musician can hope for.

There were some genuinely nice moments to be had when the votes were tabulated: For the first time in its five-plus-year existence, Funland won a long-deserved Music Award--for Album Release (1995), usually one of the most highly contested awards around these parts come statue time. (Past winners have included Reverend Horton Heat's The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of... and Liquor in the Front, Tripping Daisy's Bill, and Sara Hickman's Equal Scary People.) And then there's the Folk/Acoustic award going to Meredith Miller, who only recently returned to the performing stage after having taken several months off. It's refreshing when a performer's talent equals his or her popularity.

You may have noticed there is no special Music Award issue this year, no huge spreads devoted to the winners. That's been replaced by the issue that appeared on stands last week, the one dedicated to the nominees. The idea behind the switch was to give readers a larger overview of those musicians making music in Dallas, perhaps to better inform the voters when casting their ballots or when deciding what the hell to do on a Saturday night. Not sure if it worked--I like Andy Timmons well enough, but when Ronnie Dawson loses two years in a row to Dallas' Joe Satriani for the Local Musician of the Year award, it's time to bring in Jimmy Carter to watch the ballot boxes. Still, when Dooms U.K. walks off with the Avant Garde/Experimental award, and REO Speedealer snares the best New Act doorstop, and Meredith Miller gets her due, somebody's doing something right.

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