In 2005, John Hoeffleur made the following soon-to-be-understatement: “I must confess I personally have a bad feeling about it.” Hoeffleur, the frontman for local group The Beauty Shop, was speaking (on the local music forum OpeningBands) of the WPGU/buzz Local Music Awards, then in its first year. The Beauty Shop took home the award for “Best Roots/Americana Band” that year, but this year, they have turned down a nomination. “In the past the price of my acquiescence has been a couple free drinks,” says Hoeffleur of his current nomination refusal. “This year, my costs have gone up.”
“I feel that any attention paid toward the local music scene is a good thing,” says Jon Hansen, Operations Manager at WPGU 107.1 FM. The way he sees it, WPGU is doing just that tonight — by presenting the fourth annual Local Music Awards, at which four bands will perform at The Highdive, and locals will be awarded top honors in fourteen categories, such as “Best Rock Artist” and “Best Student Band.” However, the event is not going uncriticized.
Protests against the LMAs this year have rung louder than ever, and several bands have taken a stand against the ceremony, some going so far as to, like Hoeffleur, refuse their nominations. They see the LMAs as unnecessary and insincere; some protesters take issue with the voting process (over 1,000 fans voted in eleven categories, and three write-ins, via an online ballot), saying that it pits local bands against each other in a popularity contest, causing divisiveness in the scene.
“The key is making sure the sponsors understand why we, the musicians, are frustrated,” says Ryan Groff, lead singer and guitarist of the band Elsinore. “(The LMAs are) a ‘who’s better than who’ theatre of local music.” Elsinore rescinded their “Best Folk/Americana Artist” nomination this year, and will instead be performing at a benefit show held at the same time as the LMAs — next door, at Memphis on Main. “Yes, it does ‘showcase’ local bands, but why not keep it at that?”
Hoeffleur agrees: “(The LMA procedure is) exclusionary by nature. It makes winners and losers out of local folks who are, in truth, neither.”
Hansen, however, feels that the voting process isn’t as divisive to local bands as it is unifying to groups and their fans; he agrees that there are “some obvious elements” of a popularity contest inherent in the process, but that’s part of the game: “If anything, these awards turn into a ‘marketing’ or ‘grass roots’ contest. I think it’s a great way for artists to try and connect to their fan base, and for their fans to feel like they helped their favorite bands.”
Yet others feel that the protesters themselves are dividing the scene. “I think that some of the artists who are protesting the LMAs this year by opting out have forgotten that they too once needed the exposure that such an event could provide for them,” says first-time LMAs nominee and performer Carl Hauck. “By vocalizing their dissatisfaction with the awards, they’re doing a potential disservice to up-and-coming artists who want that same exposure. It’s perfectly fine if they choose not to participate, but in knocking the awards they are also knocking the artists who do choose to participate.”
Some of the artists choosing not to participate say that they feel “knocked” in the first place. One recurring criticism of the LMAs is that, beyond the awards ceremony, WPGU and buzz allegedly don’t invest much interest in the local scene, and therefore the awards are seen as insincere gestures. “We felt slapped, hard, in the face,” Groff says of Elsinore’s nomination as “Best Folk/Americana Band” this year, noting that the group’s sound has evolved and “it was evident that no one (…) knew our band enough to know where to stick us.” Additionally, he says that attempts to replace old, lower-quality live recordings of Elsinore still in rotation did not come to fruition; “I got no response (to my messages), meaning someone read it and wasn’t interested in new local music from a band they ‘really support.’”
Although he acquiesces that “WPGU hasn’t done the best job in its portrayal of the awards as a celebration of the music scene,” Hansen insists that the event is still a positive promotion for all parties involved: “We are blessed with such a strong local music scene that often struggles to get new people — especially students — involved. Even as an employee at the station, it wasn’t until the first Local Music Awards that I knew anything about the scene. A lot of my co-workers and friends outside of WPGU feel the same way. We always felt (the LMAs ceremony) was the best way to get the most people involved.”
Hansen also notes that recent discussions have helped prompt the radio station to actively work at widening its coverage of local music. “The ‘controversy’’ has been valuable,” he says. “WPGU programming and music staffs have begun to really look at our year round local music coverage. I’ve had some interesting back and forth e-mails with a lot of local musicians and people involved in the scene. We appreciate all the criticism, we love the compliments, and we’ll continue to try and find the right balance.”
A balance seems to be the right solution for all points of view; Groff is emphatic that his main concern is for “the camaraderie and all-around love that we all feel for our music scene.”
Meanwhile, Hauck shows that he has no hard feelings: while he will be happily performing at the LMAs, he says, “I’d sure as hell like to go to that Memphis on Main show.”
No matter how you slice it, a glance at the varied line-ups available tonight reveals a showcase in itself of the great big talents we have in these small towns:
Marimbist Jane Boxall kicks the night off with a free performance at Krannert Center (500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana) beginning at 5 p.m.
Join our Smile Politely editors and writers at Mike N’ Molly’s (105 N. Market St., Champaign) at 7:30 p.m., where we will be congregating for cold beer and contagious conversation.
Hip-Hop Awareness Week continues at The Canopy Club (708 S. Goodwin, Urbana) with a line-up a mile long, with The Sugar Gliders backing local headliners Krukid, Cornbread, Jonah and Text — with ten other acts on the bill. The sets kick off at 7:30 and cover is $7.
The Beauty Shop, Elsinore, Tall Tale, Zmick, Common Loon and World’s First Flying Machine will be performing at Memphis on Main (55 E. Main St., Champaign) beginning at 8:00 p.m. Your donation at the door will go to ABC Counseling or the Illinois Disciples Foundation, your choice.
The Local Music Awards feature performers Corn Desert Ramblers, Agent Mos, Carl Hauck, Snowsera and Scurvine at The Highdive (51 E. Main St., Champaign). The ceremony begins at 8:00 p.m. and admission is free for the first time in LMA history.