The Beatdown

The lowdown on the Music Showcase awards.

I'm sitting across the table from Wendy Woo, Bob Rupp and a handful of other folks at the Goosetown Tavern after the Westword Music Showcase Awards ceremony; we're reminiscing about the local scene. And from the smiles coloring everyone's faces, no one is ready for the night to end.

Wendy laughs when I mention seeing her perform at the now-defunct Soapy Smith's. She was only about seventeen years old, she says, and just getting her start. At tonight's ceremony, she won the award for best singer/songwriter, and she seems poised for bigger and better -- whatever that may be.

Then Bob, the longtime owner of Rupp's Drums, starts talking about the glory days. I throw some band names on the table and ask what happened to them: the Original Rabbits, Jinx Jones, Elik Pink. He gives the rundown on each one, and then we wax nostalgic about Rock Fest -- an all-local-music showcase, one of the first of its kind, that he funded and produced well over a decade ago. It had a big impact on me, I tell him, especially since I wasn't old enough to see those bands at clubs -- at least, not legally. It was a pain in the ass, he tells me, and it became such a financial burden that he had to end the event.

Like a giddy schoolgirl, I'm sitting at Uncle Bob's feet as he's spinning yarns about the good old days. And it occurs to me that Westword couldn't have picked a better person to host its ninth annual awards ceremony. Bob is one of the most animated people I've ever met; he should come complete with a syllabus, graphs and charts. And once you put a quarter in him, he doesn't stop -- the guy is all over the freaking place.

"Ask me about any band, and chances are pretty good I've got a story," he says. "I've never told them, because no one has ever asked."

Just as I'm thinking how fortunate I am to be in the company of such fine people, Dolly Zander, founder of COMA (the Colorado Music Association), sits straight up in the booth across from me and says: "Mark this day on your calendar, June 26. Today, everything in the local music scene is puuurfect!"

Now, puuurfect is a relative term. I don't think the scene is perfect, but it's certainly come a long way since 1995 and the first Westword Music Showcase. This year, with Bob as emcee and with Sam Bivens and the Denver Jazz Orchestra providing the evening's soundtrack, the event had prestige, even a certain elegance. Which was good, because this is as close to the Grammys as most of us will ever get. It's nice to play rock star once a year, if only for the evening and if only among your friends.

After Bivens and the DJO played a few Doc Severinsen-esque tunes, Bob kicked off the show with a couple of one-liners about last year's host, Sid Pink, who "couldn't make it" again. "You have my personal guarantee -- no skits this year," he promised.

Without further ado, he announced the first category: rock. The Soul Thieves won this one, and their guitarist, Ryan Donley, was so excited that he phoned his parents with the good news. "I called my dad," he says, "and said, 'Dad, we won.'" To which his father deadpanned, "That's great; I'll put your mother on the phone." While Mom was obviously proud, Ryan's son had the best response: He told his dad about the new Hulk video game he'd just picked up.

Although a few of the winners -- Yo, Flaco! in hip-hop, Aggressive Persuasion in hard rock, Otis Taylor in blues -- weren't on hand to pick up their awards, plenty were, and they delivered eloquent acceptance speeches.

Members of the victorious D.O.R.K. , for example, graciously acknowledged Planes Mistaken for Stars, one of the other bands competing in the punk category. Kenny James, multi-instrumentalist and frontman of the Witching Hour, which took home honors in the eclectic category, offered this sage advice: "Whether you were nominated or not, keep expressing yourself. That's what it's all about."

The award for the longest speech of the evening should go to Chris Dellinger of Blister 66, a band inducted into the Showcase Hall of Fame after five straight wins. His "seven years of thank yous" took about seven minutes off my life. Seriously, the dude thanked everyone except his second-grade teacher. Still, he's earned the right to "talk a lot of shit about how cool we are."

And while some other awards -- Opie Gone Bad in pop, Ron Miles in jazz/swing, DJ Ivy in DJ/dance/electric and the Railbenders in country/bluegrass/roots -- were well deserved, they could easily have gone to other artists nominated in those categories. There was some heady competition this year, and plenty of people probably left the Bluebird disappointed that they didn't take home a statuette. If this were a perfect world -- if the local scene was indeed puuurfect -- everyone would win. But it's not. Not yet.

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