Dare to Be Square: Are the Austin Music Awards Quietly Getting Cooler?


by Carter Delloro, Photography by Carlos J. Matos

I consider myself something of an Austin Music Awards connoisseur. I don’t know the results inside and out, but I follow it every year, and have even read up on a lot of the awards from the ‘80s and ‘90s just to learn about historical trends and discover new-old bands. I’m a nerd like that.

This year’s AMAs – the 32nd annual iteration of the awards – was the fourth in OVRLD’s lifetime (you can view our photo series on it here). The first three all saw one artist throw down a dominant performance at the awards, ushering in a new entry to the Austin music pantheon each time.

In 2011, The Bright Light Social Hour won six awards outright, including the major awards of Best Band, Best Album, and Best Song, while placing in the Top Five in seven other categories (including their #4 finish in Song of the Year, “Back and Forth”). It was a sweeping, nearly unprecedented showing from a band on their debut LP. In 2012, however, Quiet Company topped them with a record-breaking 10 awards, again including the trifecta of Band, Album and Song of the Year.

In a less surprising turn of events for anyone following local music, 2013 was the Year of Gary Clark Jr. Clark won eight awards, including Album, Song and Band of the Year, despite him not actually being a full band. He did win Musician of the Year too, just for good measure. All three of these artists, it was agreed, were now a part of the Austin music establishment after these dominating sweeps.

This year, however, was a little different.

Best Bass Player, Best Drummer, Best Electric Guitarist, Best Jazz BandJitterbug Vipers

The night’s biggest winner was the “swingadelic” Jitterbug Vipers, a 1930s-sounding group that won four awards – Best Jazz Band, Best Drummer, Best Bassist and Best Electric Guitarist – none of the major categories. They also finished Top Five in five other categories, making for an impressive night, but nowhere near as dominating as we’ve seen in the most recent events.

A bunch of artists won three awards apiece, including Austin mainstay and increasingly-disappointing Bob Schneider, who snagged Best Album for the atrocious Burden of Proof, and Jonny Gray, a singer-songwriter featured on The Voice, who won Song of the Year for the terrible “Silly Girl.” After seeing these kinds of wins, it’s easy to think that Austin voters had a brief bout of terrible taste in 2014 and that we should just write these awards off.

However, there were some great choices also made. The always-interesting Gina Chavez also picked up three deserved awards for Best Latin Rock Act, Best Latin Traditional Act, and Best Female Vocalist. There were wins by OVRLD favorites Emily Bell, Wild Child, Shakey Graves, The Octopus Project, Eagle Claw and Residual Kid, as well as AMA mainstays Gary Clark Jr and Quiet Company. Even the Wheeler Brothers, whose Gold Boots Glitter was a disappointing follow up to their auspicious debut (and who I was afraid would have a Quiet Company-esque sweep this year), won two inarguable awards, including for Best Roots Rock Band.

The biggest news, though, was the love shown to Riders Against the Storm. Winners of only two awards, they were still the story of the night, since one of those two was Band of the Year. It was the first time in the 32-year history of the Austin Music Awards that a hip-hop group has been bestowed that honor. In looking back through past winners, I’m not convinced that a hip-hop group has ever even made the Top Ten.

I was honestly surprised at the win, but not at all disappointed. Hip-hop has been gaining more and more momentum in Austin in recent years, and for an Awards show that is sometimes nauseatingly mainstream (see: Bob Schneider and Jonny Gray), RAS are great ambassadors. They are a husband-and-wife duo, whose music is spiritual and positive. They are talented, their music is catchy and they are wonderful people. When I talked with Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone after the ceremony, he was more interested in making sure that I wrote about the rise of Austin hip-hop than about RAS themselves. They are fantastic ambassadors to the Austin mainstream, who will hopefully open up more doors for other members of the Austin hip-hop community with their historic win.

Riders Against the Storm will be the second headliner for the monthly Third Thursday Throwdown at the Sahara Lounge next month (this month’s headliner is another AMA winner, Hard Proof Afrobeat), and if you haven’t heard them live yet, that would be a great opportunity to do so. Follow us on social media, and we’ll be sure to remind you about it.

Margaret MoserMargaret Moser

All in all, the last year of AMA founder Margaret Moser’s association with the awards show typified everything that is both good and bad about the awards. In many ways, it rewarded safe choices and mediocrity, but in enough other ways, it reflected the diversity of Austin music and acknowledged some of the best that our city has to offer. It will be interesting to see the direction in which the awards head in recent years. Or maybe they want to retire the show completely and let the Austin Music Blogger Awards handle it from here. No? It was worth a shot.