On their third try, the organizers of the Tampa Bay Music Awards hope to combine the best parts of the first two and put together a ceremony that is at once classy and imbued with the celebratory spirit of rock 'n' roll. The first event, held at a Clearwater nightclub, was a terrific party, but the actual award presentations often took a back seat to the revelry. Year two saw a move to the Special Events Center deep in the recesses of the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. Simply put, not enough people showed up. But the program ran like clockwork, the production was superb and there was a niggling sense that winning one of the statuettes really meant something.
"As much as people scoff it off, it does mean something," says Kacy Ross, singer/guitarist for rockers Deloris Telescope, which won four awards (including Band of the Year) in '90. "If you say you don't wanna win, you're lyin'."
This year finds the Tampa Bay Music Awards moving to another new venue, the Ritz Theater in Ybor City, and a new night: Friday (previous events were held on Monday to accommodate the schedules of the musicians).
"Changing the night was a good move in the sense that people pick and choose their nights to go out in Tampa Bay," says Charlie Logan, an air personality for WYNF-FM (95), who will host the proceedings with his colleague Russ Albums. "It just makes it a more natural draw, and it's a low-impact way for people to get involved."
TBMA producer Max Borges was dealt a fairly severe blow with last year's light attendance and cannot afford a sluggish turnout tonight. With the strength of the program, the hot venue and prime weekend night, he expects a capacity crowd of 1,250. Borges says advance ticket sales have been brisk.
Awards range from most outstanding bassist to best hard-core band to best songwriter. (List of finalists, this page)
A diverse dozen of the bay area's best acts will perform short sets ranging from two to four numbers. The groups range in style from the alternative rock of Monday Mornings, Clang and Men From Earth to more mainstream hard-rockers Roxx Gang, Bleeding Hearts (doing an acoustic set) and Heartless to jazz singer Fred Johnson performing a cappella. Returning Band of the Year, the eclectic Deloris Telescope, will perform as well. It will be one of the group's last gigs before splitting up (Story, page 26).
Local music awards programs are cropping up around the country. They are a way for a community to celebrate the creativity within its own ranks. Except for a few rotating hotbeds _ Austin, Texas, Minneapolis and lately Seattle _ record labels don't aggressively scout for talent beyond the New York/L.A./London axis. Many insiders see the Tampa Bay Music Awards as a way to focus some attention from the national scene on this corner of Florida.
But more important is the bay area scene recognizing and congratulating itself, rewarding its best. It's good for the psyche. Some insiders feel that, despite the glitches, the Tampa Bay Music Awards have helped energize the local music environment.
"It provides a night of unification," says Logan, "to show how strong the local original-music scene really is."
Indeed, last year's event was an impressive display that featured numerous fine performances. Large video screens flanking the stage offered a more intimate view of the proceedings. Borge says video will be used again this year.
Although there is an inherent risk in turning art into a competition, Borges says he has seen real evidence of support and cooperation among bands. However, the first year _ in which the vote was conducted by "people's choice" _ brought some allegations of ballot-stuffing on the part of certain acts.
To strengthen the credibility of the selections, the organizers initiated a new process last year and held it over for this go 'round. The voting has been split into three groups, each one weighted evenly. The first voting body is the public, which mails in their favorites on ballots made available through local print media; second, 200 ballots were circulated to local industry people; third is the nine-member voting committee, which includes hard-core insiders such as radio people, studio owners and the like.
This year, Borges said, a voting committee member's vote would equal roughly 200 votes by the public. By giving in-the-know folk more input, the producers think that bands cannot generate voting campaigns and manufacture a win.
Borges added, "We're confident this method gives us a true representation of who the winners really should be."
AT A GLANCE
The Third Annual Tampa Bay Music Awards at 9 tonight at the Ritz Theater. Tickets are $12, available through Ticketmaster (which will add a service charge) or at the door.
TAMPA BAY MUSIC AWARDS FINALISTS
MOST OUTSTANDING MALE VOCALTST
MOST OUTSTANDING FEMALE VOCALIST
MOST OUTSTANDING GUITAR PLAYER
MOST OUTSTANDING BASS PLAYER
MOST OUTSTANDING KEYBOARD PLAYER
MOST OUTSTANDING DRUMMER
MOST OUTSTANDING SONGWRITER
Brad St. Warren
MOST OUTSTANDING ROCK BAND
MOST OUTSTANDING METAL BAND
MOST OUTSTANDING HARDCORE BAND
MOST OUTSTANDING PROGRESSIVE BAND
Mad For Electra
Men From Earth
MOST OUTSTANDING BLUES BAND
Backtrack Blues Band
Rock Bottom & the Cutaways
MOST OUTSTANDING JAZZ BAND
MOST OUTSTANDING REGGAE BAND
MOST OUTSTANDING TOP 40 BAND
Johnny G. Lyon Band
MOST OUTSTANDING RAP/FUNK BAND
In Full Effect
MOST OUTSTANDING VIDEO
MOST OUTSTANDING LOCAL L.P.
Bobby Friss Band
MOST OUTSTANDING NATIONAL L.P.
MOST OUTSTANDING NEW BAND
BAND OF THE YEAR