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Christmas in July

Six dozen of Houston's finest bands for a mere $7

Seventy-three bands for seven bucks. I'm far from being a math major, but even I can tell you that works out to 9.589 cents a band.

All right, I used the calculator on my computer to come up with that sum, or product, or whatever you call it. Sue me. My point is this: Is there a better deal in town than that? There is not. Not in all the bargain clothing bins at Fiesta. Not in all the Value Villages. Not in Harwin's shadiest designer knock-off emporium. It's Christmas in July, and Santa's bag is crammed full of great tunes.

Seventy-three bands for seven bucks. And not just any bands -- these are six dozen of the best in Houston, from the pachuco boogie of Los Skarnales to the twangy rock of Mando Saenz to Filthy McNasty's H-town funk-soul stew. We've even got Boss Hogg himself -- Slim Thug -- throwing it down. All those, plus Lit and 68 more for seven bucks.

About 15 bands will be making their Press Music Awards debuts this year, as will venues such as 306 Lounge, Copa Cabana and Ultra, so those of you who seek the new will have plenty to feast on. Those of you who favor the tried-and-true are in for a treat as well, as perennials such as Norma Zenteno, the Zydeco Dots, DJ Sun, the Fondue Monks and Dune TX will all be there, too. This year the venues are closer together than ever, so this one will be easiest on your feet since the days it was at Shepherd Square.

But enough o' my yakkin'. Let's get to the heart of the matter: the bands. As we did last year, we sent out questionnaires to all the acts on the bill and concocted brief, Zagat-style blurbs from their answers, all in hopes that you, dear reader, will be steered toward the music that pleases you most. Let's get to 'em, and Merry Christmas. -- John Nova Lomax

306 Lounge
306 Main, 713-229-9999

4 p.m. Glenna Bell
5 p.m. ESE
6 p.m. The Phlegmatics
7 p.m. O Pioneers
8 p.m. Arthur Yoria
9 p.m. Brandon Stanley

Glenna Bell
Best Folk/Acoustic, Best Female Vocalist

www.glennabell.com

Reared "in the woods outside of Beaumont," Glenna Bell found her first love for music in "the hymns [she] sung a cappella at church." Those humble origins are evident in her current style of hand-hewn country music, so much so that she's often compared to another church-trained country singer: "Johnny Cash." Like the Man in Black, Bell has a "raw and bare-boned delivery," as evidenced on her new album, Face This World, which was produced by multiple Press Music Award-winner John Evans, who also sang two duets on the record. Sugar Hill Studios producer/engineer Dan Workman is way in Bell's corner -- to him, "Glenna Bell is the Loretta Lynn of Texas. No, that's not right...she's better." -- John Nova Lomax

ESE
Best Punk

www.myspace.com/ese

Guitarist Carlos says his band's demo is called "We Pawned Our Soul for Rock and Roll," but when he goes on to talk about his faves -- "KISS, the Ramones, Rev. Horton Heat, Social Distortion, Motorhead, the Ramones, the Texas Tornados and AC/DC" -- you suspect that he may have lost his pawn ticket. There's no redemption for a soul that lost in rock and roll. The tequila-loving proud Mexican-American recalls that his band's "first show as ESE was September 19, 2003, at the White Swan right in the middle of the ghetto," where their furious blue-collar psychobilly-rock is a good fit. -- JNL

The Phlegmatics
Best Pop-Punk

www.thephlegmatics.com

This youthful pop-punk trio "came together to spread love and good computer skills to the world around them" and "play some rock and roll" along the way. Drawing inspiration from such forebears as "the Police, the Descendents and Weezer," brothers Ethan and Jonathan Marshall and Jonas Velasco "started jamming together in July 2003, and quickly took a short break, because jamming is hard work." After regrouping, they recorded and released Alumnus. The band admits that it's "a harmless enough bunch," at least "aside from Jonas," and they hope to bring their "driving brand of power pop-punk to a club, Web site, record store, radio station, or junior high school multipurpose room near you." -- JNL

O Pioneers
Best Indie Rock

www.opioneers.com

These Willa Cather devotees decry the taste of today's kids: "If it doesn't have breakdowns and tight pants, they aren't buying," says singer-guitarist Eric Solomon. "That and a lot of kids have egos, when they shouldn't. Just because your band draws in one suburb" does not a rock star make, he says, and adds that he is "just a kid in a band" who is grateful that "people will listen to me sing badly, and mess up my guitar." Little-known trivia: Drummer Jeff Johnson "not only used to sing for Zombilly, he is the second cousin or something like that, somehow related to Josh Groban." -- JNL

Arthur Yoria
Songwriter of the Year; Best Rock en Español

www.arthuryoria.com

Spanish-English singer-songwriter Arthur Yoria "fell into this" -- meaning music -- "about nine years ago and I'm still having fun." Nothing less than something "much more lucrative but that provides the same number of opportunities to meet women" would persuade him to switch careers. Yoria's sophisticated modern pop songs have found their way to several notable soundtracks, including "The OC, Felicity DVDs and the National Lampoon film Adam & Eve." Suerte Mijo, the Colombian-American's first Spanish-language EP, dropped this year, as did an English single called "Only Me." Yoria's favorite thing about Houston's scene is that "there is no scene," and yet you "can actually survive playing original music" in this "virgin territory for the singer-songwriter." -- JNL

Brandon Stanley
Best Rock/Pop

www.brandonstanleymusic.com

Earnest singer-songwriter Brandon Stanley has a bone to pick with "very narrow-minded" people who think that he wishes he could be the "extremely talented" John Mayer. "I own all of his records," he admits, "but that does not mean that I am a 'wannabe.' " To Stanley, to think that way is "like saying Bruce Springsteen is a 'wannabe' James Taylor." Stanley is cheerier when he thinks about his choice of music as a career -- "it's the only thing I think about from the time I wake up until the time I lay down to sleep," he says, though that claim is somewhat belied by the fact that he has recently graduated "with a degree in economics this past May from the University of Houston." Perhaps that degree will come in handy as he manages his own indie label, Brandon Stanley Music, and a burgeoning career that has spawned the new album Songs from the Middle Lane, "If I Fall," a "top 50 hot AC radio single," and shared-stage scenarios with John Fogerty at New Orleans' House of Blues and Ryan Cabrera in Corpus Christi. -- JNL

Twelve Spot
218 Travis, 713-222-1962

4 p.m. Mr. Grinch
5 p.m. Mando Saenz
6 p.m. Mighty Orq
7 p.m. Lisa Novak
8 p.m. Filthy McNasty and the Rhinestone Life
9 p.m. Zydeco Dots

Mr. Grinch
Best Jam Band

"Groovy bass lines shape the songs" of this new band, augmented by "sexy guitar and tasty beats." All products of Spring's Westfield High School, the band cites Primus, 311 and Incubus as primary influences, so mark 'em down as this year's most badly categorized act. The band believes that they have a "natural chemistry and originality far beyond anything they could've hoped for or previously experienced" and that their music is "backed by the freedom of jazz and the message of positivity." -- JNL

Mando Saenz
Best C&W

www.mandosaenz.com

Saenz's Watertown was nationally rereleased this year, whereupon it "spent several weeks in the top 20 Americana chart" and won him CMT and GAC airplay for his song "When I Come Around." Meanwhile, Saenz has stayed steady grindin' on a Nashville project with former Wilco/Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer producing. Mailbox money butters his bread -- "publishing advances pay bills, barely," he says. "Houston is a great place to be creative and inspired," he adds. "Especially if you like to write sad songs. I mean that in a good way." -- JNL

The Mighty Orq
Best Blues

www.mightyorq.com

Fresh off the release of their debut studio CD, Milk Money, blues-rocker Orq and bandmates seem prouder of their other varied recent accomplishments. Bassist Jessica Will just had a baby, while drummer Matt Johnson "holds the band record for most deer hit on the way home from Austin." Orq himself claims the title for "most traffic citations while on the way to an in-state gig." Orq doesn't have to be so reckless in getting to his favorite gig: "I really enjoy playing solo acoustic at the Big Easy on Monday," he says, but he hastens to add that he and his band love playing anywhere that "the club doesn't tell us to turn it down." Orq also digs "Chihuahuas" and Houston's unusual "sense of camaraderie," but he hates the fact that "there's a lot of talent in Houston, but it doesn't seem to get the recognition it deserves" and the misconception that his is a straight-ahead blues band. -- JNL

Lisa Novak
Best Female Vocalist

www.lisanovak.com

Tougher Skin is rock-country singer-songwriter/hair salon owner Novak's latest record, and she's working it in Music City. "I now have a song 'plugger' in Nashville pitching my songs to big-name artists," one of whom -- Terri Clark -- has negotiated short-term exclusive rights to record Novak's "The Hard Way." All Decked Out, Novak's salon, is not just a way to pay the bills -- she also loves its "flexible schedule" and the fact that it's a good way to "promote [her music] to clients" and "other musicians and music industry folks." Novak digs Rudz, the Mucky Duck and the Continental, not to mention the Harp and the Stag's Head, where, "people just happen to come see you," she says. "You can pick up lots of new fans that way." -- JNL

Filthy McNasty and the Rhinestone Life
Best Funk/R&B

Press Nightfly columnist Brian McManus is the eponymous Mr. McNasty, and he claims his group is "the only band in Houston that can open up for Bob Schneider and International Noise Conspiracy and slay both crowds." McManus cooks by day, and the rest of his quintet consists of "a massage therapist, a house painter, a beautician and a personal assistant." To McManus, music trumps most of those. "It's more fun than cooking, massaging, painting houses and doing hair...but not personal assisting. That shit's the bomb!" The greatest misconception about the Rhinestone Life? "That we're a straight side project/joke. We've developed quite a bit," McManus says, as have, legend has it, two "members" of the band. "Todd and John are both rumored to have huge fucking cocks," he says. -- JNL

The Zydeco Dots
Best Zydeco

www.zydecodots.com

"What is a day job?" wonders Zydeco Dots guitarist Tom Potter, who probably doesn't know about those things. His group has been one of the most successful bands in any genre in this town during the last 18 years. (They've been tabbed Best Zydeco in these awards more than ten times.) Though generally a cheery sort who considers every place his band plays to be his favorite, Potter hates being lumped in the mudbug ghetto. "We are [not] just a crawfish season band," he says. -- JNL

Copa Cabana
114 Main, 713-223-COPA

4 p.m. Free Radicals with Harry Sheppard
5 p.m. Three Fantastic
6 p.m. Linus Pauling Quartet
7 p.m. Chango Jackson
8 p.m. Prognosis
9 p.m. Norma Zenteno

Free Radicals with Harry Sheppard
Best Jazz
www.freerads.com

Playing at a "street protest against aristocrats, and later the same night, at a cocktail receptions for aristocrats" is all in a day's work for this jazz-world-funk-ska-kitchen-sink musical collective, which is led by drummer Nick Cooper and vibraphonist Harry Sheppard. Playing "in two different cities on the same night twice, once on two different continents" is another. Last year's Aerial Bombardment is their latest CD, and that title accurately sums up the barrage of sounds the Free Rads launch into the atmosphere. -- JNL

Three Fantastic
Best Guitarist (Kelly Doyle)

www.threefantastic.us

Dotpointperiod Records artists and far Northsiders Three Fantastic may play funk-tinged, jaggedly jazzy rock with "ethnic references" but say they "pretty much" are "still a song-based rock band with a little bit of old-school punk, a little synth rock/new wave, and a strange, surreal and off-the-wall attitude." Bands from the Stooges and XTC to Zappa and Captain Beefheart all factor in this mix, which is headed up by the astounding guitar work of Kelly Doyle and the strong pipes of Charles Peters. A second full-length from the band is due out soon. -- JNL

Linus Pauling Quartet
Best Rock/Pop

www.worshipguitars.org/LP4

"Rock is dead," intones guitarist Ramon Medina in his best Werner Herzog voice. "Linus are the maggots feasting on its flesh." The stoner-friendly yet intelligent, funny and loud hard rock band has been around for more than ten years now, during which they've become notorious for rehearsing more times every week than they play publicly in a whole year. Maybe the rehearsals and their other endeavors -- "publishing our dissertation on the Unified Field Theory and how it can be solved with a few bong hits" and "recording a new album of Texas black metal polka -- this stuff kills in Norway!" -- offer too little free time for actual gigs. Or maybe it's that they take it all too seriously: "Rock is not funny; it is an expression of our inner pain emanating from our tortured souls," Medina says, again in Herzog mode. But they're putting all that aside for this show, so don't miss it. -- JNL

Chango Jackson
Best Rock en Español

"As children," claims Chango Jackson singer-guitarist Mojo Jackson, "we were forced to learn instruments so we could be a backup band for our father...El Gran Chilencio." Now that they've rid themselves of him, they're hard at work on a new CD to follow up the excellent one that never came out a few years ago. Guitarist Moises Alanis promises that this will be "the year of the monkey," or el año del chango, and after you catch one of their hard-rocking, funked-up live shows you¹ll be a monkey-lover for life. Not that they care: Mojo says his band doesn't "give a rat's ass about people's conception about us." Mojo digs the talent here -- "Dubtex, Drop Trio, Fondue Monks, Muzak, Guy Schwartz" -- but hates "the distance between venues." Little-known fact: bassist-singer "Tino [Ortega] is a sex machine." -- JNL

Prognosis
Best Metal

www.myspace.com/prognosis,
www.prognosisband.com

"Growth" is this young metal/alt rock band's Prognosis of the current scene. It.s exploding, they say, so much so that nothing bugs them about life in a Houston band in the year 2005. And it's hard to be down in the dumps when 600 people come to the release party for your debut CD, Unspoken, you've quit your day jobs, your band is a rare local act that gets on the airwaves at the Buzz, and you get a Press nomination to boot. Hell, they claim to have never even had a bad gig. "We love the people here and are happy to call this home!" is a typical exclamation from these happy cats. "We love you, Houston!" is another. And a third: "We have to give a shout out to our awesome manager Christine!" Yep, you guessed it. They love her too! -- JNL

Norma Zenteno
Best Salsa/Reggaetón/Latin Pop

www.zenteno.com

"Carrying on my father's legacy" is the solemn goal of Norma Zenteno, whose trumpet-playing, bandleading legend of a father, Roberto, passed away this time last year. "I will play as long as my father did," she adds, by which she means "until the end." Meanwhile, her song "Endulsa Me" was included in the Hollywood movie Dancing in Twilight. Two things most people don't know about Norma Zenteno: her band doesn't "only play Latin/salsa" and she was born in Monterrey, Mexico. -- JNL

Hard Rock Cafe
(all ages)
502 Texas, 713-520-1134

4 p.m. The Delayed
5 p.m. Savvi
6 p.m. Satin Hooks
7 p.m. Drop Trio
8 p.m. Tony Vega Band
9 p.m. Carolyn Wonderland

The Delayed
Best Punk

www.thedelayed.com

"Grab your guns," warn the Delayed, who, despite their nomination and the fact that they've opened for "bands like the Cramps and the Dwarves," say they are not a punk band. Their new EP, Losing My Mind, and "Los Skarnales, Hell City Kings, Pride Kills and LDV" are a few of the Delayed's favorite things, as is the Meridian, where "the sound is amazing, especially compared to other clubs in town." What bugs them about Houston? "Not enough kids come out to support. Everyone stays out in the suburbs." -- JNL

Savvi, the New Speaker of the South
Best Indie Hip-hop

www.peaceuvmine.com,
www.myspace.com/savvi

Rapper Savvi regards this nomination as "an honor and a feat," as is his upcoming feature in "Mugshot magazine alongside some well-known national acts from Hueston." Note that spelling: Savvi says it is his goal to make that the official spelling of our city's name and also that he wants to "redefine and expand the perceptions of what hip-hop music coming out of Hueston is and sounds like, one listener at a time." His tune "On the Humble" was recently released on the Norwegian compo Dypt Nede I Kjellern ("Deep in the Basement"), "which featured artists from all over the globe." "Reputable sound systems" make his day just as surely as the opposite gets him down. "Antone's in Beaumont is consistently hot," he says, as are "Thursday evenings at Project Row Houses." And then he gets all mathematical on us: "Savvi = Shrewd + Vivid," he states. And adds that "Equality + Savvi = Blac Embassy (Coming Soon)." (He's referring to a mixtape.) "Good music is good for the soul, powerful and can be used to make a difference," he says, adding, "I thoroughly enjoy doing it." Life without it would "suck," he says. -- JNL

Satin Hooks
Best Indie Rock
www.myspace.com/satinhooks

"We're from an alternate future most people would like to see," claim indie rockers Satin Hooks, a future in which "official Web sites" and "record labels" are unnecessary. After all, Satin Hooks has built an "international audience" with just a Myspace site, "a few good friends and a lot of determination," a self-released EP and cuts on three compilations. They dig the variety here, especially "the local living blues, jazz and zydeco legends amongst us" and think it's a tragedy that "people are letting these legends go to waste." But don't expect to find them in a Midtown dance palace. "There are too many DJs getting attention. Come on, we too have record collections that will make you dance; why not do something new from scratch?" Meanwhile, they're "waiting on Mike Jones, Big Pokey and Lil' Flip for the collaboration," "someone to help [them] do a European tour" and "a good lawyer." "Let's burn this bitch down!" they add. "Come see us, dammit!" -- JNL

Drop Trio
Best Keyboardist (Ian Varley); Best Jazz; Best Funk/R&B/Reggae

www.droptrio.com

Among instrumental "improv spaceship prog rock" band Drop Trio's recent feats -- South By Southwest gigs the last two years, landing a cut on The Johnson Family Vacation soundtrack, opening for a who's who of nationally prominent groove/jam bands -- keyboardist Ian Varley seems proudest of surviving riding in a van together to such exotic locales as Tulsa, New Orleans and Abilene with the other members of his trio. He's also pleased with the telepathy he says his band has developed: "We love playing together, communicating on stage. We've been doing it long enough now to where we can really read each other's minds sometimes, go in crazy wild directions that we've never been in before." Muzak John and Two Star Symphony get cheery shout-outs, but Houston's sprawl factor gets the gas face: "Maybe it's because Houston is such a vast sprawl, but it takes a lot of effort to get something to build and roll on its own," Varley says. -- JNL

Tony Vega Band
Best Blues
www.tonyvegaband.com

A fifth European tour and upcoming piece about his band in Guitar Player magazine are recent highlights for this cowboy hat-clad blues-rockin' guitarist. All that and his band is "still 100 percent DIY." Though he gets plenty of props from the locals -- he's won several of these awards -- it's nothing like the love he gets overseas. "Four thousand people in Skopje, Macedonia" went out to see the band, and Germany and Switzerland are also hot spots. Vega chose music because he "suck[s] at everything else," and allows that "I'm sure there are a few people that'll tell you I suck at music too!" Vega believes that Houston would be improved by "some sort of strip, like Beale Street" in Memphis, and that his life would be much easier if people would stop mistaking him for "Tony Vega -- the salsa king of Puerto Rico. We've actually had a few people show up thinking they were going to see the salsa Tony Vega. That guy is huge in that genre...he's like the Sinatra of salsa." -- JNL

Carolyn Wonderland
Best Guitarist (Scott Daniels)

www.carolynwonderland

Even a move to Austin has not dried up the endless supply of Press Music Awards that Wonderland and her band collect just about every summer. Since she still gigs here regularly, we always invite her back; well, there's that and the fact that she just plain cooks on stage. Her bluesy, country-fried, zydeco-stomping roots rock -- worthy of comparisons to both vintage Little Feat and Los Lobos -- would be welcome anywhere. She's toured with Buddy Guy, jammed with Bob Dylan and sung the national anthem at Sturgis Bike Week. How can you tell a girl like that she can't play here, just 'cause she spends six or so days a week in Austin? And Scott Daniels, the astoundingly amazing guitar player nominated, still lives here. -- JNL

Mercury Room
1008 Prairie, 713-225-MERC

4 p.m. Flying Fish Sailors
5 p.m. deSangre
6 p.m. Chrome 44
7 p.m. Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies
8 p.m. Bojones
9 p.m. Los Skarnales

Flying Fish Sailors
Best World Music

www.flyingfishsailors.com

These "whacked-out folksters" play with "mind-blowing dexterity" to crowds at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville and Houston's own Continental Club. Their newest offering, Poke You in the Eye, touches on "themes familiar to Fish fans" like "coffee and cats" and, of course, "songs about the sea." The band asks that you "let your hair down, loosen your shirt and get yourself a big jack of stout" before throwing yourself headlong into something called "the jig pit!" -- Brian McManus

deSangre
Best Rock en Español

www.desangre.com

Crowds at "Fitzgerald's, Engine Room and Meridian" have frequently had their minds blown by deSangre when they've showed up expecting to hear "Mana" or "Caifanes." The rock en español outfit plays music "because it gets us laid!" adding that "no one ever gets laid collecting stamps or building ships in a bottle." The boys feel there's "lots of great talent in Houston" and urge you to "keep an eye out" for their CD available "late this year." When not banging chicas calientes, the God-fearing bandmates join hands in "prayer before every show." ¡Ay, Dios mio! -- BM

Chrome 44
Best Alt Rock

www.chrome44.com

According to Chrome 44, playing music is "the best job in the world." They are pleased to hone their craft in Houston, which has, in their estimation, "the best scene [they] have ever been apart of." A part of that scene is former dead horse member Michael Haaga, who suggested the band's name. They're finishing up recording their full-length album, which is being co-produced by none other than Pushmonkey's Howie Behrens. One misconception plaguing the band is that they "are not friendly." It's not true. They love to "talk to everyone" but say "some of us are pretty shy at times and people read that wrong." -- BM

Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies
Best Jam/Improvisational Rock

www.hippies.tv

Guy Schwartz and his huge revolving cast of New Jack Hippies "play all types of American music." Nashvillian Billy Block dubbed them "Texas's premier blues-rock hippie jam band," and Schwartz's partnership with guitarist and songwriter Roger Tausz stretches all the way back to the Nixon era. Over parts of the last four decades, Schwartz's bands have opened for and/or performed with everyone from Duran Duran to Muddy Waters, Scarface to U2, while his songs have been recorded by Gloria Edwards, Relayer, the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra, Kinky Friedman and Little Joe Washington. Don't expect mindless noodling from these artists of the groove; this is "a well-rehearsed jam band." -- JNL

Bojones
Best Drummer (Louis Messina)

www.bojones.net

The name Bojones is a tribute to Aerosmith, one of the favorites of this very young power trio, two-thirds of which (drummer Louis Messina and his twin brother, Chris) come from one of Houston's most prominent musical families. (Father Louis and older brother Jeff operate huge concert promotions company the Messina Group.) But don't expect to hear an unadulterated facsimile of the bluesy arena rock of Beantown's biggest musical export. Bojones also draws inspiration from everyone from the Mars Volta to the Clash to Neutral Milk Hotel to Sigur Rós, and that mix produces "an impressive traverse of progressive rock and melodic pop." -- JNL

Los Skarnales
Best Rock en Español; Best Male Vocalist (Felipe Galvan); Best Bassist (Nick Gaitan); Album of the Year (Pachuco Boogie Sound System)

www.losskarnales.com

"A new guitar player," the purchase of "a humungus bus" and an upcoming "tour with the Toasters and Skankin' Pickle" compose the big news in el mundo de Los Skarnales. As is "some top-secret-type stuff that should be out by the end of the year," "a collaboration of sorts with two songs from Skarnales, two songs from the I-Gents and a lot of other surprises." They rank anywhere they gig in Mexico City as their top draw, but their favorite place to play is "anywhere that's real personal and intimate with [their] audience" and has the requisite amount of smoke, beer and shakin' booties. They've got mucho amor for "people that actually still like to go see live shows" and "can see the bigger picture and realize when you're trying to do something" but hate "people that work at live venues who don't give a fuck about music, the scene or our hometown. At certain venues it seems like the attitude from the people who work there is 'I just wanna go home!' That's BULLSHIT!" -- JNL

Live
407 Main, 713-228-5483

4 p.m. Lady D & the Zydeco Tornadoes
5 p.m. Cameron Dezen
6 p.m. Zwee
7 p.m. Spain Colored Orange
8 p.m. Dune TX
9 p.m. Faceplant

Lady D & the Zydeco Tornadoes
Best Zydeco

Ribald but never raunchy, Lady D and her Tornadoes are the only band other than the Zydeco Dots ever to win this award. Clearly, the Opelousas, Louisiana, native has come a long way since her first gig -- which was for 25 ducks at a pond in a Clear Lake park. Now she plays every year not only at this event, but also at the Kemah party boat scene and at Galveston Mardi Gras. "The Diva of Zydeco" is a commanding presence behind her accordion, and chances are, you'll obey when she sings the title words of songs like "Party People" and "Let's Zydeco." -- JNL

Cameron Dezen
Best Female Vocalist

www.camerondezen.com

When not running the "small PR firm" she helped start with her husband, this Tori Amos-esque singer-songwriter is releasing albums to critical acclaim. The May 2005 release of Love + Rescue has been praised for its "blustery" music, "emotional" lyrics and "sultry" vocals. Career highlights include sharing a mike with Cheap Trick's Robin Zander in front of a sold-out House of Blues crowd and opening for Sally Taylor (daughter of James) while on tour. She enjoys Houston's "small but supportive" music community but opines that there "aren't enough women" in the scene. -- BM

Zwee
Best Funk/R&B/Reggae

www.zweemusic.com

Comprising a "yoga instructor" a "sonographer" and a couple of teachers, last year's Best Funk winners Zwee are poised for a repeat. Singer-guitarist Frank Zweback had to abandon plans of becoming a professional basketballer when prepubescent projections about his height went unfulfilled. "I stand now at just about five foot nine," he notes. Hoop dreams dashed, Zweback now enjoys "the feeling of connection and rightness" performing music gives him, adding you "can't beat" the way "it makes [him] feel." Hmmm. Sounds just like something NBA thug prince Allen Iverson would say. -- BM

Spain Colored Orange
Best New Act; Best Keyboardist (Gilbert Alfaro)

www.myspace.com/spaincoloredorange

This Lennon-loving, Beatle-backing bunch has just signed with Lucid Records and is perfecting its key-heavy sound in studio for an album due in October. Band members recently had a heart-to-heart about their old name, 8Track Charade, concluded that "everyone hated it" and changed it before signing. Favorite local venues include Rudyard's, where "the sound guy" is "meticulous." Singer-keyboardist Gilbert Alfaro appreciates Houston music scene devotees who come "out on a weeknight to see us play, even though they have to work the next day," but doesn't understand why local acts "tend to compete against each other." Adding, "Houston's a big enough city that we can all be successful." Viva Spain! -- BM

Chris Sacco (Dune TX)
Best Guitarist

www.dunetx.com

When not "supplying rappers with blank CDs," Chris Sacco spends his time shredding six-strings in longtime act Dune TX. Sacco believes "there is no such thing" as a bad gig when you love what you do. "It's only rock 'n' roll," he says. "Butch up and play." An alumnus of "Practice What You Preach University," Sacco continued playing one local gig after having "20,000 volts" of electricity heat his molars. Among the pressing issues weighing on Sacco's mind are whether "wacko" Tom Cruise is a robot and "What happened to an open bar tab for the band?" Those new to the band should check out their last two releases, both recorded by famed Judy's studio-guru Steve Ames. -- BM

Faceplant
Best Metal

www.faceplantmusic.com

The band sponsored by "Jager, Hurley, Red Bull and Musicman Guitar" wants you to know that they aren't just "rap/rock." Such pigeonholing wouldn't afford them the opportunities to tour "50 cities" over "30 states" while sharing stages with acts as diverse as Slayer and Foo Fighters, Saliva and Creed. The guys think "The Texas Buzz, Zakk United and Scout Bar" have all helped the Houston music scene with a needed "boost" over the last year and aren't bugged at all by a music community that "seems to be improving." -- BM

St. Pete's Dancing Marlin
300 Main, 713-227-1511

4 p.m. Sky Blue 72
5 p.m. LoneStar PornStar
6 p.m. Kemo for Emo
7 p.m. MorningsideDRIVE
8 p.m. Molly & the Ringwalds
9 p.m. The Handsomes

Sky Blue
Best Female Vocalist (Jessica Zweback)

www.skyblue72.com

Bassist Frank Zweback has got an unusual feat listed among his recent accomplishments: He "accidentally sprayed the entire contents of his Cinco de Mayo tequila shot all over the sexy shot girl's face," recalls his sister and bandmate Jessica. As for the more traditional feats, Jessica says that the band's upcoming Sugar Hill-recorded CD "was produced by fantastic Robbie Parrish" and "engineered in a most kick-ass fashion by Steve Christensen and John Griffin." Meanwhile, the band is out seeking oblivion and yodeling the nights away at a club near you. "There was one night we all decided to trip on acid and couldn't remember any of our songs. Instead we played the entire soundtrack to The Sound of Music. They got really mad at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin. I think they fired us." -- JNL

Lone Star PornStar
Best Alt Rock

www.lonestarpornstar.com

When not filming "live porn every day," this six-man band of funksters bludgeons H-town ears with a blend of rap and rock. Now endorsed by "Halo Custom Guitars" and "Chop Shop Custom Drums," the guys left band names "The Vertical Smiles" and "Large Breasted Bed Thrashers" on the (presumably) DNA-coated cutting-room floor before deciding on their current moniker. The boys are closer than actors prepping for double penetration close-ups -- they all got tattoos on the same day, and members Phil and Gregg share a birthday. LSPS is a "proud member" of the "Houston Band Coalition," which they credit for helping local acts "work toward a common goal" and "support each other." -- BM

Kemo for Emo
Best Pop-Punk

www.kemoforemo.com

These guys' latest disc is called I'd Rather Have a Broken Neck, and if you can relate to that, you'll probably dig "one of the only remaining pop-punk bands" in a Houston scene they see as overrun with hardcore and metal. They claim that radio play is in their near future ("Just request us on your radio station of choice via e-mail or phone"), and if they couldn't play music, they'd join the circus, but "only if we work with the bear on the bike." -- Scott Faingold

MorningsideDRIVE
Best Alt Rock

www.myspace.com/msd

Sure, they play music full-time (no day jobs here!), they opened for Avril Lavigne and did a showcase at the Whisky in L.A., but what really makes this band tick? Well, they fantasize about being "rent-a-cops" if the music thing doesn't work out, but the guys in MorningsideDRIVE aren't about to start worrying now. After all, they claim, they've never played a bad show, with every gig registering as "tube-u-ler." Now if only they would stop being "mistaken for Hootie & the Blowfish." -- SF

Molly & the Ringwalds
Best Cover Band

www.theringwalds.com

If you love the '80s the way VH1 does, you'll think cover band Molly & the Ringwalds are, like, totally way rad to the max. You'll love their awesome renditions of stuff like the Human League's "Don't You Want Me," Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," and Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy," and you'll, like, totally have a cow when they bust out with Nena's "99 Luftballons" in, like, East German or something. -- JNL

The Handsomes
Best Rock/Pop

www.thehandsomes.com

Packing 'em in on the Continental strip in the 3700 block of Main and in the Lounge on Montrose are two fortes of this party-hearty, occasionally ska-tinged rock band that promises to "finally record at the end of this summer." "Slow death" would be their lot in a world without tunes, and the band claims to have not had any trouble naming themselves. "The Handsomes seemed to fit us perfectly," they claim. The band hates being labeled a band of "law students" and being mistaken for a cover band. "We have poppy original songs, so people mistake them for covers sometimes." -- JNL

Verizon Wireless Theater
(all ages)
520 Texas, 713-230-1600

5 p.m. Caliente
6 p.m. Silverleaf
7 p.m. Michael Haaga's Plus and Minus Show
8 p.m. Dan Dyer
9 p.m. Houston Rap Showcase with Slim Thug, Bun B, Devin the Dude and more
10:15 p.m. Lit

Caliente
Best Salsa/Reggaetón/Latin Pop

www.diazmusicinstitute.com

This youth orchestra and perennial Latin favorite is always on the lookout for new members "who are not afraid to work hard, and enjoy entertaining the audiences." Those audiences are preferably found at "outdoor festivals or far away." Being regarded as children can sometimes make for undignified requests. For instance, one time "a promoter wanted the band to march down a hill to a performance site wearing white and waving flags." We bet this sort of thing never happens to [insert most appropriate local Anglo nominee here]. -- SF

Silverleaf
Best Alt Rock

www.silverleafband.com

The big winners of 2004 made their way into the hallowed pages of Vanity Fair this year. (It was an ad, but still.) Silverleaf let it be known that they'll play "anywhere that'll have us," which has led to them playing an Astros game, a frat-party show "on the back of a horse trailer" and a private party for a group of nudists, "and not the good-looking nudists." That's what we call dedication. -- SF

Michael Haaga

Local Musician of the Year; Album of the Year (The Plus and Minus Show), Song of the Year ("If and When"); Best Male Vocalist; Best Guitarist (Kelly Doyle); Best Drummer (Brian Davis)
www.michaelhaaga.com
www.theplusandminusshow.com
www.ieorecords.com

A previous winner as the leader of the death metal band dead horse, Haaga, who leads in nominations this year, was recently reborn as a modern pop-rocker whose debut album has drawn comparison to everyone from "the Shins" to "the Flaming Lips" to "Todd Rundgren." "I enjoy struggling," says the former member of the Demonseeds and Superjoint Ritual of his attachment to music, before lapsing into pidgin Spanish to describe another of his loves: "Mi amore Topo Chico agua fria y aguacate burritos... No habla español..." Haaga echoes many here when he says there are both "a lot of talented musicians" in Houston and "not enough promotion put into shows," and while his advice to "make music for your heart and soul, not your wallet" may sound like a platitude, it's one that he obviously takes seriously. -- JNL

Dan Dyer
Best Male Vocalist

www.dandyer.com

Having played on the "Rock the Vote Tour" and at the "Revlon Walk/Run in Times Square" and at South By Southwest, and hung around with his producer Lenny Kravitz, whose Warner Bros.-affiliated Roxie imprint released Dyer's CD ... Of What Lies Beneath, and gigged in front of 40,000 people are all pretty good indicators of budding rock stardom. Why, then, does Houston/Austin troubadour Dan Dyer hate "rock stars" so much? Maybe it's because he's not about fame -- in a world without music he would be a "meter reader," and he claims only to have jumped in the music game because of his "fascination with used guitar picks." It irks him that people thinks he and his bandmates are "loaded" when he says he can "barely pay the bills," but that could change soon for this fast-rising pop-rock talent. -- JNL

Houston Rap Showcase, with Slim Thug, Bun B, Devin the Dude and more
Best Major-Label Hip-hop

www.slimthugthaboss.com

Two slammin', Neptunes-produced tracks on the Box — "Like a Boss" and "I Ain't Heard of That" — showcase this hulking, gruff-voiced rapper, who’s set to join fellow Northsider Mike Jones in the national hit parade. The car aficionado earned his other nickname — Boss Hogg — from the old-school 'Lac he used to roll in, but these days he's being driven around in a majestic purple Rolls-Royce Phantom. He's not driving it, though. As he told us in last week's cover story, "the cops took my shit indefinitely," speaking of his driver's license and the string of tickets he'd gotten over the past few years. But he's still running stop signs and red lights — only these are the ones that stand between him and superstardom. Devin the Dude's rare Houston appearance is one of this year's biggest treats — he's a Swisher Sweet packed with narcotic rhymes and more natural charisma than John F. Kennedy and Chris Rock combined. His jazzy albums exist on a plane beyond most other Houston rappers, and they have won him such accolades as "the best rapper on earth" and "your favorite rapper's favorite rapper," one who stands tall as John Coltrane in a pack of Kenny Gs. Bun B is one of the elder statesmen of the Dirty South, a brawny-voiced brawler from Port Arthur with an advanced degree in street science. From his days with Underground Kingz through the present, few rappers on earth can match his reputation or his skills on the mike.-- JNL

The Finalist
Best Alt Rock

www.thefinalist.net

By the time you read this, southeast Houston hard rockers the Finalist will have just returned from preliminary sessions in Canada with producer GGGarth Richardson, whose list of credits is studded with both extraneous Gs and names like Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Christian overtones shade some of the otherwise Buzz-friendly band's lyrics, but the band doesn't want to be stuck in the "Christian music" ghetto: "We want everybody to listen to us and not turn people off to our music by saying that they're not welcome to it just because they don't believe in God," notes front man Dylan Brady on the band's Web site. But then again, they canceled on us at the last minute, despite having signed a contract promising to play. Is that something Jesus would do? -- JNL

Lit

"Here we are / we're all alright," sings front man A. Jay Popoff at the end of Lit, the band's first album since parting ways with RCA. Back at the turn of the millennium, hits like "My Own Worst Enemy," "Ziplock," "Miserable" and "Lipstick and Bruises" kept the band at the top of the charts and even enabled them to snag Pamela Anderson to star in their videos. But somewhere along the way, Popoff decided that it was not the band's job to sell records. "Our job is to write good songs and kick ass live," he says. "If we're not doing that, then we've failed." That's just what they've done with Lit, a self-produced album featuring "bouncy musicality," "a nod to Elvis Costello," another to Big Star filtered through Cheap Trick (the lines quoted at the top of this article), a Cure cover ("Pictures of You") and even the self-deprecating first single, "Looks Like They Were Right." Popoff says that a "weird combination of personal issues and drama" contributed to the record's unusual sound, a list of trauma and joys that included first-time parenthood for Popoff and the loss of their record deal. "It was like when you break up with somebody," Popoff says. "You know it's for the right reasons, but it still feels weird not having them around."

All the recent ordeals have made philosophers of these rockers. The biz, says A. Jay's brother Jeremy, "can chew you up and spit you out," and all that matters is "how you come out on the other side." Sometimes you come out stronger and "ready to kick ass" and your band is "closer together." And Lit is clearly one of those bands. -- JNL

Ultra
108 Main, 713-222-9108

4 p.m. God's Temple of Family Deliverance
5 p.m. Sevrin
6 p.m. You(genious)
7 p.m. Rx Medicine Show
8 p.m. Paris Green
9 p.m. John Evans Band

God's Temple of Family Deliverance
Best New Act

www.godstempleoffamilydeliverance.com

These guys wanted to call themselves Slayer, Bring Back the Guns and the Fatal Flying Guilloteens, but all of those names were taken, so they're stuck with plain old God's Temple of Family Deliverance. They like to play house parties, and for day jobs, members "make ice cream and copies" (although probably not copies of ice cream). They play music "because school sucks" and hate it when people think they're "stoner rock and know how to play guitar." -- SF

Sevrin
Best Metal

www.sevrinmusic.com

Not every rock band can sustain its own military branch. But Sevrin is plainly not just any rock band, as their "following increases exponentially at every show and the Sevrin Army fan base quickly grows day by day." Yes, like any hard rock band worth its salt, Sevrin takes its cues from KISS, treating the visual (or "showbiz," if you will) side of performance every bit as seriously as their sound, which they describe as containing "full-throttle, powerful, in-your-face music and aggressive yet melodically structured vocals." -- SF

You(genious)
Best Funk/R&B/Reggae

www.thelovemachine.org

Rotund white R&B crooner You(genious) wants the ladies of Space City to know that they are "some fine-ass muthafuckas." To prove how much he cares for Houston's estrogen set, he's holding a "Win an evening with You(genious)" contest on his Web site, wherein a lucky lady will be treated to dinner ("cooked by me"), a private concert and a massage ("rubbed by me!"). Dessert will no doubt include "Sex on a Spoon" -- one of the hefty, Caucasian R. Kelly's most notorious hits. "Daddy's gonna make the ENTIRE world sing this song," says he, and with lyrics like "Make you howl at the moon (WOOOOO) / Sex on a spoon" who could resist? -- BM

Rx Medicine Show
Best Folk/Acoustic

www.myspace.com/rxmedicineshow

Deep Montrose is just about the last place you'd expect to spawn an old-time mountain-music band, but it has and this is it. These tattooed ex-punks -- "the Reverend," "Rag Tag Mac," "Coach" and "Uncle Tick" -- spew an unholy Appalachian-style racket on guitars, banjos, mandolins, washtub bass, harmonica, kazoo and spoons, among other things. At their weekly gig on Mondays at Helios, dancers stomp the floor in front of the stage so hard it seems the venerable old venue might be shaken off its foundation. Have you had it with years of cramped-up city life, trapped like a duck in a pen? These "Salty Dogs" will whisk you away to good ol' "Rocky Top." -- JNL

Paris Green
Best Alt Rock

www.parisgreen.com

Named for an obsolete insecticide, Paris Green has a Web site that showcases the band's sense of humor. Instead of the usual hype and accolades, all you'll find there are stick figures holding signs that say things like "The Worst Band Ever" and "PG Sucks!" That&'s not quite true; our own Bob Ruggiero visited with them a while back and deemed their music an "extremely marketable and infectious blend of metal, punk, rap and scratching [that] could make them yet another in a line of bands 'sure to break' out of Houston." -- JNL

John Evans Band
Best Male Vocalist; Local Artist of the Year; Album of the Year (Circling the Drain); Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly

www.johnevansband.net

"Buddy Holly fronting AC/DC" is perhaps the pithiest way to describe this perennial multiple Press Music Award winner, and his gig schedule would seem to bear that out. Sandwiched around this gig are shows at New York punk Shangri-La CBGB's and another in Holly's hometown of Lubbock. Evans's heavy-metal honky-tonk has taken a more rockward turn of late, with new album Circling the Drain having something of a vintage L.A. punk feel to it, but the twang-o-meter still reaches George Jones levels with comforting regularity. -- JNL

Speakeasy
110 Main, 713-547-0655

4 p.m. Modulator
5 p.m. The Watermarks
6 p.m. Meowcifer
7 p.m. Southern Backtones
8 p.m. Dreambreakers
9 p.m. Miss Leslie & Her Juke Jointers

Modulator
Best Female Vocalist (Julie Zamora)

www.modulator.org

Having found their songs featured on "several episodes" of MTV's The Real World and Road Rules, our pals in Modulator know what it's like to darken the doors of the corporate rock marketplace. Plus, their recent Don't Hold Out on Me EP was produced by a Psychedelic Fur, giving them that much-sought-after patina of '80s retro-rock cred. The biggest crowds Modulator's played to have been in Austin, but they love playing at Rudyard's above all. The band's only complaint about the tight-knit Houston scene is the lack of competition here, "friendly or unfriendly." The band's dirty little secret? "We secretly want to be ABBA." -- SF

The Watermarks
Best Indie Rock

www.thewatermarks.com
www.myspace.com/thewatermarks

"More than 3,000 friends in two months on Myspace, TV syncs lined up, and Houston Press Awards nominee with only four shows played" are some of the topics that the Watermarks will regale you with these days when they are in a braggadocious mood. Or they might tell you about their debut demo EP, I Will Still Be Wishing, and the electronica-meets-indie-rock sounds thereon. Or they might want to talk about how they almost named themselves "the Skin Flutes." You'll just have to go to their showcase and buy 'em a drink and find out. -- JNL

Meowcifer
Best Indie Rock; Best Drummer (Mikey Deleon)

www.myspace.com/meowcifer

Meowcifer has a trio of clubs that they love each in its own special way: "Rudyard's for sound, Mary Jane's for excellent drinks, and Proletariat for good company!" They recently started work on their "first full-length at HeadGear Studios in New York," which they call an "amazing" place where the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio have waxed tracks. "Rainbow of Children" was nearly this band's name -- "Mikey and I toyed around with [that] because we really were trying to find the most silly name," says guitarist Erica, who adds that all their local gigs have been "hilarious." The local scene "has a nice smile," she says, but also "very bad teeth." To get her to bare her fangs, presume that hers is a goth band, which many do based on their band name. She understands the confusion, though. "Who hears Meowcifer and thinks cute moms (and dads!), pop music, harmonies, piano, violin, and a MIKEY!" -- JNL

Southern Backtones
Best Bassist (Mykel Foster)

www.southernbacktones.com

Having recently "snuck out the [surf-punk] window of their musical upbringing," the Southern Backtones are now cavorting with other genres, including Britpop and psychedelia. The band likes to trumpet the little-known fact that their single "Fallen Angel" was tabbed by Levi's as the national campaign anthem for a back-to-school ad, and says that their current self-titled full-length is "a mellowing of their roots angst" that reveals them to be "psychedelic savants who are constantly at risk of diluting their genius by overthinking their music." (Disclosure alert: Bassist Foster works in the Press circulation department.) -- JNL

Dreambreakers
Best Cover Band

www.thedreambreakers.com

Taking their name "just by coincidence" from "a very ancient Australian aboriginal legend," the Dreambreakers describe themselves as "a group of musicians, thinkers, poets, observers and citizens." All that and "a powerful new emerging rock band" to boot, one that adds in original music to its mainstay -- covers by the likes of the Searchers, the bluesy, original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, the Kinks, Traffic/Spencer Davis Group and the Who. (In other words, British oldies too often neglected here.) The band brings both a high degree of musicianship and a wealth of historical knowledge to these seldom-played gems, and if you're hoping for a good time at this show, they won't break that dream. -- JNL

Miss Leslie and the Juke Jointers
Best C&W

www.missleslie.com

Based on their name alone, a lot of people seem to think this trad country band's gonna be rockabilly, but Miss Leslie doesn't mind too much. She was gonna call the combo "Miss Leslie and Her Hired Hands" in honor of Hank Thompson's teenage nom de twang, but "somehow it sounded too much like a landscaping company." The band's first CD, Honky Tonk Revival, will be out in August, and it promises to reflect a life permeated by music. "When I'm not on stage, there's music in my head going all of the time," she says. -- SF

Boaka Bar
1010 Prairie, 713-225-6372

4 p.m. JD Arnold
5 p.m. Baby Jae
6 p.m. Little Martin
7 p.m. DJ Sun
8 p.m. Sean Carnahan
9 p.m. Champa Moore

JD Arnold
Best DJ

www.jdarnold.netfirms.com

Massage therapist by day and house DJ by night, longtime Rich's spinner JD Arnold's credo is "I love what I do! I do the love of my life!" Like his competitors DJ Sun and his English countryman Little Martin, Arnold brings international flair to the DJ booth. Each year he travels to Europe and around the States in search of the hottest trends and coolest sounds. If he couldn't live in Houston, he would move to Amsterdam, where he loves "the people and the atmosphere," especially the fact that older people dig house over there. "In Europe, you see people of all ages, from 18 to 45," he says. "It's not all 18-year-olds..." -- JNL

Baby Jae
Best DJ

www.krackernuttz.com

One of hip-hop megastation the Box's go-to remix DJs, Baby Jae and the rest of the Kracker Nuttz crew he co-founded are wreckin' records every Friday night on their award-winning Friday Night Flow show. Or you might hear him live at a hip-hop hot spot near you; the Kracker Nuttz get around. A DJ since he was 11 years old, Jae has won numerous battles and contests over the years, and eerily echoes JD Arnold when he discusses his passion for the music: "I do what I love and I love what I do," he says. "So if I do or don't succeed, I just want to be appreciated for what I have accomplished." -- JNL

Little Martin
Best DJ

www.upsidedownhouse.com

Manchester, England, native Little Martin has one of the coolest chits in town: Back in the '80s, he spun records at that city's legendary Hacienda club. (Go rent 24 Hour Party People if you haven't heard of it.) After moving to Houston, a chance meeting with fellow Brit Jonathan Sewell eventually led to Rent, a monthly house/funk/disco dance-travaganza that debuted at Helios in 2003 then was held at Union, and now, resides at the Meridian. Rent was last year's winner in the now-defunct Best Recurring Club Night category, and Martin won this year's City of Spin event as the city's top electroclash/'80s house DJ. -- JNL

DJ Sun
Best DJ

www.soulargrooves.com

There aren't a lot of DJs on the Houston scene that can say they started out life in the Netherlands, and maybe this background has something to do with DJ Sun's unique sensibility: He's equally likely to name-check Bob Marley, Portishead and Freddie Hubbard. The man is making a living with his music (with a CD in the works from the Swedish Brandy label), but if he had his way, he'd split his time between Houston and Jamaica. -- SF

Sean Carnahan
Best DJ

www.djsean.com

"Air, water, food, shelter, music." These are the five things that matter most to DJ Sean Carnahan, and you can wager that if the other four weren't necessary to physically sustain life, music would rank higher. Carnahan is a little miffed at folks who think in DJ cliché i.e., folks who believe that "all DJs scratch, we all love requests, and talk like something out of Yo MTV Raps. -- SF

Andy "Champa" Moore
Best DJ

www.loveisinthemusic.com

Nobody knows the wild stuff a guy like Ultra DJ Spinoff champion Moore has seen. For instance, the time when "people were having sex in the middle of the dance floor while I rocked the house and ten or 15 people danced around them." Hedonistic scenes out of Satyricon aside, this local favorite (and 20-year vet) is in the game for only the purest of reasons: "I've got to share the love!" -- SF

M Bar
402 Main, 713-222-1022

4 p.m. Studemont Project
5 p.m. Bring Back the Guns
6 p.m. Clouseaux
7 p.m. Luxurious Panthers
8 p.m. Tody Castillo
9 p.m. Fondue Monks

Studemont Project
Best Indie Hip-hop

www.myspace.com/studemontproject

Heights-born and -bred hip-hop crew Studemont Project -- previous winners of the Best Hip-hop award in this shindig -- has an eclectic set of influences: "Salvador Dali, Miles Davis, Mati Klarwein, John Frusciante, [and] Houston." That blend helps them come up with what they call "aesthetic noise." Avenue of the Observatory, Studemont Project's new EP, will be out shortly. -- JNL

Bring Back the Guns
Best Indie Rock

www.bringbacktheguns.com

Bring Back the Guns front man Matt Brownlie says Houston's obscurity is both its blessing -- "we get to do some really weird shit because no one's watching," stuff he describes as "really honest, unique music" -- and its curse. "On the other hand, for those of us who are actually interested in doing this sort of thing for a career, the total lack of aforementioned 'industry' here makes things tough." Brownlie is definitely in it for the long haul -- he says he's been making music since he was four and that there is no "what else" to do in this life. The last time this band played this event they were called Groceries; Brownlie urges those who haven't seen them since then to look back in. "People who haven't seen us in a couple of years probably have a very different idea of what we are. Things have changed. Drastically." -- JNL

Clouseaux
Best Jazz; Best Bassist (Jay Brooks); Best Guitarist (Kelly Doyle)

www.clouseaux.com

That they "actually played a show with all members" present is first and foremost among tiki-lounge-exotica ensemble Clouseaux's most notable achievements, says singer Tomas Escalante, and that is a big deal when you learn that there are about a dozen members in the band. Escalante adds that the band is working on a sequel to their first full-length CD, Lagoon. In a perfect world, he goes on to say, people would stop thinking that "we play ska and are from New Orleans." -- JNL

Luxurious Panthers
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly

www.luxuriouspanthers.virtualave.net/index.htm

Bassist Buddy Demon and single-monikered front man Ford are the two surviving original members of Houston's top straight-ahead rockabilly band. The band has a sense of humor (their song "I Drank Every Beer" parodies the Man in Black's "I've Been Everywhere"), the requisite reverb-laden instrumental chops, and a few surf, swing and blues influences that reflect their Gulf Coast abode. -- JNL

Tody Castillo
Song of the Year ("Independence Day"); Songwriter of the Year; Best Rock/Pop; Best Drummer (Paul "Falcon" Valdez)

www.todycastillo.com

Part-time Cactus employee Tody Castillo is well positioned: His own excellent melancholy pop-rock CD was the store's top seller for a couple of weeks running right after its release. Castillo admits that he sometimes wonders if the whole music thing was a big mistake, but hastens to add that "There is nothing else" for him right now. He loves Houston's "friendly" vibe and "excellent venues," including "Rudyard's, the Mucky Duck, Continental Club, Onion Creek, Stag's Head and the Harp" but wishes that more local bands were doing "showcases, festivals, et cetera." And he's a baseball fan: "Astros por vida," he says. -- JNL

The Fondue Monks
Best Bass Player (Rozz Zamorano)

www.fonduemonks.com

Don't call the Fondue Monks a Doors cover band; it pisses them off. Nearly a decade and a half of rockin' has earned the fellas the right to be a little testy, especially considering their steadfast policy of "never selling out or changing our sound for the record industry." They continue to play music for the best reason going: "It helps in wooing women." They have also lived out one of the most memorable scenes from This Is Spinal Tap in real life. "At the House of Blues in New Orleans we got lost in a maze of backstage hallways and couldn't find our way to the stage." Now that's rock and roll! -- SF

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