Hamtown ham

Jan 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

Hamtramck's always held kind of an almost magical ambience for me. For as long as I can remember, the city's had a great indescribable vibe to it — down-to-earth, never taking itself too seriously, and all about having fun. Hamtown's always been a music mecca to my way of thinking, even if only cult heroes have ever come out of there. But that makes it all the cooler.

"It's not so much that Hamtramck is more important than any other local scene," says local publicist Becki Carr of Yarrr! PR, "but Hamtramck just has its own flavor. People who live in Hamtramck — or just hang out there and play shows there — tend to be pretty proud of the town. Going into Hamtramck is almost like going into a very small foreign country. Going back as far as the York Brothers' 'Hamtramck Mama" and all the way up to the Lili's 21 and Paycheck's punk scene and the Motor City techno scene, Hamtramck has been host to some pretty incredible musical history."

Or as Dave Uchalik of the Polish Muslims explains it: "Very few other towns in the Detroit area have two sets of three consecutive consonants in its name. Musicians and songwriters dig that sorta stuff!"

And so this Saturday, Feb. 2, the city will be hosting its first annual Hamtramck Music Awards ... or "The Hammies," for short. The brainchild of Ms. Carr, the event, at least on paper, looks like something that will certainly not be taking itself at all seriously and will be totally all about the fun.

The origin of the awards, explains Carr, came out of "a theoretical conversation. A bunch of friends and I were talking about how funny it could be to have an awards ceremony that's pretty much a parody of the Grammys — something that's not taken very seriously."

And indeed, even though there are a few serious categories (including Best Overall Live Act and Musician of the Year), with worthy nominees in each, there's a lot of zaniness on tap as well, including such unique categories as Best Band to See Drunk and Best Heckler. The winners — who were chosen from ballots cast at various Hamtramck clubs — will each receive a Hammie, a statuette taking the form of a little gold pig.

Ferndale rock aficionado Liz Hill, who's nominated for Best Groupie/Fan, says, "I think the Hammies are hilarious. It's more like a high school mock election than a real awards show. At the Detroit Music Awards, the same people win every year and the show goes on so long that you wanna slit your wrists. This is more for fun — not so formal and serious with committees and board members and all that shit. It is, for lack of a better word, a goof."

Hill's competing with Suzy Cole and ubiquitous local rock fanatic Steve-O for the coveted little swine, and it looks like the various nominees — which were chosen by Hamtown bar owners and other "music authorities" (the only real criteria was that bands had to have played in the city twice during the last year) — are already getting into the spirit of things.

"For pure dedication, Steve-O wins hands-down," Hill says. "For the most MySpace pictures with rock stars, Suzy certainly takes it. But for unadulterated, hip-swinging, throw-your-bra-on-the-stage, wake-up-in-a-tour-van love for the local music scene, come on! It's obviously me."

And Bobby Harlow of the Go — which is nominated for Best Recording (and deservedly so) — issued a statement exclusively to Metro Times, explaining: "We are very pleased to accept our nomination with much respect and appreciation. We were actually hoping for a Grammy, but it turns out that they have perhaps lost our album in the Hollywood shuffle. They seem to have forgotten about Dire Straits as well. I won't name any one individual, but we do suspect that Jack White has altered the ballots.

"We have been keeping a rigorous schedule but the Go are planning to attend the awards ceremony via satellite from Dearborn," Harlow continues. "I've never actually been to Hamtramck. I've been told, however, that handmade sausages cost a mere 35 cents there. Is that true? All joking aside, we are delighted by the nomination and hope everybody wins something, although we, the Go, would prefer the award."

On a more serious note — well, sort of serious only because I actually cried when I heard that owner Lili Karwowski had died, but the truth is she would've loved this sort of campy parody — the festivities will be taking place at the Painted Lady, which is, of course, in the same building that once housed the aforementioned Lili's 21.

"I don't know if it's as much nostalgic playing there as it is just bringing back good memories," Uchalik says. "But as a famous singer once put it, 'These are the good old days.' Only with a shitty economy. Lili's was about Lili herself and her sons Art, Mike, Alan, Steve and Chris making you feel like they were your friends. Oh, wait, they still are our friends ... and your friends, too, Bill! I even met my wife Gail there. OK, OK, it is nostalgic. Next question ..."

Not only are the awards at Lili's old stomping grounds, but in place of the traditional red carpet, the event will have a leopard-print carpet out front (in honor of the clothes the late, great Lili used to wear). And the Lifetime Achievement Award, which is going to the Polish Muslims this year, is named after the matriarch herself. The Lili Karwowski Lifetime Achievement Award will take the form of a golden pierogi. Fitting, as I can still remember the great homemade ones she used to serve on her New Year's Eve buffet; the only thing more fitting would be if the award came with a shot of that wonderful Polish peach liquor she used to serve (usually for free) while consoling you at the bar like a mother (if your mother ran one of the greatest rock clubs in the world, that is).

As for being honored, Uchalik is thrilled: "You know how it feels when someone else farts at a party, and the women ask, 'Who let one loose?' and you know it wasn't you? Well, then you're getting close to how it feels. But the Hentchmen [who are also playing the show] are great. So, we're really glad to be playing with them because we get to see them for free. After all, we're cheap Polacks.

"Seriously, though, it does mean a lot to us because it's named after Lili. She was like a second mom to a lot of us, only not all of our moms gave us free shots of Jesnnowka and Advokat liqueur."

Glabrous Cocktail Shake front man Nick Pivot emcees the show, which begins promptly at 8 p.m.; doors at 7. Cover is a mere $5.

So, be there or be square. Maybe if this takes off, we could be blessed by a reunion of the Mutants — Lili's unofficial house band of yore — next year.

The First Annual Hamtramck Music Awards, featuring the Polish Muslims, the Hentchmen and Nick Pivot, Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Painted Lady, 2390 Jacob, Hamtramck. 313-874-2991.

Bill Holdship is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]