Big John and Little Joe

Space City's tallest and shortest musicians rule the 2002 Houston Press Music Awards

Critic's pick: Red Cat Jazz Café

Best Bluegrass
Lone Star Bluegrass

Lone Star Bluegrass's Chris Hirsch is not as glad to have won an award as he is to have a category for his band and their competitors. "We've been around since 1982, and we've lost in a bunch of other categories like country and folk and acoustic to a bunch of other people. We lost to Clint Black and Shake Russell. Hell, I think we even lost to Perry Como one year. I'd kind of given up hope," he says. "But when y'all came out with that category, I thought, 'Now here's something we can do something with.' " As to our tongue-in-cheek allegation that he was using his Saturday-afternoon KPFT show to stump for his band, Hirsch wants it to be known that we said it, not him. "If somebody requested it, I'd play it, but not otherwise." -- J.N.L.

Critic's pick: Lone Star Bluegrass

Best Rap
I-45
Whenever the name I-45 pops up, the first thing that materializes inside a person's head are those immortal lines from their "Bike Song": "Bitch I got a bike / So don't ask me for a ride." Apparently, those lines sprung up in the heads of many a voter. That could explain why the slip-hop team easily won this year's Best Rap prize. Of course, the group's numerous appearances at spots like Fitzgerald's and the Engine Room over the past year probably helped. Perhaps this win is the homecoming present the boys have been yearning for since their return from the gilded trenches of sunny California, where they relocated after the release of their Lost Between the Lines album in 2000. (Or maybe it's just a consolation prize for Tony Avitia's pending divorce.) At any rate, this has been the shakiest year in Houston rap history, with local luminaries getting caught up in everything from child molestation to murder attempts to car wrecks. So it's comforting to see a couple of MCs come out of it unscathed -- and holding an award. -- C.D.L.

Critic's pick: K-Otix

Best Jazz
Free Radicals
Nick Cooper is surprised to hear that his band, Free Radicals, won Best Jazz honors. He called the Press the day after the Wednesday event and got the good news. But didn't his band tell him first? "No, I really should call those guys," Cooper said. Cooper played the Sunday gig and then went back to his borrowed summer digs in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he's been working on a novel. (So far he has 37 pages in the can.) This is his freewheeling combo's sixth win in three categories, but this year Cooper was particularly excited about the band's showcase gig. "We always get nominated separately from [Free Radical] Harry Sheppard," he said. "So this year we asked for our gigs to be scooted together so he could play his set and then join us for ours." Cooper is also pleased that Houston audiences have taken to the band's new, all-but-horn-free lineup, which includes Sheppard, Aaron Hermes and Tom Sutherland. -- J.N.L.

Critic's pick: Free Radicals

Best Blues/R&B Venue
The Big Easy
For eight consecutive years this unpretentious Kirby Drive establishment has been voted the place to cut loose, kick back and dig the music that birthed rock and roll. "That's what you get for livin' the blues," owner Tom McLendon quipped upon hearing that his joint had again clinched the award. And the tall, perpetually sunglasses-wearing, harmonica-honking entrepreneur seems to love the life he lives. So, too, do his customers: people of various ages, races and affiliations who pack the midsize room to groove to live music six nights a week. Though the venue name and decorative theme (including a purple-and-gold facade) reveal McLendon's love of New Orleans, the booking policy almost exclusively celebrates the contemporary Houston blues scene, featuring venerable vets such as Joe "Guitar" Hughes along with younger, rock-savvy players such as Mark May as well as retro revivalists like Harlem Slim. McLendon explains that the club's slogan, "The House of Mixology," refers not as much to the well-stocked bar as to the mix of blues-based musical styles and the diverse clientele that enjoys them. The key to his success? "The only cover [charge] I require," he says, "is respect -- respect for your brothers and sisters." -- R.W.

Critic's pick: Miss Ann's Playpen

Best Contemporary Blues
Tony Vega Band
Tony Vega knows how to bring down a house, whether it's full of fans or musicians. After thanking everybody at the awards ceremony, Vega addressed the Houston music community with some final words: "All you musicians out there, ask for more money!" The roar from the crowd was immense, despite the silence of club owners and David Beebe's dissenting note. "If you want more money, you should join the union!" Beebe hollered. Union or no, picking up blues honors is getting to be old hat for the bluesman in the cowboy chapeau who won the award for Best Blues last year. This summer has unfolded just like the last one in other ways as well. The band just completed another successful tour of Germany, Holland, Denmark and even FYROM, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Back home, Vega's still hosting a Tuesday-night open mike up at Cactus Moon in Humble and steadily burning up the Texas circuit. -- J.N.L.

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