For its seventh ceremony, Saturday night, the Madison Area Music Awards moved to the relatively cushy surroundings of the Capitol Theatre, and the new location only added to the sense that, with its voice-overs and video montages, the MAMAs have become a polished entertainment spectacle. Luckily, the event retains its crucial elements, including the diversity of artists featured, the focus on philanthropy, and the joviality of a (relatively) close-knit community getting together to celebrate itself. Plus, as last night demonstrated, the music presented and honored is of uniformly high quality.
There were literally dozens of awards, but the event centered on live performances. (In fact, given that so many winners were revealed in montages, the awards sometimes felt like an afterthought.) These performances ranged from merely great to truly remarkable, and not one was a disappointment. Particularly impressive were the funk-and-flow heroics of dumate, a multi-song funk/disco medley from VO5, and the blazing blues-rock of Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo.
Even more striking were the younger acts who performed as reminders of MAMA's literal and figurative commitment to supporting area youth. Virtuosi Alice Huang and Greg Riss (who, in one of the night's best moments, missed his Student of the Year award because he'd left for prom) wowed on the violin and xylophone, respectively. Singer/songwriter Tos Hopkins and dance troupe Crushing All Force provided early highlights, as did rock band Good News First, who impressed with their tight musicianship and song-craft, plus a cover of "Don't Stop Believin'" that showcased Kacey Henkelman's powerful vocals. Finally, Stereocolor nearly stole the show with a blast of soul-inflected pop/rock that would've shamed bands twice their age, with twice their experience. They deservedly received the night's longest standing ovation.
In a sense, then, the event would be just as meaningful if not a single award was presented. But, of course, that wasn't the case. Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo won Artist of the Year and a handful of others. Alt-country artist Whitney Mann took home Best New Artist, although most awards in Folk/Americana categories went to Beth Kille. Numerous deserving artists, songs and albums received recognition. In one notable instance, El Valiente won for Best Alternative Album, which surprised the trio, who then had to scurry down from seats upstairs to accept their award.
Like most awards shows, the MAMAs would've benefited from some judicious trimming, particularly as it neared its conclusion. After an unsurprisingly roof-shaking performance from Madison County, Madison Area Music Assocation president Roy Elkins and Yamaha vice-president Rick Young (an active MAMA supporter) both made extended comments before Young presented Artist of the Year. Elkins and Young's contributions are important, and their comments were appropriate, but a steady flow of people headed towards the exits throughout. Overall, though, the show was well-paced and well-produced, and John Urban proved a genial and quick-witted host.
The Madison Area Music Awards, as proven again last night, are an exciting component to Madison's cultural landscape. The fact that they're also such a good time makes them all the better.