A myriad of personalities and musical genres made the eighth annual Washington Area Music Awards last night a study in contrasts: Sometimes jarring, but seldom dull. Held in the Washington Hilton's cavernous International Ballroom, the event, which honors local musicians and music professionals, did much to prove the authenticity of WAMA secretary Richard Waysdorf's lofty opening boast -- "Our diversity is our strength." Indeed, only an organization intent on diversity could have awarded Hall of Fame citations to both National Symphony Orchestra music director Mstislav Rostropovich and metal diva Joan Jett (the latter came, the former didn't).
Clean sweeps were the order of the evening, as guitarist Al Petteway, who took home four awards -- not counting the one he shared with duet partner Debi Smith -- could attest. Petteway, already possessed of more than a few Wammies from years gone by, walked off with awards for both artist of the year and musician of the year. Other multiple winners were R&B saxophonist Deanna Bogart and bluesman Linwood Taylor, who each took home two, and hardcore quartet Fugazi, which garnered three but, true to form, didn't show for the festivities.
The presentations were interspersed with performances by a variety of artists who, once again, covered extensive stylistic territory. Perhaps most exuberant among these were the Donald Valis Celebration Delegation, whose energized gospel opened the program and proved hard to top, though Bill Kirchen came close with his '90s take on his 1971 hit with Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, "Hot Rod Lincoln." Also peppered throughout the evening were big-screen videos by those locals famous enough to have made them: Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Shai and Cleve Francis.
Before the ceremony, a rather peculiar gamut of performers was honored, from Dinorock Productions' "The Great Dinosaur Mystery" (Best Children's Music Recording) to Fugazi's "In on the Kill Taker" (Best Alternative Rock/Underground Recording). Pulling off a sweep of the go-go category -- one largely omitted from the body of the ceremony -- was Junkyard, which snared awards for best group, vocalist and recording in its genre. Other omissions included mention of D.C.'s Root Boy Slim, who died this year, but was referenced only by a pre-show video.
But as is usually true at shindigs of this kind, the presenters -- wittingly or not -- provided most of the event's entertainment. Easily the most indelible were the aptly named Gangster Queens, who clearly relished the irony of presenting the awards for best female vocalists. Winner in the unofficial but highly competitive category of "most irrepressible" was CJ of CJ's Uptown Crew. And Kage's Jeff Brasfield, best male vocalist winner in the metal category, came across with the night's driest observation: "For 6 1/2 years I've lived and breathed 'Spinal Tap.' ... It's nice that somebody noticed."