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Hothouse Flowers

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

The rest of the group, which includes James Hicks (bass), Don Hayes (guitar/harmonica), and Adam Cutts (fiddle), is also glad to receive some residual interest in the wake of the O Brother phenomena that has made bluegrass and roots music trendy. But they're not banking on it to last forever. "The craze brought people out to find the music, and for the most part, they will continue to come back," Hirsch says. "It's not a passing fad, it is a permanent addiction." -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Lonestar Bluegrass Band

Best Blues Venue
Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club
The venerable, no-frills institution takes the award for the ninth year, a run that makes harmonica-blowing owner Tom McLendon happy. "I can't do what I do in any other city. We put the music before the money. That's why people vote for us. And I despise pretension." he says. "People call me all the time and ask what should they wear," McLendon laughs in his trademark sandpaper chuckle. "And I tell them, I don't give a damn what you wear. Just come and have a good time!" Since there is no cover most nights, McLendon strives to keep a balance between the "old, traditional" blues guys for diehards and the "rockin' blues" guys for the big-spending partyers. "I want to support them both, but it's hard on the business side. If it wasn't for the spiritual aspect of the music, I don't know what I'd do." McLendon says that he and the Houston blues community are also still smarting from the death of Joe "Guitar" Hughes, who frequently gigged there. Other regulars include The Mighty Orq, Rick Lee, the Tony Vega Band, and Texas Johnny Brown. -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club

Best Keyboardist
Ian Varley
The ivory-tinkler for laid-back funk jazzsters Drop Trio is a bit shocked about his win, especially considering that his band is less than a year old. "It felt unexpected and surreal, to tell you the truth," he says before rattling off a list of "more deserving" winners. "But I was certainly happy to win it." Varley -- who plays mostly a Fender Rhodes 73 or Roland VK-7 electric pianos -- got his first musical training through his conductor/composer father, who started teaching him piano before he could reach the keys. But his parents didn't make him go the "serious pianist" route of stiff conservatories and obsessive practicing. "They wanted me to be well-rounded, so I 'practiced' a lot with my ears -- listening and imitating, soaking up every kind of music I could get my hands on, and being able to assemble and dissemble music in my head." He later studied music theory, conducting and arrangement. But a computer programming job in San Francisco after college (and 70-hour work weeks) basically kept him from playing for about five years. When his wife, Jill, got into the Creative Writing program at the University of Houston, they dropped everything and moved back here. "It was a clean slate, so I decided to get back into playing music seriously...and I have so much room to grow now." -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Rick Thompson (Moses Guest)

Best Blues
Little Joe Washington
He arrived too late to accept his award, but when he did get there, he made a splash. Washington somehow made it past the doorman on his tiny, ancient Schwinn and pedaled right up to the stage. "You let a guy in on a bike!" one of the Engine Room doormen was heard roaring to another doorman. "What the fuck are you doing up here, anyway?" Although he didn't get to bask in the glory of the Houston music community, and seize somebody's guitar for an impromptu performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as he did last year, Washington still has to count 2003 as perhaps his best year as a musician. He has performed on festival stages in both Europe and Japan and also released Houston Guitar Blues, his critically acclaimed official debut CD. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Joe "Guitar" Hughes

Best Zydeco
Lady D and the Zydeco Tornadoes
The Diva of Zydeco was moved to tears by her upset win over the long-reigning Zydeco Dots, and stammered out a touching acceptance speech that was in stark contrast to her spicy live shows. Like Beau Jocque, the Opelousas, Louisiana native was a late-comer to the accordion. "I did not start playing the accordion until I was 44, when my boyfriend said I couldn't do it," she recently told a Louisiana reporter. "I learned it, I like it and the rest is history." And so is the record-setting run of the Zydeco Dots atop the Press's readers poll. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Step Rideau

Best Latin
Caliente

It's not often that an early bedtime prevents winners from attending the Houston Press Music Awards ceremony but most members of this year's Best Latin group were probably sleeping by the time their name was called.

"This is unbelievable! The kids are going to be ecstatic!" said Jose Antonio Diaz, the group's founder and artistic director.

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