Sunday night at Market Hall was The 2013 Wire Awards, the annual gala celebration put on by The Wire Megazine to honour the considerable musical talent in this town. Taking place over the course of three hours, with ten musical performances and awards given out in 25 different categories, it was a highly entertaining night. It balanced the standard award-show pretentiousness with an ironic smile and a lot of heart, and it truly did showcase the impressive breadth and depth of musical talent this city has to offer. Also check out the complete list of 2013 Wire Award winners.
If you’ve been around the local music scene for a while, as pretty much everyone in the room on Sunday had been, and as many of our readers probably have as well, it becomes very easy to take this city’s music scene for granted. At Market Hall on Sunday, there was a room full of talented musicians and passionate fans, who collectively believe that the music scene in a town of only 75,000 is important enough that they’ve spent the last month debating the award nominees, then they spent 20 bucks a pop to watch the thing, and now they’ll spend the next month debating the winners. (On that note, tell us in the comments what you thought!) That in itself is incredible, and simply for calling attention to that marvellous fact, The Wire Awards is already a success.
On the other hand, the actual reality of putting on a ritzy gala award show to honour local music a bit weirder, and much, much sillier. As always, the event was an odd mix of Very Important Award Show style pomp and circumstance, and Peterborough-style fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants duct tape fixes. “Dress to impress,” the poster for the event said. Michael Bell made his entrance accompanied by a drum line, and his co-host, the beautiful Sue Tyler, made hers carried in by two strapping firefighters who arrived at Market Hall in a fire truck with sirens blaring – I know. There were Very Important Surprise Special Guests, touching tributes to people we’ve lost, glamourous models to present the awards (which were actually just printed sheets of paper inside dollar-store photo frames), and a dramatic, booming announcer voice to list all the nominees.
It’s a bit weird when the announcement for Peterborough-area Drummer Of The Yea is given the same gravity as the announcement of the country’s next Prime Minister – but then, just as the award is announced, someone’s mic cuts out, one of the presenters starts giggling, the winner can’t be found because they’re off getting drunk backstage, and when they do show up, someone from the crowd yells an off-colour remark about their mother. Throughout the evening, no one seemed to be where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be. There were technical problems. There was lots of (good-natured) heckling. Even that firetruck entrance involved about six different missed cues and a hilariously bad Skype connection. And after the introduction of one Very Important Surprise Special Guest, Blackie And The Rodeo Kings frontman Stephen Fearing, to thunderous applause, Fearing admitted, “I have absolutely no idea why I’m here or what I’m supposed to be doing.”
In the end, though, very few of these issues were actually embarrassing or frustrating, but rather just made the whole evening all the more endearing. The night wouldn’t have really fit the Peterborough scene if it hadn’t been a bit rough around the edges. This is a town that appreciates the homemade, the slapdash, and the improvisatory. We like our big messy bar bands, we like our fuzzed-out garage rock, we like our indie EPs recorded in some dude’s basement, and we’d like you to do your own tech, because this is The Red Garnet and do you really think we have our own sound guy?
Regardless of small slip-ups, this was a fancy night at Market Hall, one of the best stage in town, with one of the best sound systems in town. Just by putting people on that stage, it was a night that elevated all the artists, and especially the performers. There was something for everyone amongst the night’s ten performances, but I certainly have a few personal highlights.
One was singer-songwriter Missy Knott, who went on to win Female Vocalist Of The Year. She seemed a little tipsy and more than a little nervous as she hit the stage, but all that fell away as she began singing. Her voice was soulful and sultry, her chemistry with guitarist Brian Mehlenbacher was palpable, and her delivery was so impassioned that is seemed to take over her whole body as she sang. Michael Bell also gave himself a spot on the musical line-up, with an enjoyable Dean Martin cover, sung while flanked by a pair of pretty female dancers who he had hired to fawn over him. Was it self-indulgent? Yeah, a bit, but he did put the whole night together, and he’s made a significant contribution to the local music scene that this night was celebrating. Wylie Harold And Out On Bail delivered a very solid set of blues from some seasoned pros. It was also right up the alley of the older crowd, with a song titled “The Good Old Days,” lamenting the rise of Twitter and Facebook. (As an online magazine that mainly promotes through social media, ECL respectfully disagrees.) And fourteen-year-old Sophia Radisch, this year’s Rising Star Award winner, came out bubbling with excitement, and working with a poorly tuned guitar, but she won the audience over with a winning stage presence and a Fiona Apple-like musical style that was quite impressive for one so young.
But my unquestioned musical MVPs for the night were punk duo Bumpin Tacos, probably the hardest thing to hit the Market Hall stage in quite a while. Not only was it a ballsy move to even hire such a loud, angry, noisy band for an event like this, it paid off in spades. The Tacos delivered one of the tightest, most energetic performances of the night, with slamming, mile-a-minute drums and vocals. They were also the only band to fit four songs into their short ten-minute set.
The nominees and the winners
The inclusion of Bumpin Tacos was just one part of the night’s truly commendable effort to cast as wide a musical net as possible. This is a community with an exceptionally diverse music scene, and the awards tried to reflect that. (Check out the complete list of winners for evidence.) You were just as likely to see an artist up on stage who was a regular performer at Black Horse or Dobro, as one who was a regular at The Spill or The Garnet. The same went for the award categories, with an exhaustive (and, by the end of the night, somewhat exhausting) 25 awards covering as much ground as possible – including some often under-appreciated types of artists, like Cover Band Of The Year and Club DJ Of The Year.
There was also an effort to honour the types of people who just don’t normally get award-type recognition. One day, The Weber Brothers may win a Juno, The Crux may headline Edgefest, and Bumpin Tacos may get the Polaris Prize, but any award show that gives an Alumni Award (basically a Lifetime Achievement Award) to Charlotte Melby and treats Rick and Gailie like conquering heroes is doing something truly unique.
That being said, there were some significant issue with the award side of things. First and foremost, I think the online nomination and voting system entirely ruins any pretext this award show is merit-based, which is kind of a big problem. A more accurate name for the awards would probably be Best Mobilization Of Fans Through Social Media By A Rock Band Of The Year. One artist I spoke to said their band made a decision to not constantly pester their fans to vote for them – and, lo and behold, they did not win. It’s also a system that will, in general, picks more popular, well-established acts over up-and-comers with smaller fanbases, and it’s those up-and-comers who could really use the extra attention. It feels a bit like a cop-out on the part of the organizers; a way of giving out awards without all that tough work (and responsibility) of actually having to pick winners.
And oh, those decisions. How were The Express and Co not nominated for Roots Band Of The Year? How was Tarantüela’s album not nominated for Indie Release Of The Year? Or roboteyes’ album? Where are the awards for local rap? Or electronic music? Aren’t there enough punk/garage/metal/hardcore/experimental/noise/etc acts in this town to warrant at least one extra category besides the catch-all Rock Band Of The Year? Isn’t Sophia Radisch from Ottawa, not Peterborough? And, more importantly, is she really a better choice for Rising Star than I, The Mountain? Do the Pub and Club Of The Year category nominees really need to be a Yellow Pages directory listing of every pub and club in town? And is there seriously not a single local event worth mentioning in the Concert Of The Year category? Hootenanny On Hunter Street? 24-Hour Music Project? Anything?
But look: music criticism largely subjective, with no possible objective answer as to who is best or who ‘deserves’ to win – especially when dealing with as diverse a field as all of music, or as diverse an audience as The Wire Awards is trying to please. And in truth, screwing up and not giving awards to the right people is one of the great and noble traditions of award shows. Hitchcock never won Best Director at the Oscars. Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize nine months into his presidency. And Elvis never even got a Grammy nomination for his rock music. (He got three for gospel, though.)
The purpose of an award show – especially one as silly as The Wire Awards – should never be to determine the canon of Great Works Of The Year, and thereby allow us to discard all the rest. The Wire Awards isn’t the final say about Peterborough music, but rather the opening argument in a long discussion of what makes this town’s music so special. The Wire Awards makes the claim that it isn’t enough to relegate local talent to mid-week shows, opening acts, and afterthoughts (well, except for the Concert Of The Year category, which totally did that). Instead, it puts local music up front and centre, on one of the nicest stages in town, with one of the best sound systems in town, and asks us to all sit back and say, “Hey, look how fucking awesome this is!”
Now it’s your turn. In the comments below, let us know what you thought of the night’s music, the nominees, the winners, the show, or the very idea of having a big fancy award show for local music. Also check out our gallery of photos from the night, taken by ECL’s resident photographer, Scott Dancey.
Photos by Scott Dancey.