You're allowed to admit it: awards shows are fun to watch. The glittering celebrities, the throng of screaming devotees and the anticipation and anxiety leading up to the completion of the phrase "And the winner is..." are too hard to resist.
These are undeniable reasons why we as members of an entertainment-driven society follow the Oscars, Emmys and other merit-embodied-in-a-statuette ceremonies so closely. We glue our eyes to the television set during interminable self-congratulatory displays and read a slew of repetitious articles that agonize over who will take home that shiny figurine or plaque, all in the name of the cult of celebrity. It has become a cultural responsibility to know who the winners and losers are and, even better, to experience them winning and losing in television's version of real time.
Allow me to confide that at the Kahlua Boston Music Awards, a 12-year-old gala ceremony celebrating Boston's best musicians, which were held a week ago yesterday at the Orpheum Theater, these feelings were not only realized but magnified. With first-hand experience in place of television's distance, the situation only got better: celebrities were within reach, I was the devotee, the anticipation and anxiety were tangible. The impersonality of watching from a couch melted away in the midst of the bustle and excitement. I felt empowered with a control over what I saw and heard. The night was mine instead of an experience shared with millions of other people.
Whether we are participants or viewers, there is one piece of common knowledge that unites us. We know that awards shows are basically for the performing industry to laud itself while ensuring self-perpetuation. In its execution, Boston's contribution to the awards phenomenon was not too different. The town's Music Awards even had famed personalities present to complement the Boston musicians and their fans. These celebrities, fixtures in award culture, are darlings propelled to notoriety by the coast-to-coast pop culture machine. Joshua Jackson, Duncan Sheik, Joey McIntyre and Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo were such conspicuous faces in the crowd. The best evidence for the power of this machine were the bunches of prepubescent girls screaming for Jackson, the Dawson's Creek star, and McIntyre, the reformed New Kids on the Block heartthrob, giving the whole experience a surreal cinematic flair.
Yet where the celebrity left off came the real purpose of the much-hyped ceremony. The Kahlua Boston Music Awards successfully transcended the mere superficiality of the event to embrace the talent of the local music scene and the national artists that got their start here. As a geographical region, the Boston area has enormous pride in general, and that came through in the support of every award winner and performance throughout the evening.
Several knockout acts dominated the night, showcasing the developing potential of local performers. Singer-guitarist Martin Sexton, deemed Outstanding Contemporary Folk Act, silenced the audience with his startlingly emotional ballad spiked with intense, accelerated outbursts. Winning Act of the Year, Outstanding Female Vocalist and Outstanding Country Act, country singer Jo Dee Messina, who was born and raised in Boston but cultivated her career down south, was thankful to be invited back home to display her powerfully clear and mellifluous voice. The impressive Kornlike hardcore band Godsmack, who received the Debut Album of the Year honor, blasted through synthetic fog with their relentlessly pounding single "Whatever." And rounding out the bill of stand out performers was Outstanding Female Vocalist on an Indie Label Susan Tedeschi, who brought down the stage with her guttural, bluesy growl and who also won Single and Album of the Year (Indie Label) and Outstanding Blues Act.
Even though it was a regional production, the Kahlua Boston Music Awards blended polished professionalism and colloquial surprises together for a fluid and captivating show. A 500-strong committee picked the 172 nominees who were voted into stardom by an equally-weighted combination of industry and public ballots. Considering that there were only 41 awards to present, the performer-to-award ratio was palpable. There was too much celebrity to congratulate. It was up to the audience to lap up the overflow.
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