Schieffer Hosts, Griffith Rules At the Wammies

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 19, 2007

Rock on, Bob Schieffer!

The CBS newsman brought an extra bit of star power to the Wammies last night, presiding over the Washington Area Music Association's annual trophy giveaway as an emcee -- and perhaps setting the stage for his own Wammie win.

There was plenty of what-about-Bob buzz at the State Theatre in Falls Church, where the local music industry gathered to celebrate itself and awards were handed out to a seemingly never-ending list of regional songwriters, singers, soloists, drummers, guitarists, producers, engineers, conductors and such. More than 100 Wammies were given in 21 genres, covering everything from country, children's music and classical to traditional folk, gospel and go-go.

Grace Griffith took home the night's biggest haul with four awards, including two of the most significant: Her "My Life" was named album of the year and the folk singer from Southern Maryland was named co-artist of the year along with the Junkyard Saints, a Baltimore-based New Orleans-style party-music band. "My Life" also won the best contemporary folk album award and the singer received a special recognition award.

Griffith was found to have Parkinson's disease in 1998 and no longer plays instruments, but continues to perform and record.

It was a big night, too, for Dave Kitchen: His group the Thrillbillys won best debut recording for "Live at the Sunset Grille," and Kitchen himself was named songwriter of the year. His tune "Love Is Blind" also shared the song of the year award with Honky Tonk Confidential's "Who Gets the Fruitcake This Year."

HTC's holiday album of the same name won for best country recording as well as best record design. But it's the group's next recording that's certain to garner the most attention: "Road Kill Stew and Other News," due out at the end of this month, features a most unusual collaborator in Schieffer, who wrote four songs and even sings on one of them -- the appropriately titled "TV Anchorman."

Emmy, schmemmy: Schieffer already has six of those. But a Wammie? For now, the "Face the Nation" moderator and occasional singer-songwriter can only dream.

"I hope we win next year," Schieffer said offstage. "It's really a good little CD." He was standing in the theater lobby surrounded by musicians hoping to have their pictures taken with a network newsman. Schieffer called himself "a fledgling songwriter." Members of Honky Tonk Confidential called him their secret weapon.

Earlier Schieffer stood at the lectern wearing a tuxedo jacket, bow tie, bluejeans and cowboy boots, trying to keep a straight face as he announced the winner of the best choral group award, the Suspicious Cheese Lords.

Other attendees also wore their awards-show finest: cocktail dresses and treble-clef ties, and purses shaped like guitars. There was also Cletus Kennelly, winner of the contemporary folk duo award with Lori Kelley, wearing a red jacket and bright orange fishing cap.

Former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould won three awards, for modern rock instrumentalist, electronica vocalist and electronica DJ. (Mould shared the latter award with Richard Morel, his partner in the live-DJ outfit Blowoff.)

Last year, the Wammies introduced the eligibility-killing emeritus awards to unclog categories in which the same names were called year after year after year. So some of the local music scene's biggest names were absent from the awards -- among them go-go godhead Chuck Brown and the bluegrass greats the Seldom Scene.

In Brown's stead, Rare Essence was named go-go group of the year and E.U. drummer William "Ju Ju" House won the genre's instrumentalist award. In the bluegrass category, Randy Waller and the Country Gentlemen won for best group as well as recording of the year ("Keeper of the Flame"), and the band's three-finger banjo picker, Mark Delaney, won for best instrumentalist.

The original Country Gentlemen -- the group led by Waller's late father, Charlie -- were inducted into the WAMA Hall of Fame, along with Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary co-founder of Atlantic Records who died last year, and Sophocles Papas, the famed guitar teacher whose students included Charlie Byrd.

Radio host Mary Cliff was the recipient of the night's big rah-rah award: Most supportive of Washington music. Cliff's long-running "Traditions" show was removed from WETA's schedule last month when the station switched to an all-classical format, but it quickly found a new home on WAMU.

The ceremony was marred by the usual issue of attendees talking over the performers and speeches. There may be no room more difficult to play than one filled with musicians -- especially when the drinks are flowing freely. One solution: Crank up the guitars, which the Baltimore rock band Fools and Horses did, thus drowning out the crowd. Blues singer Robert Lighthouse wasn't as successful; the songs in his solo acoustic performance seemed to evaporate somewhere between the stage and the back bar. Back to you, Bob.

A complete list of winners can be found at www.wamadc.com.

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