Houston's Gone Gaaga for Haaga

A former king of the Texas metal world unites Houston's warring rock tribes and wins a passel of Music Awards

The votes have been counted and the shows have been played. The deal's gone down, and the winners have their wonderful trophies.

Houston's finest musical extravaganza -- one day in which Houston's downtown is transformed into Sixth Street during South By Southwest -- has come and gone, and a few days after that we held an awards bash at the Meridian and doled out the hardware and the plaudits. Chango Jackson, Michael Haaga, LoneStar PornStar, Faceplant and Drop Trio treated the packed room to a song apiece…A local music luminary -- in this year's case Wendy Miller of KIOL -- served as emcee. Sponsors were thanked…A presenter or two badly garbled the names of some of the candidates, raucous hecklers abounded, a couple of musicians puked on the floor…But we won't tell you who any of those people were. And when it was all over, cars full of revelers made their way to Poison Girl, Rudyard's, Leon's, Lola's, the Continental…

In other words, it was a typical Press Music Awards show, except somehow this one seemed to rise above all the rest. Maybe it was the fact that the Meridian -- unlike so many of the venues we have used in the past -- has one of those "air-conditioner" things you hear about sometimes. (Or maybe it was just the fact that it's the best venue in town for this event in general. Kudos to the Meridian's Bob Fuldauer for hosting such a great party.)

Clockwise from left:  Kelly Doyle, Brian Davis, Jason 
McMaster and Michael Haaga.
Clockwise from left: Kelly Doyle, Brian Davis, Jason McMaster and Michael Haaga.
John Evans
John Evans

As usual, there were a few surprise first-time winners -- Sevrin taking Best Metal, LoneStar PornStar snatching the Alt-Rock, Fatal Flying Guilloteens finally winning in punk -- and plenty of repeat winners (that Cactus-Big Easy-Zydeco Dots-Mucky Duck-Blanco's aristocracy that wins its respective contest as inevitably each year as the earth rotates on its axis).

Multiple winners included other perennials -- John Evans, Los Skarnales and Drop Trio -- but the biggest kahuna of all this year was Michael Haaga, who took home no fewer than four major awards, and five if you include the one awarded to Best Guitar winner Kelly Doyle, who also plays in Three Fantastic and Clouseaux.

Anyway, time to start handing out the laurels, so without further ado…

Album of the Year
The Plus and Minus Show, Michael Haaga

Songwriter of the Year
Michael Haaga

Song of the Year
"If and When," Michael Haaga

Local Artist of the Year
Michael Haaga

Best Guitarist
Kelly Doyle (Clouseaux, Three Fantastic, Michael Haaga)

"I wonder what the world would think of my song," runs the first line of Michael Haaga's "If and When." The jury's still out on what the planet thinks, but for right now, Houstonians seem pretty high on it. Just as they are on Haaga's album, the rest of the songs on it, and his guitarist. It's no exaggeration to say that Houston is gaaga for Haaga.

Not to mention the man himself. Every time his name was read out from a list of candidates, bands across the room started hollering for him to win -- and what was weird about it was that these cheers came from several entirely distinct camps of Houston's notoriously cliquish rock scene.

How did he pull that one off? By being inclusive, by not being so caught up in his own little scenelet. Metal dudes wanted him to win because Haaga was once -- still is -- one of the most prominent musicians in that genre this city has produced. Indie rock dudes -- at least those who were in Bring Back the Guns -- wanted him to win, because Erik Bogle, that band's guitarist, played on Haaga's album. Hippies and roots rockers were pulling for him because Carolyn Wonderland, Chris King and Leesa Harrington-Squyres also played on the record. The old guard was rooting for him because people like Scott Ayers of the Pain Teens was on the album; some of the youngsters dig Haaga because Derek Dunivan's on there, too. Ramon Medina of Linus Pauling Quartet was pulling for Haaga because he believes, as I do, that the album freakin' rocks and is an ambitious masterwork of slightly surreal pop-rock genius, but that's another story.

What we're talking about here is this: When bands as diverse as LoneStar PornStar and Bring Back the Guns are both in your corner, you've done the Houston music equivalent of walking on water, and I half-expected to find fierce lions spooning little bitty lambs on the Meridian's curtained divans. (Hell, Haaga even looks a little like a beardless, bespectacled Jesus.) And since the working music community votes heavily in these awards, you're damn likely to win a few of 'em if you can unite those warring tribes the way he did.

"In Houston it always seemed to me that people were a little too uptight about music," a hungover and happy Haaga said the day after. "It's kinda corny to say so, but if somebody could make it and push things here, it's nothing but good for everybody. As David Letterman would say, 'It's not a competition -- no wagering!' "

Haaga was extremely gratified by his diversity of support. "That makes me feel really good, and I really do like all kinds of fuckin' music. Shit, Jason McMaster [Haaga's bass player] is about as metal as you can fuckin' get, and Erik Bogle's on the record, too. Hopefully that will send a message that music is just art and not a competition to be the coolest dude…But then it is great to win awards!" -- John Nova Lomax

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