There is no other annual music event here that inspires in me as much anticipation and annoyance as the San Diego Music Awards.
Barring divine intervention, Monday’s 27th annual edition of the SDMAs will be no exception, as dozens of area musicians are simultaneously celebrated and insulted. This good news/bad news tradition, which has endured for three decades, is much like having a great meal every 12 months — capped off by food poisoning.
First, the very good news.
Through its Taylor Guitars for Schools program, the nonprofit San Diego Music Foundation — under whose auspices the SDMAs are presented — has provided free instruments and lessons for more than 55,000 students across San Diego County over the past three decades. The previous 26 editions of the show have raised $595,600, according to SDMA founder Kevin Hellman, to pay for those instruments and lessons.
Along the way, the SDMAs have honored an array of San Diego-bred musicians who have earned national or international acclaim. They range from Eddie Vedder, Jewel, Rocket From The Crypt and Jason Mraz to blink-182, Switchfoot, Nickel Creek and P.O.D.
Lifetime achievement honorees have included Charles McPherson, Jack Tempchin, Mike Wofford, Iron Butterfly, Jeannie & Jimmy Cheatham, Tomcat Courtney, Lou Curtiss, the Beat Farmers, Jack Costanzo and more. This year’s Lifetime honorees are the roots-rocking Paladins, who have been together since 1980.
There are also the many notable winners who are no longer active — Bordertown, Loam, Tobacco Road, rust, Wise Monkey Orchestra, Incredible Moses Leroy and many more.
And, of course, there are this year’s eminently worthy nominees, who are headed by the field-leading Trouble in the Wind and the Schizophonics, with three nominations each. Following close behind, with two nominations each, are jazz keyboard wiz Joshua White, singer-songwriters Sara Petite and Ariel Levine, and the bands Little Hurricane, B-Side Players and Buckfast Superbee.
The bad news is the SDMAs have been repeatedly marred by loud, incessant yammering by too many overly lubricated attendees. Their apparent goal is to drown out the musicians they are allegedly there to honor. They usually succeed.
Sadly, this isn’t a new phenomenon, as other Union-Tribune reviewers have also noted over the years. Since its debut in 1991 at Sherwood Auditorium, I’ve attended all but one edition of the SDMAs and have previewed and reviewed a majority of them, except in 1995, when I presented two awards.
The Union-Tribune’s 1994 SDMA review was the first to lament the nonstop blathering by the audience. A decade later, the headline of my 2003 review read: “Music Awards are a tower of babble,” following a night in which hundreds of motor mouths loudly blabbed throughout awards presentations and live music performances alike.
Sadly, this has held true virtually everywhere the SDMAs have been held — Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, Copley Symphony Hall, Spreckels Theater, 4th&B, SDSU’s Montezuma Hall, Viejas Concerts in the Park and House of Blues.
The only time I recall that an incessantly bellowing crowd did not mar the proceedings was in 2016, the one year the SDMAs did not take place.
SDMA winners, presenters and hosts have asked the audience to hold things down, to no avail. One year, after winning an award, vocal dynamo Candye Kane approached a group of deafening attendees who had nearly doused her with drinks. She asked them to dial it down. They didn’t.
To be sure, it is daunting to mount an awards show with so many moving parts. And, more than anyone, San Diego Music Foundation founder Hellman has devoted countless hours to this largely thankless task.
His contributions have been so key that, when he bowed out following the 2015 SDMAs, it was only after 17 months — and Hellman’s return to the San Diego Music Foundation — that the event resumed.
But he has repeatedly rejected suggestions to hold the SDMAs at a venue without a bar, or to close the bar during the performances and awards presentations, and open it before and after.
“I think you’d have a bigger problem if the bar wasn’t open,” Hellman told me in 2014, adding: “This isn’t an issue for 99 percent of the people who attend. It’s a social event as much as an awards show. Maybe we could put (audio) speakers back by the bar.”
Over the years, I have heard more than enough complaints to strongly attest that this is an issue for a good deal more than one percent of the attendees. But, in almost any setting, loud revelers can drown out a far larger crowd. And the phenomenon of people loudly blathering at concerts is endemic at venues large and small. But shouldn’t an awards show honoring musicians be different?
For the record, I enjoy a good party as much as anyone. And enthusiastically voicing support for the nominees and winners is a key ingredient at any good awards show.
But enthusiasm and disrespect are not the same. Neither are periodic cheering and constant bellowing.
So it’s a mystery why anyone buys a ticket to celebrate San Diego’s musical talents, only to so rudely disrespect them. Ditto why nominated musicians, who are admitted free, disrespect their peers. They can do that at the after-party — or at the nominees pre-party, which this year takes place Friday at the Karl Strauss Brewery Tasting Room.
Or, they can take a cue from the televised Golden Globe Awards, where the alcohol flows freely throughout, but — somehow — the attendees manage to quiet down for the awards presentations and acceptance speeches.
To quote one of Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” To quote the legendary mime, Marcel Marceau: “It’s good to shut up sometimes.” And to quote Monty Python alum Eric Idle: “John Cleese once told me he’d do anything for money. So I offered him a pound ($2.50) to shut up, and he did.”
In the meanwhile, if you spot someone at this year’s SDMAs with an extra-large bottle of Pepto-Bismol, well, bottom’s up.
The 27th annual San Diego Music Awards, featuring performances by P.O.D., Trouble in the Wind, Berkley Hart, Whitney Shay, Surefire Soul Ensemble and Parker Meridien
When: 6 p.m. Monday
Where: House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter
Tickets: $40, plus service charges
Phone: (800) 745-3000