Music makes lives better.
That was part of what Tom Mara, executive director of KEXP, said when he accepted the Seattle City of Music Impact Award, and it also felt like an unofficial theme to the first Seattle City of Music Awards Wednesday night at Showbox at the Market.
The gala celebrated Seattle’s music community past and present, honoring the legendary Quincy Jones, folk revivalists Fleet Foxes and the aforementioned institution KEXP. The ceremony was hosted by the boisterous Riz Rollins, a mainstay of the Seattle scene, and included performances by artists chosen by the honorees, including country rockers The Maldives, a single song from Pearly Gate Music, and a big-band tribute to Quincy Jones by the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.
Since the music scene was being feted it was appropriate to see The Showbox, one of the city’s oldest nightclubs, dressed to the nines to mark the occasion. There were tables on the floor for distinguished guests and honorees (leaving attendees to watch the festivities from the bars flanking the stage), images of other clubs like the High Dive and Jules Mae Saloon hung from the ceiling, and large portraits of famous luminaries such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix were spread across the venue.
This reporter even had to walk a red carpet complete with photographers snapping pics of attendees while they entered the Showbox, which felt a bit odd. Later in the evening a bartender told me he was tasked with lighting scented candles in the restrooms, which felt even odder considering the countless times I’ve used the Showbox bathrooms without anything close to a pleasant scent. But it is understandable that the city wanted to class up the joint for the occasion and the old girl wore it well.
The Seattle City of Music initiative was created last year by Mayor Greg Nickels' office to recognize local music industry standouts and foster development the music scene. James Keblas, director of the city’s Office of Film + Music, told the crowd the initiative helped with getting a tax exemption for nightclubs, as well as housing and health care for musicians. Nickels received an award for his contributions to the local music industry, but the future of Seattle City of Music is up in the air until after the mayoral election.
The Maldives, normally a nine-piece, were two men short for their three-song set. The band, complete with a banjo player who looks like a prospector and a slide guitarist who could pass for Amish, was a good choice by KEXP to represent some of what is happening now with local music.
Zach Tillman of Pearly Gate Music (and brother of Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman) played one song solo. He is normally accompanied by a full band, and his voice was practically drowned out by bar chatter and other noise in the venue. An emotional Aja Pecknold, (sister of Fleet Foxes singer Robin Pecknold and the band’s manager) teared up a few times while talking about the rise of the Fleet Foxes. She presented the band with the Breakthrough Award.
Quincy Jones, a Garfield High School graduate who has scored 38 films, been nominated for seven Academy Awards and won 26 Grammys (he’s been nominated a record 76 times), was not in attendance to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award. A video montage of musicians, celebrities, and dignitaries including Bono, Bill Clinton, Oprah, and others talking about Jones’ accomplishments ranging from working on Michael Jackson’s Thriller to being an artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics, was shown before the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra took the stage. The group performed a couple of Jones’ songs including a number he did with Ray Charles. The bar chatter continued to be louder than the sounds coming from the stage but it seemed more appropriate during the jazz portion of the evening.
While there were good performances during the awards ceremony, like all awards shows the afterparty was where the real action was to be found. It included a set by The Tea Cozies, a jangle-pop garage-rock band that was more upbeat and energetic than anything during the preceding two hours. Unfortunately by the time The Tea Cozies took the stage the Showbox had almost emptied. But the handful of folks who stuck around were treated to a fun, playful set by a young group with plenty of potential.
Unfortunately there was no hip hop celebrated in the form of an award Wednesday (maybe next year?) but local hip hop was in the house. Tilson of party-rap group The Saturday Knights along with Champagne Champagne members Pearl Dragon and Thomas Gray were up front and center in the crowd rocking out to the Tea Cozies. It is great that Seattle supports the music community with Seattle City of Music, but it is better that the scene supports itself. That’s something that comes more naturally than scented candles and a red carpet at the Showbox.
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