Southern Maryland rock musicians gathered to pay tribute to their own on Feb. 16 at the inaugural Phoenix Awards at the Port Tobacco Players Theater in La Plata.
Fashioned after the Grammy Awards, the evening also served as a chance for local artists, who generally don’t receive extensive radio airplay, to showcase their talents.
“I’ve always thought these guys in Southern Maryland are very talented,” said John Hunt, founder and chief executive of the Phoenix, a La Plata-based online radio station that specializes in playing local rock music. “This is their chance to show it.”
Mechanicsville native Justin Myles scored a trifecta at the show, claiming awards for Best Original Band/Artist, Best Original Song for “Rock Bottom” and the People’s Choice Award.
His band, the Piranhas, won for Best Live Performance, and bandmate Dylan Galvin took home the award for Best Guitarist.
Myles and Galvin, who make up two-thirds of the Piranhas, brought down the house with an acoustic rendition of Paul Simon’s classic “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” with Galvin on vocals and guitar and Myles playing body percussion.
“Southern Maryland is swarmed in so much talent,” Myles said.
Proving his point, the second-loudest ovation of the night went to Changing Scene, a relatively unknown band whose live performance of its original song “Aly Went Home” caught the attention of several in the audience.
After the band’s five members — who hail from Pomfret’s Maurice J. McDonough High School and the College of Southern Maryland — claimed the award for Best New Artist/Band, Hunt called them a “hot prospect.”
In addition to “Aly Went Home” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” the show had live performances from metal band Absinthe and from Best Original Song nominees: “War” by Yellowtieguy, “Paper Soup” by Mark Glass, “Ride My Bike” by Kirbie and “No Roses” by Little Paul.
Nominations for all but one of the evening’s awards were made jointly by the fans and a committee of 12 members “who actually go out and see more than one band,” Hunt said.
The nominees and winner of the People’s Choice Award were chosen exclusively by listeners of the Phoenix, which began three years ago in a small Lexington Park office and moved to California and Leonardtown. It finally settled in its current location on Charles Street in La Plata, one block from the theater.
Half of the show’s proceeds will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation to aid research into Parkinson’s disease.
Hunt said that the show took eight or nine months to plan but that he is looking forward to staging it again next year, when he wants to include an award for Best Music Teacher. During the Feb. 16 show, he gave a special shout-out to Patricia Kuzmick, a retired longtime choral instructor at Chopticon High School, for whom Hunt sang when he was a student there.
The night also included a brief tribute to Evan Bliss, a singer-songwriter from Maryland who died in August at 35 from a pulmonary embolism linked to extensive air travel. Hunt quoted a newspaper article that said an autopsy revealed a blood clot had migrated from Bliss’ leg to the main artery in his lungs while he was flying to and from Kenya on a work assignment researching HIV/AIDS.