Ragged but somehow right, the first Washington area pop music awards -- the Wammies -- took place last night at Lisner Auditorium, celebrating local music and musicians and, perhaps more importantly, solidifying the community spirit that lies at the heart of any future this city has as a music center.
It really didn't matter that too many edges were visible during the 4 1/2-hour production, during which almost four dozen awards were presented. Sponsored by the fledgling Washington Area Music Association, Kodak Corp. and the City Paper, the Wammies were a first, tentative, stubborn step, cultural volunteerism at work.
Patterned heavily on the Grammys, and actually better organized than the recent MTV Awards, the Wammies provided a harvest for the local band Downtown, which walked off with seven record-shaped trophies, including Artist of the Year. Downtown also won for Best Song, Best Debut Record, Best Record, Best Pop Rock Vocalist (Jeff Watson), Best Pop/Rock Group and Best Top 40/Cover Group. Ironically, Downtown may be seeking greener pastures in California in the spring. That's one of the harsh economic realities facing local bands that the Wammies are trying to offset.
Guitarist Stewart Smith had to jump out of the Lisner orchestra pit for his four Wammies. The first time he seemed genuinely surprised. "Gee whiz, I didn't figure on this," Smith said. "I've got to get back to work," he added, jumping down off the stage lip. The second time he said, "I need some stairs." But the third time, when Smith beat out Nils Lofgren, among others, as Best Musician, he managed to capture the real spirit of the affair. "Since I've already got two, I'd like to dedicate this one to John Jennings. He's my favorite guitar player."
Other winners who had to bound from the pit were Tim Eyermann, who won Wammies for Best Jazz Album and Best Jazz Group, and John Carroll, who won Best Songwriter Wammy for his song "Get Closer" -- made famous in a jingle for Close-Up toothpaste.
Another outstanding gesture was made by the Slickee Boys, a rock band that had somehow ended up in the hard-core punk category -- and won it. The group declined the award and instead gave it to Washington's hard-core bands "in general." The Slickee Boys kept their other two awards, though, for Best Video and for Best Single or EP.
Other multiple winners included saxophonist Ron Holloway for Best Instrumentalist in the jazz and R&B categories; Sweet Honey in the Rock for Best Gospel Group and Best Ethnic Group; the Nighthawks, looking more like penguins in their tuxes, for Best Blues Group, Best Blues Album and Best Blues Instrumentalist (guitarist Jimmy Thackery); and Trouble Funk for Best Song and Record in the R&B-funk-go-go category.
In some ways, the Wammies followed familiar awards-show traditions -- winners expressed surprise, thanks (mostly to wives) and few really knew what to say, which made for endearing memories if not enduring ones. There were far too many awards and too many musical segments, which made the show drag on and on and led to a number of early exits.
But the Wammies were trying to straddle a fine line between sensibility of pacing and sensitivity to the efforts of so many musicians in so many genres. This cross-cultural effort was also evident in the parade of radio personalities who presented the awards and in the presence of Washington music alumni like Emmylou Harris and Joan Jett who showed up to provide encouragement by the example of their success. "You look maaahvelous," Harris said, and if that was a bit of an exaggeration the sentiment was genuine. Harris was the only living musician enshrined in the new Washington Area Music Hall of Fame. The others announced last night were Duke Ellington, Patsy Cline and Marvin Gaye.
There were several logistical annoyances, including the house lights' being on for most of the show and an intermission when only six awards remained to be announced. But if last night's ceremony was less than smooth, the audience of 1,200 was restlessly appreciative, perhaps because they sensed that it was more important as an idea than as an event. As an event, it will improve; it will have to. The show was filmed for public television and will show up sometime soon, in an appropriately edited form, on Maryland and Virginia public stations.
Afterward, musicians and audience alike retired to a party across the street. The Warner Theatre's Michael Jaworek, who had originally had the idea for the Wammies, thanked everyone for turning out, adding "You're all on the guest list." That too was a first, and a happy one at that.
Other award-winners at last night's ceremony were:
Jazz Vocalist -- Shirley Horn
Country-Acoustic-Bluegrass Vocalist -- Jonathan Edwards
R&B/Funk Go-Go/Gospel Vocalist -- Chuck Brown
Ethnic/Reggae/International Vocalist -- Jah Honey Martin
Blues Vocalist -- Mary Blankemeier
Record Cover -- Dick Bangham, for Root Boy Slim's "Dog Secrets"
Reggae Group -- Black Sheep
R&B -- Jr. Cline and the Recliners
Bluegrass Group -- Seldom Scene
Heavy Metal Group -- D.C. Star
Country/Acoustic/Bluegrass Record -- Grazz Matazz, "Delinquent Minor"
Engineer -- Dude Sless
Light Company -- Planet Earth
Video Company -- KSR Productions
Recording Studio -- Bias
Sound Company -- RCI
Free-Lance Musician -- Pete Kennedy
Special Achievement -- Elliot Ryan