2002 Dallas Observer Music Awards

These are your choices, not ours, for the best musicians in town

Almost 7,000 people voted in this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards, and while I have absolutely no numbers to back it up, I'll go ahead and say I'm fairly certain it's the highest turnout for this election in quite some time. At least in the five years or so I've been involved, if you buy that as a definition of "quite some time." And you should.

Now, I don't know 7,000 people, nor do I possess the time and patience required to fill out that many ballots, or even a fraction of that number. Truth be told, my attention span is barely long enough to...finish...this...sentence.

What all this means: You picked the winners, not me. I bring it up because there's been some confusion about this. During the weeks preceding the award ceremony held April 16 at the Gypsy Team Room, rumors swirled through Deep Ellum that the polls were closed before they ever opened, that the Observer (more specifically, me) had picked the winners long ago. This was little more than an excuse to pat our friends on the back, a sham, bullshit, whatever. And, to be honest, all those whispers hit us like a kick in the crotch.

Chomsky
Nancy Newberry
Chomsky
Tim DeLaughter
Mark Graham
Tim DeLaughter

Sticks and stones may break bones but words will never hurt? A freaking lie. Here are a few words that prove that theory wholly inaccurate: the 1998 Topaz Awards. Not a Band-Aid big enough for that one, a reference made by a few to the infamous local-music backslap where Cresta's Jenny Esping took home three trophies, when she just so happened to sit on the board of directors of the North Texas Music Festival, which put the now-defunct Topaz Awards together.

Mistakes that occurred during the nomination process (for one, not enough people received ballots, or not enough of the right people, apparently) have been acknowledged and apologized for. That, friends, is where it ends; if you want to continue to paint us with that brush, just make sure you have a dropcloth handy. What I'm saying is this: To dwell on it any further is a punch in the gut to the bands and musicians you'll find on the next few pages, all of whom earned their inclusion, deserved their victory. Again, you picked the winners. Do I agree with all the choices? Maybe not, but that's irrelevant. This, after all, is the one time each year when the Observer cedes the reins to the fans, the readers, the voters. Right or wrong, we respect your choices. Actually, take that back: There is no wrong, really, just a different definition of right.

If nothing else, I hope the furor surrounding this year's DOMA will serve as a conversation starter, a call to arms, a reason to go out and prove the black hats wrong. Because the truth is, you can cast your vote every weekend by going to Deep Ellum (or Lower Greenville or Denton or Fort Worth) and dropping your six bucks on a local band or three. And it doesn't matter if we disagree. Anyone who gets onstage, locks himself in a recording studio, piles into a van, does whatever it takes for what some laughingly call a dream can consider himself a winner. No matter what. Turn the page to read about a few of them. --Zac Crain

Chomsky
Winner for: Best Act Overall; Best Album (2001); Best Song (2001); Rock/Pop; Songwriter(s) (Sean Halleck); Male Vocalist (Sean Halleck)

For a city with such an enormous ego, Dallas doesn't exactly have a whole lot to be proud of musically. We love to laugh behind Austin's back when it crows about being the Live Music Capital of the World, and we scoff at the manufactured charm of Sundance Square and the chicken-fried tripe our shit-kickin' neighbors to the west call music. But before we puff out our chests too much, let's take a good, hard look at the cursed history of our vaunted music scene. Aside from a few exceptions--say, Erykah Badu or the Dixie Chicks or Pantera, maybe--it's littered with flameouts (New Bohemians, The Toadies), one-hit-blunders (Deep Blue Something), almost-weres (Tripping Daisy, Old 97's) and never-dids (Funland, Tomorrowpeople). It's pretty sad when one of the greatest achievements by a Dallas musician is getting impregnated by Paul Simon.

There is, however, an unlikely savior in our midst: The Polyphonic Spree may be the ones wearing angelic robes, but with all due respect, Chomsky is the band fit to lead Dallas to the promised land. Not that you'd ever know by looking at them. When you encounter Chomsky live for the first time, several questions might pop up: "Does that guitar player have Tourette's syndrome?" "Why does the drummer have the facial expression of a corpse?" "Is it just me, or is the lead singer a little chunky?" And so on. But as soon as they start to play, all those questions are blown away; Chomsky is the rare blend of showmanship and musicianship, with songs and swagger to spare. Guitarist Glen Reynolds amazes with his tendon-stretching chords and just-because scissors kicks; drummer Matt Kellum and bassist James Driscoll's rhythm section elicits instant head-bobbing and toe-tapping; Don Cento lures a smile of recognition with his Costello keys; and front man Sean Halleck astounds with his range and clarity. The fivesome's energy immediately infects listeners, whether onstage or on records, sucking in even the most skeptical of the uninitiated.

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