The most meaningful moment in Tuesday’s third annual Ameripolitan Music Awards show at the Paramount Theatre came not from a winner’s acceptance speech, a musician’s performance or the host’s repartee. Rather, it happened when the two previous winners of the Ameripolitan Venue award took the stage to announce this year’s winning venue.
Broken Spoke owner James White took his customary opportunity to sing a little song with the ace backing band assembled for the occasion, but when it was Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer’s turn, he succintly summed up the mission statement of quality music venues. “Basically, it’s about respecting the musicians,” he said.
Those words lingered enough that Jenny Littleton of the comic-relief duo Doyle & Debbie dropped character briefly during the presentation of a subsequent award to say how much she appreciated Wertheimer’s words. No doubt the hundreds of musicians in the house, many of whom traveled from faraway states and even overseas countries to be here, concurred.
You could feel the appreciation of that respect when artists such as Charlie Thompson, an Englishman who won the Honky Tonk Male award, spoke poignantly about what it meant to be here for the occasion. Or when Western Swing Female winner Carolyn Martin of Nashville expressed her sincere appreciation for the recognition from her peers.
Held a day after the Grammys, the Ameripolitan Awards reflected a very different aspect of the music industry. Created by Austin country mainstay Dale Watson and hosted by Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson, the show honors mostly little-known artists in a variety of roots-based genres. Though guests and participants dress largely in western wear, it’s less about glamour and glitz and more about just having a good time with fellow appreciators of the music.
The one big performance of the evening, by Country Music Hall of Famer Charley Pride as recipient of the Master’s Award, came off splendidly. After giving a short and gracious acceptance speech, Pride sang two of his biggest hits, “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” and “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” before telling a couple of stories and finishing with his old friend Ray Price’s “Heartaches By the Number.” In fine vocal form at age 77, Pride clearly made the night for many in attendance.
Other performance highlights included tributes to this year’s two “Founder of the Sound” recipients, Wanda Jackson and the late Red Simpson. Rockabilly singers Marti Brom, Rosie Flores and Kim Lenz made a nice medley of three Jackson classics, and Austin guitar great Bill Kirchen closed the show with splendid versions of a few gems from Simpson, who’d originally been scheduled to perform before his death last month.
The structure of the show seemed a bit uneven. The first half featured a regular pattern of one award presentation followed by two performances, but after an intermission, the routine switched to four or five awards followed by a single performance. The final stretch became a bit of an endurance test as the clock neared midnight; a more evenly spread back-and-forth between awards and performances might have helped.
The evening’s other hitch was what seemed like a home-team advantage among nominees. While venue winner the White Horse (the third straight from Austin), top DJ Ted Branson of Austin’s KOOP and festival winner San Angelo Cowboy Gathering are all deserving, it suggested a favoritism toward locals and Texans among the voters, perhaps revealing that the Ameripolitan membership is skewed significantly toward the host city. That’s not entirely surprising, but given that the audience included a fair number of faraway travelers, it would have been nice to see more acknowledgment of that support in the non-musician categories.
The full list of winners:
Honky Tonk Male: Charlie Thompson
Honky Tonk Group: Jeff Woolsey & the Dancehall Kings
Outlaw Female: Bonnie Montgomery
Outlaw Male: Whitey Morgan
Outlaw Group: Jason Boland & the Stragglers
Western Swing Female: Carolyn Martin
Western Swing Male: Jason Roberts
Western Swing Group: Billy Mata & the Texas Tradition
Rockabilly Female: Marti Brom
Rockabilly Male: Wayne Hancock
Rockabilly Group: Bellfuries
Ralph Mooney Musician Award: Jason Roberts
Venue: White Horse
Festival: San Angelo Cowboy Gathering
DJ: Ted Branson, KOOP
Founders of the Sound: Wanda Jackson, Red Simpson
Master’s Award: Charley Pride