"This is a huge night for me."
So said Bun B backstage at Warehouse Live last Wednesday, shortly after receiving the third top-tier Houston Press Music Award of the night on behalf of UGK. The Port Arthur-cum-Houston duo took home Local Musicians of the Year, Best Local Album (Underground Kingz), Best Local Song ("Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)") and Best Mainstream Hip-Hop. It was, of course, a bittersweet occasion, as Bun's partner Pimp C passed away last December, shortly after Underground Kingz' release.
"U.G.K. for life," Bun said, accepting the Mainstream Hip-Hop award. "R.I.P. Pimp C." Showing just how much UGK's influence permeates the local rap community, first-time winner Fat Tony also gave Pimp C a shout-out when accepting his Best Underground Hip-Hop award.
2008 Houston Press Music Awards
Wednesday's winners were about evenly divided between veterans like Fondue Monks (Best Soul/Funk/R&B), Zydeco Dots (Best Zydeco), D.R.U.M. (Best World Music) and Spain Colored Orange (Best Indie Rock; Best Keyboard Player Gilbert Alfaro) and first-timers like the Tontons (Best New Artist), Golden Axe (Best Metal), Buxton (Best Local Label, Mia Kat Empire) and DJ Red (Best DJ). Recently reconstituted Los Skarnales took Best Punk Band and Best Rock en Español, even though singer Felipe Galvan insisted he doesn't consider the Latino rockers punk.
"We don't play punk rock, but the attitude is punk," he explained from the stage.
Otherwise, the acceptance speeches, usually an off-color highlight of the awards, were pretty tame this year, but then again, Best Blues winner Little Joe Washington was a no-show. Best Latin Contemporary winner Karina Nistal showed some moxie, saying, "I'm practicing for my Grammy speech," but like Dizzy Dean said, it ain't bragging if you can do it. Spain Colored Orange noted their presenter, Channel 39 news anchor Mia Gradney, is "a lot better looking than [her KHTV colleague and past HPMA presenter] Alan Hemberger."
Not quite so tame were the performances. The Mighty Orq warmed up the crowd with a blistering set of blues-rock drawn from the trio's recent album, To the Bone, and a cover of Prince's "Kiss." Even though they later insisted they couldn't hear anything onstage, Tontons were captivating with a dusky, violin-aided, Portishead-like number. John Evans shook up the room with some beefed-up rockabilly and later, accepting his award for Best Songwriter, said that considering the caliber of talent on display, he'd like to see the awards become an even bigger event on Houston's musical calendar than they already are.
Bun B, who became fast friends with Best Unclassifiable winners Black Math Experiment over the course of the evening — watching him nod his head during the New Wave group's congenial performance was one of the evening's lasting images — echoed those sentiments, and seemed ready to do his part.
"I'm proud to be part of the Houston music scene," he said. "We're gonna take that title from Austin — Houston's gonna be the live music capital."
2008 Houston Press Music Award Winners
Best Local Album: UGK, Underground Kingz
Best Local Song: UGK feat. OutKast, "Int'l Player's Anthem (I Choose You)"
Local Musician(s) of the Year: UGK
Best Songwriter: John Evans
Best New Act: Tontons
Best Guitarist: Tony Vega
Best Drummer: Shane Lauder (Born Liars, Sideshow Tramps)
Best Misc. Instrument: Geoffrey Muller (Sideshow Tramps, Umbrella Man, Pistoleros de Tejas)
Best Bassist: Nick Gaitan (Umbrella Man, Billy Joe Shaver)
Best Keyboard Player: Gilbert Alfaro, Spain Colored Orange
Best Experimental: Studemont Project
Best Latin Traditional: Mango Punch!
Best Latin Contemporary: Karina Nistal
Best Mainstream Hip-Hop: UGK
Best Underground Hip-Hop: Fat Tony
Best Indie Rock: Spain Colored Orange
Best Punk: Los Skarnales
Best R&B/Funk/Soul: Fondue Monks
Best Zydeco: Zydeco Dots
Best DJ: DJ Red
Best Rock en Español: Los Skarnales
Best World Music: D.R.U.M.
Best Cover Band: Molly & the Ringwalds
Best Tribute Band: Beetle
Best Unclassifiable Band: Black Math Experiment
Best Metal: Golden Axe
Best Alt-Rock Band: Skyblue 72
Best Country: Katie Stuckey and the Swagger
Best Roots Rock: Flamin' Hellcats
Best Traditional Folk: Flying Fish Sailors
Best Neo-Folk: Sideshow Tramps
Best Jazz: Free Radicals w/Harry Sheppard
Best Male Vocalist: Felipe Galvan (Los Skarnales)
Best Female Vocalist: Katie Stuckey
Best New Club: Boondocks
Best Live Music Venue: Warehouse Live
Best Record Store: Cactus Music
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Best Instrument/Equipment Store: Guitar Center
Best Radio Station: KPFT (90.1 FM)
Best Local Music Radio Program: Rod Ryan Show, KTBZ (94.5 FM)
Best Local Label: Mia Kat Empire