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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Celebrating our Madison music scene at the 2008 MAMAs
Party on, musicians and students!

If you're a Madison music scene insider, and you've attended the MAMAs more than once, no one needed to explain host John Urban's opening joke Saturday night.

"I have to keep the show rolling because I've got plans at midnight," said Urban.

The annual Madison Area Music Awards show has never been known for its brevity. This year's fifth annual gig began at 7:30 and was finished a little more than three hours later.

But much of the crowd of more than 500 was energized right until the end. For those who came to this party, local music is a vocation, and nothing else celebrates that calling like the MAMAs.

The spoken word poetry of Adam Gregory Pergamente introduced each musical act. "Where does the wind come from and where does it go?" Pergamente asked as he lifted the curtain on the evening.

The answer:
It blows through the Barrymore
And over this stage
It whispers all the music
All of these bands made

From there, Urban wasted no time poking fun at the Grammy-like glitz that's the hallmark of the MAMAs.

"Holy crap, do we have enough cameras in here?" he asked. The show was being filmed from more angles than your average TV sports event.

The funniest moment of the night followed next. Urban introduced ten-year old Lexi -- an "actual" music student. In jest, he interrogated her to prove that the MAMAs are good for kids.

"So you'd be sad if this event were cancelled, right?"

"No leading questions!" someone shouted from the audience.

"Hey, this isn't a debate, so shut up," Urban retorted.

But Lexis turned out to be a young comic and she quickly turned the tables on Urban.

"Are you a musician?" she asked him. When he admitted he wasn't, she followed up, "Then why are you here?"

It was time to roll out the awards, and it didn't take long before the name "Robert J" Conaway was called out. The veteran Madison roots musician took home his first trophy for Best Male Vocalist, but he returned to the stage so many times that I frankly lost count.

There's no question that the fifth annual MAMAs was the Robert J. show. It was also a big night for JAH Boogie's Natty Nation. Their manager, Ron Konkel, ran up to the stage a few times to accept awards for the band, which was gigging in Eau Claire.

Conaway submitted two albums for MAMAs consideration -- one by his country band, The Rowdy Prairie Dogs, and one for his roots rock ensemble, The Robert J. Band. The songs on those CDs span a variety of genres that gave Conaway an edge in several categories.

"It's good to be here," said Conaway, who survived a heart attack last year. "And I just don't mean here tonight, but it's good to be here, period."

Madison celebrities were among the award presenters, most notably local TV anchors Teri Barr and Carleen Wild. They're comedy routine raised the prospect of hanky panky between Barr and John Urban (can you visualize it?).

But the funniest presenters of the night were Mike Massey and Art Paul Schlosser. The house band for the evening, The Gomers, appropriately welcomed Massey and Schlosser with the opening bars of "The Odd Couple" theme.

Massey's perfect blond hair and stellar white teeth lit up the room. Schlosser's fashion statement was a Packers ski cap, and he rambled in his usual Art Paul way.

WORT's Sybil Augustine tried to rattle a few cages when it was her turn to present.

"I hope people don't plan on sticking to their scripts tonight," she challenged. "This is a joyous occasion, but we wouldn't need to be here if the money was going to the right places and not to fund the war."

"Did Sybil say anything political when she was out here?" Urban deadpanned when he returned to the stage.

From where I sat, you could see MAMAs founder Rick Tvedt backstage, smiling and having a ball. This moment of bringing Madison's musical community together is what he lives for, and he was clearly relishing it.

A highlight among the musical performances was the hip-hop act, Profound with Li'l Braugh. The rap duo made a statement that hip-hop was in Madison to stay.

"As long as I'm alive, my brother, hip hop lives," they sang.

The larger purpose of the MAMAs organization is to promote school music programs and "put instruments in the hands of kids."

To that end, MAMAs board member Roy Elkins introduced a girl from Brooklyn, Wisconsin, who benefits from MAMA efforts. The girl is a talented strings player, but her family can't afford to buy her the viola she wanted to play. Courtesy of the MAMAs, she was given that instrument Saturday night.

The most poignant remark of the entire evening was made by another young student -- Joel Weng -- who was recognized as music "student of the year."

"I sort of think of composition as a hobby," Weng said, revealing an insight beyond his years. "It's sort of fun because you make something."

That was the perfect segue to the Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award. This year's honoree was UW music professor, Richard Davis. Davis has spent as much of his career harmonizing race relations as he has making beautiful music on bass.

Davis' acceptance speech was brief. "I've lived in three places in my life," said Davis. And among Chicago, New York and Madison, he said, Madison has "the highest potential" for social development.

If the evening had dragged on a little too long by then, The Motorz woke up the crowd with a rousing, wall-of-noise rendition of The Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

Of course, in the MAMAs version of that song, the kids most definitely understand.

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