Open-to-the-public Music Showcase starting at 10 p.m. with live performances by M.I.R.V. and Mensclub
As many a tourist has pointed out, San Francisco has one of the greatest music scenes in the country. At first glance, it might seem that Bay Area locals have become spoiled by this embarrassment of riches; what outsiders fail to realize is that most San Franciscans were not born San Franciscans, and not a day goes by when we don't thank our lucky stars for the music on every corner. With such burgeoning nightlife, it is not surprising that a little ol' music awards ceremony like the WAMMIES could generate so much enthusiasm from musicians and so much eager participation from the local music aficionados. While this year's gifted nominees don't need awards to prove their talent, it is a great privilege for us to be able to acknowledge them when it most counts -- before that big record deal. Big thanks go out to all the bookers, promoters, indie labels, journalists, club owners, and DJs who helped us nominate the bands. Thanks also to all of our readers who diligently filled out their ballots and mailed them back (there were more than ever this year). Most of all, thanks to all of the musicians (especially the ballot stuffers -- you tickle us) who perform night after night. You make the city hum.
-- Silke Tudor
Filling in quite nicely (along with Phish and the Mother Hips) for the Grateful Dead, and appealing to the tastes of latter-day hippies all along this side of the Pacific Rim, Box Set pursues music to soothe and rhythms that move. Intricate guitars weave with tuneful vocals in pleasant counterpoint, and untroubling lyrics provide the odd wistful nod. Nothing produced by the songwriting team of Jim Brunberg and Jeff Pehrson, who often perform as an acoustic duo, will blemish your acid trip or your microbrew buzz; the rhythm section (in the band's electric incarnation) lays down a relaxed groove that shakes tail feathers but leaves ponytails intact. With naturals like Box Set, Deadheads can rest assured that running barefoot on the grass at outdoor festivals will persist well into the next century.
-- Meltya Chabit
Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Cats
"Countrypolitan" was what they used to call artists like Patsy Cline and Ray Price, who gussied up their down-home musical backgrounds with the ubiquitous string sections and vocal chorales of Hit Parade radio circa 1961. Every Thursday night, the Paradise Lounge hosts what could be called the contemporary, Bay Area version of countrypolitan: Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Cats, a quartet of sharp-dressed rubes from as far south as the airport. They can't fit string sections or choruses on the minuscule stage upstairs at the Paradise -- pedal steel player Joe Goldmark is usually sitting out amid a sea of cafe tables -- but Telecaster virtuoso Campilongo needs little help embellishing his mind-scrambling fretwork. His comprehensive grasp of innumerable styles, from cornfed boogie to luscious jazz to Link Wray/Duane Eddy stomps, ensures that his band stays as supple as a pair of well-oiled, rattlesnake-hide shitkickers. For lack of a better term, Campilongo calls his band's style "cowboy jazz"; it ain't really cowboy, and it ain't really jazz, but it sure is a boot in the seat of the pants.
-- James Sullivan
For over five years the Naked Barbies have been charming the pants off of East Bay music lovers. While their dark, dreamy sets don't make it to this side of the water nearly often enough, they have maintained a stalwart San Francisco fan base. Devotees were rewarded earlier this year when the Barbies put out their second album, Tarnished, which drips with honey-sweet yearning, deep-seated surrender, and an ode to Roy Orbison. On occasion, lead singer Patty Spiglanin will remind locals of Tarnation's Paula Frazer at her Gothic country best; but while Spiglanin tugs on heartstrings with haunting fervor, she is also quite at home flouncing her way through a frisky rockabilly tune or two, leaving the final impression of a morose, modern-day Patsy Cline. Spiglanin's band of talented multi-instrumentalists matches her in texture and depth with mandolin, accordion, organ, tambourine, pedal steel, and the occasional egg.
-- Silke Tudor
Alvin Youngblood Hart
Born Gregory E. Hart, Alvin (as in the cartoon chipmunk) Youngblood Hart first discovered Son House while reading a book at the age of 10. Although blues was not popular with kids in sunny California, Hart's road was already laid before him. By 14, he was playing guitar seriously, even lending his skill to a few garage bands. During high school, Hart's family moved to Chicago, where blues was the reigning musical currency. Albums by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Bukka White, and Charley Patton confirmed Hart's love of the acoustic country blues of the Mississippi Delta. While stationed on a riverboat outside Carrollton, Miss., during a stint in the Coast Guard, Hart began sitting in at the local ruffian bar, playing music for tips. At the end of his enlistment in 1993, Hart found himself in Berkeley working at a record store and playing music whenever and wherever he could. A four-night opening slot at Yoshi's put him in touch with Michael Nash and Carey Williams, who got him signed to the blues-based OKeh label. This year's debut, Big Mama's Door, found the young musician tapping into the traditions of his ancestors without compromise. Although most of the album was penned by his own hand, there is no unnecessary nod to contemporary music. Hart's voice, songwriting, and picking style come about as close to the Delta as you can get without getting your feet wet.
-- Silke Tudor
Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues
The infectious energy and sod-under-the-fingernails grit of Preacher Boy Chris Watkins' music makes a strong case for grounding modern electric blues on acoustic bedrock. The leader's whiskey-scarred vocals (mined from the same gravel tracks as Blind Willie Johnson or Tom Waits) and core string-picking (on a gang of instruments from National Steel to mandolin) ensure a rural earthiness amid his group's urban rhythms and amped-up bass and guitars. But just as the early bluesmen struggled to maintain community by trying to reconcile the raunchy rep of the entertainer's life with the "right thing" of the church, Watkins faces similar disharmony among some of the elder brothers on the circuit who challenge the authenticity of his pale-faced blues. This is a lowdown shame given Watkins' full-range commitment to the music and vigilant props to legendary figures like Charley Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson. Preacher Boy and a revolving lineup of respected locals (at times including virtuosic reed player Ralph Carney, harp player Big Bones, and guitarist Jim Campilongo) burn through generations and geographies -- from Kansas City to Mississippi to Appalachia to New Orleans -- with a rare naturalness. Be assured: This is the real thing.