When I asked my roommate if she was interested in attending the Kahlua Boston Music Awards with me, her first question was whether they'd be passing out free Kahlua. Failing that, she wanted to know if there would be anybody famous there? The only well-known musical celebrity slated to make an appearance that I could remember off-hand was Donna Summer. My roommate decided she'd pass.
Ah, yes. The power of celebrity.
Although I myself attended the awards with the ostensible objective of augmenting my knowledge of the Boston music underground, I must confess I was enticed, as any mortal must be, by the idea of swooning at the sight of Boston's hometown celebs. Flipping through the awards booklet, I began to get excited as I glimpsed a teaser promo on the inside cover, showing the smug faces of LFO along with the boast of the "Power of 3Times 5," LFO's label's commendation of the boys' five nominations, including act of
the year. But I, along with the throngs of groupie types congregating outside the Orpheum, eyeing the stretch limos rolling up with nervous expectation, was destined to be disappointed. Alas, the Lyte Funkie Ones were a no-show.
Star-seekers needn't have worried, however. Boston is still the home of the New Kids on the Block, two of whom have made praiseworthy efforts at pulling mildly successful independent careers from the wreckage that was NKOTB. Although the boys are teen idols no more (they are both in their late 20s), fans in the under-13 age bracket continue to adore Jordan Knight (winner of Single of the Year for "Give It to You") and Joey McIntyre (winner of Outstanding Video for "I Love You Came Too Late"). I was entirely flabbergasted to see both of them called to the stage at various points during the evening, as I wasn't aware there'd been anything worth salvaging (or, for that matter, whether they were worth all the fanfare they received in the first place). Their enthusiasm, gratitude and apparently genuine pleasure to be in attendance at the Awards (along with their still cute countenances) were met with a cacophony of young hoots and shrieks. Of course, much of the ruckus was due to carousing anti-establishment types like the group of twenty-something Goths sitting next to me, who amused themselves to no end by chanting "We love you Joey" whenever the Not-So-New Kid got anywhere near the stage. But even their cheers, dripping with sarcasm, were reflective of the consistently ebullient response garnered by a familiar face.
Given the audience's craving for big names and faces, the choice for host was appropriate: Dave Foley, omnipresent MTV host best-known for his runner-up status on the 1998 Wanna Be a VJ Contest. His notoriety certainly garnered him the job, as Dave seems to have no other connection to the Boston scene. It was entertaining to watch his attempts at playing down his MTV connections and establishing empathy with lesser known Bostonacts. Dave lauded the Boston Music Awards for "righting the wrongs of music awards," even going so far as to say that "in a perfect world, Christina Aguilera would be cleaning her pool" in reference to New England blues/rock fave (and Grammy nominee) Susan Tedeschi. Uh-huh. No-shows led to Foley's pronouncement that things were thankfully running ahead of schedule "for the first time in music award history."
Star absentia wasn't the only contributing factor to the general pathos of disorder that reigned at the awards. The show started with the seats less than half-filled, and late-comers only contributed to the rumbling murmur of voices that was a constant fixture throughout the award presentations. Most of the dissident noise was less subtle. The Goths across the aisle from me weren't the only ones carousing; one suspects several of the obstreperous performers and presenters imbibed before taking the stage as well. The Shods, presenting Best Country Act, came on stage eating and griping about being kept from their fair share of chocolate-covered strawberries (The award, by the way, went to the Dave Foley Band). The lead vocalist for Half Cocked, upon presentation of an award, queried the audience, "Is anybody drunk out there?" Select members of Tree, presenting Outstanding New Rock Band (won by Star Ghost Dog and Waltham) certainly appeared to be. Tree waltzed onto stage with plastic cups of beer in their hands, and one particularly rambunctious member leapt off the stage after slurringly (and accurately) accusing the audience of general ennui. The bloke proceeded to jump from chair back to chair back across the first 20 or so rows. Tree had won Outstanding Hardcore/Metal Band earlier in the evening, so they had a reasonably legitimate reason to celebrate. All I know is I still wasn't getting any free Kahlua.
A more somber mood pacified the pandemonium as respect was dutifully given to one of pop music's powerhouses, Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records in 1947, for whom the "Ertegun Impact Award" was inaugurated. The award was prefaced by Peter Wolf, who, as part of the producer's bio, read off a seemingly unending slew of well-known music acts that have released albums under the Atlantic label (from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones to Kid Rock). Thus the crowd's eruption into madcap applause with Amhet's eventual appearance on stage was entirely appropriate. Ertegun quipped that Boston is the "source of some of the best fish I've ever tasted." Hmmm. Who needs good music when you've got fresh seafood!]
Performers did their best to prove that Boston does indeed have a substantive music scene. Gang Starr, receiving a Boston Hall of Fame Award, shared bumping beats and inspiring words with the audience. Guru, the rhyming side of the duo, said, "I left Boston with a duffel bag and a dream and somehow did something big." He also attempted to bridge the obvious and awkward gap between hip-hop artists on stage and the pop/rock fans that dominated the audience by giving a "Big-up to Godsmack -- I like your stuff." Not so much that they didn't bolt from the auditorium shortly after receiving their awards, thus missing the opportunity to watch Godsmack (recipient of Act of the Year) perform two singles, "Voodoo" and "Keep Away," which garnered them the honor of "most airplay of any current rock band." The audience responded ecstatically. The irreligious ones gave a lively performance; their head-banging antics and the booming speakers would have made Gang Starr proud. Less interesting was Donna Summer's belting out of a forgettable techno-laced, Cher-esque number. Susan Tedeschi (Winner, Outstanding Blues Act, Single of the Year on an Indie Label), Angry Salad, and the Push Stars (Winner, Debut Rock Band on a Major Label) gave solid performances that the audience did not entirely ignore. Less attention
was given to local artists (for example, The Pills, receiving Debut Album of the Year on an Indie Label) who took the stage to receive awards. Even more disheartening were the off-stage awards that while essential because of time constraints, were nonetheless a little sad. A nomination for a Boston Music Award doesn't necessarily mean you've made the big-time, nor that you've gained the industry's and your colleagues' respect.
As what was left of the audience rose to depart at the end of the ceremony, Dave Holmes implored them "Please, people, support your local music scene." These words would perhaps have rung a little more true had they not been uttered by a spearhead for mainstream music at its finest. As music fans and professionals poured out of the Orpheum and made their way to the Park Street Red Line stop across the street, these words certainly appeared to have little resonance. Boston music fans walked past the man on the platform with the open guitar case bidding them "Welcome to Acousticland" with their ears (and wallets) closed, as they indifferently awaited the approach of the train which would whisk them back to radio stations emitting music they recognized. Local music scene, indeed.