“The show that wouldn’t end!” an audience member exclaimed in the lobby of the Paramount Theatre about a minute shy of midnight Tuesday, just after the second annual Ameripolitan Music Awards show had in fact finally ended. At nearly four hours, it was indeed an endurance test, but those in the mostly-full theater appreciated the spirit of the event, which was clearly a labor of love for those involved.
Ringleader Dale Watson, decked out head to toe in a sparkling suit, welcomed special honorees including guitarist James Burton and rockabilly trio High Noon for a night of performances and award presentations with emcees Elizabeth Cook and Mojo Nixon of Sirius XM satellite radio.
Nearly all of the dozen-plus performances were kept to one song per artist. Early highlights included an appearance by Johnny Bush on what was, coincidentally, his 80th birthday, and honky-tonk category nominees Amber Digby and James Hand, both of whom subsequently were announced as winners of the female and male honky-tonk categories. (It became clear that a performance was a likely hint that an artist would win, to the point that California singer Big Sandy joked after performing later on, “I might be back!” – and indeed his band the Fly-Rite Boys did win for rockabilly group.)
A potentially major downer came just before intermission when Billy Joe Shaver, one of two Founder of the Sound recipients, was a no-show; Watson said that Shaver had the flu. But Shaver’s pal Joe Ely saved the day, accepting the award on his behalf and also delivering a beautiful rendition of Shaver’s classic tune “Live Forever.” Lawyer Dick DeGuerin, who represented Shaver a few years ago in his court battle over a bar shooting, also came onstage during the acceptance and got in the best line of the night: “The only outlaw musician who’s ever been declared not guilty is Billy Joe Shaver.”
A certain amount of disorder ran through the evening, with minor mishaps at times (such as rockabilly male winner James Intveld’s name being misspelled on the giant screen). Nixon, dressed comically in a loud red jacket and shorts, was partly responsible for steering things sideways; his shtick was entertaining at first but wore thin with the crowd after a while, to the point that his victory in the Ameripolitan DJ category seemed not quite well-received. Perhaps the audience would have preferred the award go to co-host Cook, who valiantly did her best throughout the night to keep things on track.
A surprise highlight of the show’s second half was the inclusion of two Canadian acts, Vancouver rockabilly singer Paul Pigat and the Ontario band Western Swing Authority. Both acts beamed brightly in their one-song spotlight, as did Minnesota honky-tonk nominees the Cactus Blossoms. None won, which suggested Ameripolitan voters lean toward Southern and Western acts. (Winners were exclusively from Texas, Los Angeles and Nashville.)
A sentimental favorite among the award-winners was Nashville fiddler Kenny Sears, whose wife Dawn Sears won in the western swing category at last year’s inaugural Ameripolitan Awards. She died of lung cancer in December at age 53, and though her husband wasn’t at the Paramount last night, he taped an acceptance video in which he spoke lovingly about the recognition given to his wife in 2014. “You are making a difference in keeping the real music alive,” he told the crowd.
But the night’s true MVP was the backing band. Though they somehow didn’t get credited in the otherwise helpful 12-page program booklet, they kept the show rolling the entire night, providing tasteful and professional backup for every act, including Founder of the Sound honoree James Burton’s extended slot to close the show. A tip of the hat, then, to guitarist Redd Volkaert, pianist Earle Poole Ball, fiddler Jason Roberts, pedal steel player Don Pawlak, upright bassist Chris Crepps and drummer Mike Bernal.
- Honky Tonk Female: Amber Digby (The Woodlands)
- Honky Tonk Male: James Hand (West)
- Honky Tonk Group: The Derailers (Austin)
- Outlaw Female: Sarah Gayle Meech (Nashville)
- Outlaw Male: Jesse Dayton (Austin)
- Outlaw Group: Freightshakers (Los Angeles)
- Western Swing Female: Elana James (Austin)
- Western Swing Male: Bobby Flores (San Antonio)
- Western Swing Group: Hot Club of Cowtown (Austin)
- Rockabilly Female: Kim Lenz (Los Angeles)
- Rockabilly Male: James Intveld (Los Angeles)
- Rockabilly Group: Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys (Los Angeles)
- Ralph Mooney Musician Award: Kenny Sears (Nashville)
- Ameripolitan Venue: Continental Club (Austin)
- Ameripolitan Festival: Legends of Western Swing (Wichita Falls)
- Ameripolitan DJ: Mojo Nixon
- Founders of the Sound: Billy Joe Shaver and James Burton
- Keeper of the Key: High Noon