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And the CEAs Went to ...
The 10th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards bring out the best in local music
During the past nine years at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, CityBeat's annual celebration of the local music (as well as theater, in a separate ceremony now), there inevitably came a moment when I sunk down in my chair and became a bundle of anxiety. I have little to do with the show itself -- CityBeat's promotions guru Dan McCabe runs it -- but, heading up the nominating committee and helping with some of the other details, I feel a special bond with the show and always hope it runs perfectly. But there are always those moments when I find myself muttering, "Come on, pick it up" -- when someone dawdles around too long or there's a minute-long pause between introduction and performance -- or "What the hell was that squeal?
Maybe it was the tightening up of the backstage alcohol policy (rumor has it there was no free beer backstage!), but the 10th edition of the CEAs at the Taft Theatre Nov. 19 ran remarkably well, as smooth as one of those crappy awards shows on TV but 10 times as much fun. There was a real communal feeling once again -- many of the winning artists took time to express their gratitude for being involved in such an inspiring, creative and diverse local music scene.
The sound during the performances was practically flawless; this was probably the best sounding CEAs show yet. Freekbass opened the evening with a fiery display of Funk showmanship; decked out in a boa-like red jacket, giant sunglasses and black leather cowboy hat, frontman Chris Sherman (who had a "Freekbass 2" doppelganger making the scene) strutted like a peacock pimp. When Sherman won the R&B/Funk CEA, he gushed, pointing to the feather-adorned trophy girl, "All I wanna know is, where can I get that outfit?"
Hip Hop collective Da Muttss played a few songs with a thumping DJ and then brought out a full backing band, which hyped the energy level up several more decibles. It was good timing, because that's when the group brought out a collection of breakdancers, who spun and slithered around the stage and got the audience worked up.
The Hiders played a transcendent, somewhat psychedelic set -- helped by the excellent, swirling visuals that were a perfect addition throughout the night -- stretching their songs out gorgeously and showing off some incredible musical chops.
After an inspiring presentation about the show's beneficiary, the Michael Bany Scholarship Fund (including three recent winners of the student scholarship), Viva La Foxx played two songs of explosive, chaotic Punk Rawk, with singer Amy Jo wailing and sashaying across the Taft's huge stage. She kicked off her high-heels at one point and ended up slithering under a just-dropped curtain after their set to retrieve one, as Bob Herzog (who capably co-hosted with Channel 12 cohort Jen Dalton) looked on bemusedly.
The emotional high point came during the "in memoriam" segment of the show, when trumpeter Mike Wade played a lonely, mesmerizing solo as images of local Jazz heroes Marjean Wisby, Kenny Poole and Oscar Treadwell flickered across the two giant screens that flanked the stage. McCabe followed that with an inspiring shout-out to Sam Nation of The Thirteens, who also passed away this year.
Staggering Statistics sounded incredible on the big Taft sound system, their anxious Indie Rock resonating to the rafters. New guitarist Sam Womelsdorf sported a "Free Darfur" T-shirt, but that wasn't the only political statement of the night. Bassist Chris Walker joined Napoleon Maddox onstage to accept IsWhat?!'s Artist of the Year award and said, "Impeach Bush. Impeach Cheney," reminding everyone that we'd have our first female president (conservatives' living nightmare, Nancy Pelosi) if impeachment removed those two from the White House.
But this was mostly about music, and Kenny Smith delivered the musical highlight of the night. Smith, a Soul music singer and songwriter in the 1960s and '70s, was inducted into the CEA Hall of Fame; in his acceptance speech, the clearly humbled artist deflected attention to the audience and Cincinnati's music scene.
"People always talk about Motown and Detroit," he said, "but we had King Records. We started it all."
Smith hadn't played in front of people in 30 years, his career now getting a second chance as interest in him has amped up since the release of One More Day, a collection of coveted rare Smith singles released on the locally based Shake It Records. But there was no rust on Smith as a performer.
Along with note-perfect backing assistance from Pearlene, an all-star horn section and back-up singers (all decked out in period outfits), the charming Smith perfectly recalled Soul/Funk's heyday. If you closed your eyes, you could pretend you were at The Apollo in the early '70s.
Smith's six-song closing set was another testament to Cincinnati's talent throughout time. Local artists often run under the mainstream's radar, but more often than not they've always been on par with (if not better than) many of their more well-known peers on a national level. We're lucky to have that and luckier still to recognize it at least once a year at the CEAs.
AND THE WINNERS WERE:
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