By Bill Copeland on April 20, 2015
The New England Music Awards is now running like a well oiled machine. Held at Showcase Live at Patriot’s Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts last Saturday night, performers and presenters were on and off the stage without hardly a glitch. This gave the performers a comfortable setting to strut their stuff between speakers and presentations. Showing what the whole event was all about, the bands who performed last night gave it their all as they presented their music to a six state audience.
Joey Batts & Them opened the show with their catchy chorus, rap-rock number “Bestie.” Their song was a joyful romp through today’s fixation on social media and trendy expressions. Next up, Sarah Barrios, last year’s New Act winner, showed she had staying power. Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, her voice seemed to remain elevated, suspended in the air, as if held up by a mysterious power. Soon after, Ben Knight came on to conclude the brief opening portion of the awards ceremony with his keyboard and horn driven rock and roll abandon. His rhythm section locked into a solid groove and the rest of the band just let it rip.
Blues Act nominee Willie J. Laws Band came on strong with their thick, pulpy groove beneath WJL’s as he belted with the heart and soul of a true, down and dirty blues man. His voice was loaded with richness, experience, and he projected it with the smooth confidence of a southern gentleman. He made his song “Can’t Let Got” and his recent title track “Cornbread Moan” come alive by riffing his way into the stratosphere with a sweet guitar sound. His rhythm section pumped out something huge that a singer-musician like Laws needs to launch those mighty vocal belts and those heavenly guitar leads.
Little Ugly went up next to do their acoustic roots thing, singing together beautifully with a depth of feeling in their words and music and a great sense of rustic charm. Michael Sanford Day’s banjo and Kaia Pazdersky’s fiddle added plenty of natural beauty to their songs, which were already blessed with their uniquely matched vocal harmonies. Little Ugly had a calm, quiet stage presence, but they made every note count with their flinty, gritty picking and bowing styles.
We Were Astronauts played smooth, flowing pop-rock tunes that moved through their changes at a graceful pace. Melodic but also danceable, WWA showed their potential for mass appeal with a vocal melody that fit the music like a velvet glove. It also helped that a whirl of keyboard notes wrapped it all up in a sweet confection of sound.
Amy & The Engines featured dual female vocalists and a fresh modern sound. They had magic coming out of every singer and player and they made that magic happen on numerous levels. Very engaging and very involving, their twisty, multi-dimensional music created a party vibe that matched the energy level in the venue.
Next band, Pat And The Hats were catchy, melodic, and their lead vocalist, Patrik Gochez, sang with a unique timbre, one that could be distinguished enough from a million others singers, a voice that could get the band attention from record companies. They also had a special guest join them on stage, Greg Hawkes, keyboardist from the legendary Boston band The Cars. Hawkes made his mysterious, eerie sounds effective and chilling as he joined Pat And Hats for a special rendition of “Moving In Stereo.”
Master of ceremony, comedian Dave Russo, was a hoot with his one liners, zingers, and stories. His highlights included his banter with a Connecticut music scene official, his spoof on NEMA chief Joe Graham’s communication devices, and a brief display of his break dancing abilities. Yes, Russo can, in fact, break dance, but that part of his act isn’t meant for the whole family.
Project manager LeAnne Piepiora and her production crew kept things running smoothly. A slick production inside a hip, modern function room symbolized the growing sophistication of the New England Music Awards as it heads toward becoming this region’s largest, most diverse music awards show. There was a limited number of names from their previous awards shows which indicates how far and wide NEMA casts its nets to be as inclusive as possible. That a small rural state like New Hampshire had won nine out of the 26 awards presented on the same night Boston’s Will Dailey won two shows the extent of this awards organization’s outreach in the New England music scene.
We will likely see NEMA outdo themselves each coming year. The winners are listed below.
And the award goes to:
Band of the Year: The Shana Stack Band
Album of the Year: National Throat/Will Dailey
Song of the Year: Sunken Ship/Will Dailey
Producer of the Year: Brian Coombes
Songwriter of the Year: Elison Jackson
Male Performer of the Year: Dan Blakeslee
Female Performer of the Year: Anna Lombard
New Act of the Year: West End Blend
Live Act of the Year: Aldous Collins Band
New Act of the Year: West End Blend
Roots Act of the Year: Dusty Gray Band
Country Act of the Year: North of Nashville
Pop Act of the Year: Pat & The Hats
Rock Act of the Year: We Were Astronauts
Jazz Act of the Year: Los Sugar Kings
Blues Act of the Year: Mr. Nick & The Dirty Tricks
Hip Hop Act of the Year: Lady Essence
Metal Act of the Year: A Simple Complex
Best in State/Massachusetts: High Hopes Band
Best in State/Rhode Island: The Rare Occasions
Best in State/New Hampshire: Gretchen & The Pickpockets
Best in State/Maine: Hilton Park
Best in State/Vermont: The Vacant Lots
Best in State/Connecticut:The Meadows Brothers
2015 NEMA Honor Award Winners
The Scene Award ~Winner Chris DeSimone
Presented annually to an individual or organization for their outstanding dedication, involvement and contribution to the New England music scene.
The Grassroots Award ~Winner: Grace Morrison
Presented annually to an individual or institution who through music and performance has demonstrated a dedication to humanitarian causes.
The Decade Award ~Winner: Chip McCabe
Presented annually to an individual who over the last ten years has distinguished him or herself as a celebrated staple of the New England music industry.