A Detroit thang?

There was a moment at this year's Detroit Music Awards last Friday, April 16, when all of the stars aligned and cosmic synchronicity — nay, beauty — was achieved, at least from this writer's perspective, through the delivery of a heartfelt speech. It wasn't a nonsensical Oscars-like display of tears, or a hammy, over-the-top gesture of gratitude. Nah. This was a moment so heart-warming — so damned sweet — that the Bard himself might've put down his pen and given up, due to the words delivered onstage inside the beautiful Fillmore Theatre.

The moment came when Jim McCarty and Johnny "Bee" Badanjek were collecting a deserved Distinguished Achievement Award on behalf of the Rockets, the band that the duo founded and played with throughout much of the '70s and '80s. McCarty, while reminiscing on the near 40 years that have passed since the band first formed, said: "Of course, I have to thank Brett Callwood for all of his support over the years."

This writer naturally felt overjoyed. It's hard to imagine any honor greater than a reference off the lips of some legendary rocker in his award speech. This honor was just a little confusing, however, as I've never actually written anything about the Rockets. Ever. I'd love to, however, as the Rockets in their heyday were a tremendous band. Up to this point, though, I've not written much about them beyond a couple mentions in other features ... including one on the aforementioned duo's other, current band — the Hell Drivers. But since that's a completely different group with a completely different lineup ... well, this writer's confused. There's a slight chance that the guitarist was being sarcastic. But I, for one, choose not to believe that.

Seriously, few would argue that the Rockets didn't deserve this glory, and McCarty and Badanjek certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves on Friday night. They inarguably provided the highlight of the evening when, performing with the Hell Drivers, they delivered faithful and fired-up renditions of three Rockets songs — ("Desire," "Turn Up the Radio" and their Top 40 take on Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well"). It wasn't the Rockets, of course, but one could imagine Dave Gilbert looking down and giving his old bandmates a thumbs-up.

Overall, though, the evening, which was celebrating the 19th year of the awards show, did raise a few pertinent questions. First of all, has this year's DMA host, Wolfman Mac — of Wolfman Mac's Chiller Drive-In TV show — really made an entire career of bad jokes, complete with the occasional wolf-like howl? Dude plays some great old B-horror movies on his TV show, but as an awards emcee, the Wolf is beyond irritating. Perhaps that's the point? Secondly, how about increasing the volume on the presenters' mics next year? When audience members continue chatting throughout the whole event because the onstage talking can barely be heard ... well, something's definitely wrong.

The biggest and most consistent problem with the DMAs, though, is that this is Detroit, of course, not New York or Los Angeles. An awards ceremony in this city surely should reflect the vibe of the musicians here — that is, gritty, honest, down-to-earth and lacking the sort of ego that makes artists think that they're somehow above those who regularly pay to watch them play. That being the case, an attempt to create some sort of Grammy-like event — albeit with musicians who don't just play for the people, they are the people — smack-bang in the middle of Detroit, just doesn't work. One suspects that, beyond the bad sound, this is the reason people basically talk throughout the whole thing, drowning out the onstage proceedings with chatter and laughter, save for the occasional burst of applause when somebody they know wins an award.

Only the musical performances are greeted with anything approaching mass interest. And, thankfully, there were some great ones on Friday night. In addition to the Hell Drivers' three-song set, rapper Ro Spit kicked proceedings off with an almighty bang, backed by live drums and some chilled-out grooves. Julianne, meanwhile, was the artist representing the city's country performers, and her soulful voice and beautifully written songs were a welcome addition to the bill.

All complaints aside, the event did have more than a few redeeming qualities. For musicians and industry insiders, it's a wonderful press-the-flesh opportunity. And it's important to remember, all criticisms considered, that the presumed intentions behind the DMAs are solid. Few cities have anything like this — an awards show that celebrates all that's great about the local music scene, across all genres. Of course, few cities, if any, have the talent to put on an event like this year after year.

Just to illustrate the diversity and eclecticism: This year's show paid tribute to God's Army (Outstanding Gospel/Christian Act) as well as Lola Morales (Outstanding World Artist). And those awards came between wins for Ty Stone and Vinnie Dombroski (both of whom won numerous awards). The worlds of jazz, blues, hip-hop, electronic music, classical and heavy metal collided in one Motor City melting pot — and that's a healthy thing, if only for a rising sense of community. The behind-the-scenes men weren't forgotten either, with concert sound equipment manufacturers Thunder Audio picking up a Special Achievement Award. And names no less prestigious than Robert Plant and Dolly Parton were happy to send in a video message offering their congratulations to the company that has made them sound better onstage for numerous years now.

Among the other winners: Iggy Pop won "Best National Major Label Recording" for his solo album Preliminaires; Bob Seger won "Outstanding Compilation" for Early Seger, Vol.1; Rust Belt Studios of Royal Oak won "Outstanding Recording Studio"; Carolyn Striho won "Outstanding Rock/Pop Recording" for Honesty (in addition to other trophies) and the Electric Six won the award for "National Indie Label Rock Group." In all, artists were honored in 70 different categories.

So not a washout then, by any means. Awards were dished out and egos were polished while like-minded souls met up and shot the shit. There was even a red carpet with photographers flashing damn near every arrival and exit so that everyone got to feel important. Another plus is that attendees got to see musicians perform that they'd never have seen otherwise. The show can drag on a bit, sure, but what awards show doesn't?

Any musician, emcee and rock star who's deserving of attention merits his or her moment, right? The Detroit Music Awards just need to be a little more Detroit.

Full list of winners at detroitmusicawards.com.

Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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