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SF Weekly Music Awards 2003

Americana DJ/Selector/Turntablist Electronic/Electro Hard Rock/

Metal Hip Hop/Rap Jazz Latin/

International Lifestyle Music New Genre/Beyond Pop Punk Rock/Indie Rock Soul/Funk/ R&B 

If music be the brandy of the damned, then we're drunk off our asses

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Ten years ago, when I was first asked to help out with SF Weekly's local music awards, I thought there had been some kind of mistake. I was the hung-over girl with ringing ears who answered phones, dodged skateboards, and proofed club ads in the paper's lobby, hardly an assistant producer for an awards ceremony. But the SF Weekly Music Awards, then called the Wammies, already had a history of sturdy irreverence and hangdog foolishness. Conceived by Jeff Diamond, Ann Powers, and Brian Raffi to be the antithesis of the slick and shiny Bay Area Music Awards, which honored the same handful of big-label artists year after year, the SF Weekly Music Awards set out to reflect the local music scene as it really sounded. In 1994, the same year Chris Isaak was honored with three Bammies and Carlos Santana with one of a career 10, our ceremony was hosted by Cory McAbee of the Billy Nayer Show; our presenters got drunk, dropped the microphone, and nearly lost their tits; and Tarnation, Tribe 8, and the Charlie Hunter Trio walked away winners. It was exciting and sweet and silly.

Some things have changed since then: The Bammies grew up and became the California Music Awards, SF Weekly was sold to New Times, and New Times said I could write instead of answer phones. But, through it all, I've continued to work on the SF Weekly Music Awards. I haven't always known why -- I must admit, without the Bammies as an adversary, SFWMA feels more and more like a contest between working musicians rather than an argument for them -- but I have always relished the opportunity to throw a big party for the people who make my life feel like one. And truth be told, over the last few years, I've realized something else I like about the ceremony: Having all those musicians, from all those disparate musical worlds, in one room together is sexy as hell.

Speaking of hell, that's our theme for this year, not because we're all going there in a handbasket, but because you know Satan has one hell of a house band, and the Land of Dis is the most natural destination for all devoted hedonists and lovers of loud music and live stage shows. This year also marks the last I will be involved -- without provocation or invitation, I have decided to set off for less lovely but more compelling climes -- so a warm, fiery farewell seemed fitting. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. I love you madly.

As George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "Music is the brandy of the damned." Let's get wasted. -- Silke Tudor

Award Show Nominees

Americana

Jesse DeNatale

Mixing soulful vocals with drifting acoustic arrangements, telling tales of everyday life and yesterday's love, soft-spoken bard Jesse DeNatale follows some of the same backwoods musical lanes that Van Morrison traveled in his years in Marin County. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell also hover nearby as patron saints, but DeNatale's music remains personal and distinctive, his raspy, weathered voice revealing a life lived hard, while his allusive, nostalgia-drenched lyrics convey the value he places on embracing life with all its quirky ups and downs.

DeNatale's debut album, Shangri-La West, released on the local independent Jackpine Social Club label, boasts rich, deep production, with hypnotic, droning riffs that transport listeners to the quieter side of the Americana landscape. Live, DeNatale tends to play solo and exhibits the same sort of entrancing emotion that is showcased on Shangri-La West, and that has gained him praise from roots music luminaries such as Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Tom Waits. Gigging constantly and finishing a follow-up album, DeNatale compares the joy and challenges of recording to having children: "It's just like having kids," he said in an interview given earlier this year. "You give [it] all this stuff, and make sure it's got this and that, a coat and everything, so that when you send it out there, it can survive. You want it to be strong, because once it's out the door, you're not going to have any control over it. ... But you also hope it can make you proud." With a nomination for an SF Weekly Music Award arriving right on its heels, you could say that Shangri-La West is DeNatale's perfect little musical honor student.

Mark Growden

California native Mark Growden takes the Bay Area's cultural ethos of inclusion and eclecticism to pleasant extremes. With a background in performance art and film, Growden moved into music with a loosely formed agenda that merges acoustic roots music with art rock and avant-garde experimentalism. As comfortable with the rambling explorations of Sun Ra and Meredith Monk as the rootsy traditionalism of the modern Americana scene, Growden brings to mind a sinister blend of Richard Thompson and Tom Waits; his live shows feature him wailing in an indefinable Mediterranean/Balkan/klezmer style one moment, then brooding in the corner, literally tearing apart paper the next. Performing on modified accordions, saxophones, banjos, and homemade novelties such as the canjo and the amplified cactus (as well as everyday objects that happen to fall into his grasp), Growden shows a relentless, searching intelligence, which perhaps explains his efforts to push roots music to its boundaries: He wants to see what happens when the walls start to bend. His performances, particularly with his genre-imploding Electric Piñata ensemble, reveal an attraction to improvisational noise as well as incandescent, beautiful ballads. His independently owned, Berkeley-based label, Wiggle Biscuit Records, is also home to local avantniks such as Scott Amendola and Myles Boisen, along with various other musical cohorts. Evocative, dark, and challenging, Growden's approach to music and performance indicates that there's still plenty of life left in the Bay Area's new-music scene.

Jolie Holland

Multi-instrumentalist and enigmatic lyricist Jolie Holland mixes blues, folk, soul, gospel, and world music with soul-searching poetry, giving her live shows and her self-produced album, Catalpa, a mysterious, almost impenetrable aura. In an era when radio listeners are expected to subsist on bland, easy-to-swallow pop, Holland offers dense, complex music that definitely takes some time to chew on and digest. The Texas-born songsmith plays fiddle, accordion, ukulele, guitar, and whatever else comes in handy, while singing in a spooky, atmospheric style that draws on a wide range of influences, yet defies easy categorization. Holland's eclectic touch may be familiar to fans of her old band, the now-famous Be Good Tanyas, which she helped found while living in Vancouver in the '90s. The Tanyas opted for a relatively accessible pop-Americana style, but Holland's work has a darker hue, and draws not only on her own experiences, but also on literary sources such as Zora Neale Hurston and poet W.B. Yeats. While continuing to work on new records, Holland prefers to steer listeners to her live shows (including her work with the amorphous, improvisational ensemble Little Boris & the Shoes), which capture her full emotional power and theatrical range. In both incarnations, live and on disc, Holland has left a distinctive stamp on the local acoustic music scene.

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