Austin Music Awards: 2020

The Austin Music Awards took place as scheduled on Wednesday, March 11th, at the ACL/Moody Theater. This annual show recognizes the achievements of our local musicians. Bill and I made a late-minute decision to attend after SXSW was canceled and balcony seats became available. We had an entire row to ourselves up there. This was one of the last big music events before COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in Austin.

Award winners were selected through a contest sponsored by local “alternative” weekly newspaper, The Austin Chronicle. Chronicle co-founders Lewis Black and Nick Barbara welcomed everyone to the event. Black, who also co-founded SXSW, reminded the audience, “This is our town. This is our community. This is our music.”

Comedian Chris Cuba and musician Jackie Venson were the emcees for the evening. The duo were well-prepared and exchanged some friendly banter and quips as they introduced the various awards.

Many of the award winners are not well-known outside of Austin. One of them (I forget who) exclaimed, “This is my first award for anything!”

Some, but not all, of the winners performed. One of our favorite local bands, Grupo Fantasma, won in the Best Latin category, so we were glad that they played a song.

Mayor Steve Adler noted that no one in Austin had been diagnosed with COVID-19 yet. He urged everyone to support local businesses, tip wait staff, and buy merchandise from musicians. At that time, Adler was being criticized for deciding to cancel SXSW, and a few hecklers in the audience yelled out at him. Just a short week later, it became apparent that this was the right decision—albeit a painful one—to protect our community.

Another of our favorite bands, Spoon, won the Best Rock award. The band members showed up to receive their award, but they did not perform.

Gary Clark Jr. won four awards: Musician of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best Blues & Best Guitar. Born and raised in Austin, Clark is well-known and quite popular here. Only a few musicians, including Clark, Patty Griffin, and Carolyn Wonderland, did not collect their awards in person.

Our city lost many fine musicians over the past year. Roky Erickson and Daniel Johnston were probably the best known, but seeing jazz pianist Rich Harney‘s name on the “In Memoriam” list made me sad. Rich had died unexpectedly in early January.

The finale featured various award winners, including Bill Carter (Townes Van Zandt Award, along with his wife Ruth), Tameca Jones (Best Vocals), Big Wy’s Brass Band (Best Horns), Emily Gimble (Best Keyboards), Lolita Lynne (Best Bass), and J.J. Johnson (Best Drums). This under-three-hours show was a little shorter than some of the previous AMA ceremonies. Bill and I were glad that we were able to get out and support Austin’s musicians. Little did we know that Stay at Home restrictions would soon be implemented here…

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