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Hothouse Flowers

Groceries spoil in the heat, while the rest of Houston's music community blossoms

This year was nothing short of a watershed for the Houston Press Music Awards. This time a year ago we wrote, "here's what we want for 2003: More. More categories, and thus more bands, and thus more people at the showcase and more venues participating."

We got all of that, and well, more. The showcase drew more than 9,000 people, making it the largest ever. The awards ceremony at The Engine Room was also huge -- people were being turned away at the door. (Sadly, even some late-arriving nominees --Texas Johnny Brown among them -- couldn't get in without having to explain that they were on the ballot and living legends.) Voting was way up and was often as close as could be -- several winners won by ten or 20 votes out of thousands cast.

There was also plenty of excitement on the stage at the ceremony. How weird was it to have a packed club and an electric atmosphere and look outside and see a line of people waiting to get in, all while the sun still blazed during the dog day afternoon. The Press's promotions director Monica Keels did a sterling job organizing the event, Pam Kelly MC'd the evening flawlessly, and Moses Guest, the John Evans Band, and Hayes Carll turned in good one-song performances. That goes double for Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies featuring Gloria Edwards, whose Louisiana-fried version of Song of The Year nomination "The House is Burnin' Down" threatened to do just that, despite abysmal acoustics. (And it was hot enough in there at all times for the room to spontaneously combust, but enough bitching about the venue.)

Once again proving that he might secretly be the coolest guy in town, Channel 39 anchorman Alan Hemberger, acting as a presenter for the second year in a row, gushed enthusiastically over the new Led Zeppelin DVD. "It's absolutely fabulous," he intoned, and we are inclined to agree.

Hayes Carll (Song of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Best Folk), John Evans (Best C&W, Best Male Vocalist, Local Musician of the Year) and Blue October (Album of the Year, Best Rock/Pop) emerged as the big winners, with Zwee and Faceplant also taking multiple awards. The late Joe "Guitar" Hughes was touchingly memorialized by Dr. Roger Wood, who spoke about the great man we presented with a posthumous lifetime achievement award. (We didn't know that the London Times ran a lengthy obit with a picture of our fallen blues luminary.)

More than a dozen bands won their first awards, and for the first time in about ten years, neither Jesse Dayton nor Carolyn Wonderland scooped up any hardware. (Not that they aren't worthy -- it's just that they don't live here anymore.) In several categories, bands and venues that had seemingly won since the dawn of time fell to their rivals. The Zydeco Dots were upset by the Lady D and the Zydeco Tornadoes. The Mucky Duck was stunningly defeated by Anderson Fair as Best Folk Venue. Youngsters Caliente toppled long-reigning local salsa queen Norma Zenteno by a mere handful of votes. Molly and the Ringwalds edged out the El Orbits. "That's so symbolic of the creeping Republicanism that's sweeping the country, that an '80s Reagan-era cover band wins," El Orbits bassist Allen Hill jokingly groused. Opie Hendrix's defeat of John Evans in the Roots Rock/Rockabilly was another stunner.

In addition to this high drama, there was also some low comedy. As expected, the Groceries were less-than-impressed with what I wrote in last week's Racket about the band in general and their Harry Potter-look-alike singer Matt Brownlie. Brownlie's whiny acceptance speech reminded me of an old story about Texas politics. Back in the early days of his career, LBJ once told his aides to spread a rumor that his opponent enjoyed having relations with his domestic stock, more specifically, swine. His aides were shocked -- how could they tell the good people of Texas that so-and-so was a pigfucker? "Well, I know it ain't true," LBJ allowed. "I just want to make the sonofabitch deny it."

But when it comes to the Groceries, what I said was true. Matt Brownlie is a punk and a yapping Pekingese. And it sure was fun listening to him deny it.

But that's not what these awards are about. After the Groceries, the very next musician to the stage was the Lady D, who was so moved by her upset win that she broke down and cried. That's life. Some people water you with tears of gratitude. Other folks just piss on you. On to the winners... -- John Nova Lomax

Winner blurbs written by John Nova Lomax, Bob Ruggiero, Jeffrey Thames, Craig D. Lindsey, Matt Sonzala, Olivia Flores Alvarez and Greg Barr.

Best Male Vocalist, Best C&W, Local Musician of the Year
John Evans, John Evans Band

For the second year in a row, the tall rockin' honky-tonker scooped up an armload of awards, including the top honor as Local Musician of the Year, and his third straight win as Best Male Vocalist. Asked if he expected his wins, the former pro football player said "I don't even like to think about whether or not I win. I do, and I start to get competitive like I was with football, and I don't like music to be that way."

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