Houston Music

Suffers Dominate, But HPMAs Celebrate Every Corner of Houston Music Scene

Some people mistakenly believe Houston is one enormous bayou, a sub-sea-level Waterworld that grows with each new downpour.

When it comes to local music, outsiders are quick to pour water on what they perceive to be a murky flood puddle. As The Suffers’ Kam Franklin said at Thursday night’s Houston Press Music Awards, people who have seen the band on its recent tour have actually asked her whether Houston even has much of a music scene.

Naysayers and know-nothings can’t rain on our parade. That was the overriding sentiment shared by the artists who were nominated and honored at last evening’s annual event. Whether the seas rise and pitch us upward or fall and nearly sink us, we’re in this boat together.

The day’s literal rains actually tried to douse the hottest ticket in town, but had quelled by the time event emcee Ky Meyer introduced Hearts of Animals. The band kicked things off with a thunderous opener that showcased Musician of the Year nominee Mlee Marie Mains and was a sign of the enthralling performances to come.

A full list of winners is posted elsewhere, so no such recap is required; however, here's the abridged version: The Suffers. Houston’s biggest buzz band didn’t win every category, of course, but the band and its members did haul off 11 awards, or, paraphrasing one presenter, at least one for every member of the band.

After the first few Suffers wins, the Best Songwriter category scrolled up. While the presenter read the nominees’ list, I overheard someone in the crowd say, “They may actually not win this one.” Wrong. Houston music fans turned the town into Suffers-gette City by a landslide. Why this is such a good thing can’t be understated, but we’ll come back to that in a minute.

Some perennial winners were once again hailed as best in their respective categories (Free Radicals, Los Skarnales, Zydeco Dots), while other acts won for the first time (DJ MIK ONE, Ganesha). Ganesha’s front man Ricky Dee's Best Male Vocalist nod over usuals like Buxton’s Sergio Trevino, Nava from thelastplaceyoulook and American Fangs’ Gabe Cavazos probably led the list of upsets, though anyone who’s heard him live knows he’s a deserving honoree. His win and the band’s win in Best Rock Act showed Houston has an underground/DIY scene with some muscle to flex.

Style points go to GIO Chamba for dancing his way across the stage to his Best Dance Music Act award, to high appreciation from the crowd. The honoree least likely to have the music play up during his acceptance speech was jazz great and Houston Music Hall of Famer Harry Sheppard, who simply said, ”We love you,” accepted his award and settled back into his role as an audience member. There was a lot of class onstage, but few could outshine Houston’s First Lady of Blues, Trudy Lynn, who delivered words many of the younger, newer acts can hope to live by one day.

“If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said to a respectful round of applause.

There were some humorous moments, of course. Presenter, radio personality and Houston Press writer Sean Pendergast referenced Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien’s pottymouth and noted how HBO’s Hard Knocks has made swearing chic, then asked the crowd, “So, how you fuckers doin’?” Comedian Dale Cheesman was funny per usual and zinged the hall full of musicians with an inside joke by boasting that the local comedians “stole Gabe Bravo from you.”

There were touching moments, too. Best Cover Act winners The Fab 5 wished fellow nominee Chase Hamblin a happy birthday. Trudy Lynn brought bandmate and Readers’ Choice nominee Steve Krase up during her Hall of Fame acceptance speech and gave him a warm hug and warmer thanks. Best Bassist and Best Roots Act winner Nick Gaitan thanked his father, who recently passed away, for being so supportive of his music career.

Children of Pop and The Wheel Workers turned in solid musical performances. Best Alternative Act winners Say Girl Say were stunning. Sans the ukuleles and using only their polished vocal harmonies and percussion, they sent chills up at least one spine and good vibes over the entire house.

It was a night for good vibes, one that included genuine happiness for the winners, even from those who were nominated alongside them. As boats go, everyone was on board. The congratulations between musicians continued beyond the doors of Warehouse Live and into the night on social media.

Which brings us back to The Suffers, if only for a moment. When the band’s horn section joined together to accept its Best Horns award, every member mentioned he had cut his teeth by playing with Los Skarnales. To America at large, The Suffers may be the new thing, but these musicians have lived and worked here a long time. They’re no overnight success. And the work they’ve put in has been done right alongside many of the musicians who joined them to celebrate Houston music, in all its varieties, last night.

If the band’s vote tally benefitted from their January television appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, even better. That could mean people who follow music only casually at least had heard of the band’s star turn and opted to cast a vote. And maybe while doing that, they chose to investigate some of the other worthy nominated acts.

As the band’s Best Keys winner, Patrick Kelly, put it, the best part of Letterman was seeing the outpouring of pride Houston musicians shared with The Suffers during that time. No jealousy, no hatin’. Everyone’s on board and ready to show we’re steering out of the flood puddle and onto the high seas. Next year maybe someone different will be at the helm, but in 2015, The Suffers are captaining this ship.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.