Published June 05. 2014 4:00AM Updated June 05. 2014 3:18PM
Traditionally, those celebrating a fifth anniversary are honored with gifts of wood.
Yeah? Well, how about a Whalie trophy, instead?
Indeed, the homegrown awards ceremony that celebrates and honors the southeastern Connecticut music scene turns five years old with a gala Saturday in New London's Hygienic Art Park.
"I actually didn't realize the Whalies were in its fifth year until we wrote up the press release. I still can't wrap my head around it," says Sean Murray, the founder and perennially congenial host of the event. "When I first conceptualized this, I didn't expect it to get the reaction it's gotten every year."
Murray thinks the charm, validity and essence of the Whalies is anchored not just in a fertile artistic environment, but also in the community itself.
"It's not the Grammys or the Video Music Awards, but I think that's the most interesting point," Murray says. "We put on this big event to celebrate artists that may live next door to you, the artists you run into at the coffee shop. They work at the retail stores and insurance agencies and everyday mundane jobs. There's nothing glamorous about their lives, but I think the Whalies injects a little glamour into the idea of the 'local musician' - and for that one day, they're celebrities."
The palette of the Whalies continues to expand. This year, approximately 40 awards will be handed out across such genres as hip-hop, pop, rock, metal, Americana, indie and more. New categories include Best Jazz Act, Best Radio DJ, Producer of the Year, Best Annual Event/Festival, Best R&B Act, and numerous new music video award categories. (For a complete list of nominees, go to wailingcity.com.)
"The categories are adjusted every year based on the output of the artists," Murray explains. "The best example of this is the music video category. The first year, I had a hard time finding six videos to be nominated. This year, there are nearly 30 - and they're very well produced. It shows our music scene is evolving and videos are becoming part of the norm."
Trophies are determined by two different voting blocks. There are Critics' Choice and People's Choice awards. The former are determined by a nationwide committee of industry professionals, the latter by online public voting - with a ballot that is available at wailingcity.com.
As always, the Whalies ceremony starts with a Red Carpet processional, and the actual award presentations will be intertwined with live performances. This year's onstage acts represent a stylistic cross-section as well as a mix of longtime veterans and relative newcomers. Included: Flowers & Kain, John Fries & the Elements, Straight to VHS, The MacLean Sisters, the CBYD Trio, J.A.B.S., Vincent Tuckwood, Horns of Ormus, Fatal Film and the Fly Ones with Camacho, Kathianna, Streetcode Danj and Louie Rock.
"There's always a balancing act (of nominees and performing artists) when it comes to an event like this," Murray says. "You want to honor those who have been at it for a long time, but you also want to put these innovative new artists on a pedestal and show everyone what they can do. With an awards show, the focus is on the output of artists in the last year, so that makes the job of nominating far easier."
Given the natural and nurturing artistic environment of New London, it seems the Whalies will be an eagerly anticipated show for years to come.
"We're really proud of the Whalie Awards," says Rich Martin, general manager of the Hygienic Art Park. "It's a fun and refreshing way to celebrate this incredibly fertile music community here. It also serves as an incentive for groups to take their game to another level and release new material, videos and more so they're in the mix each year. We hope it's a part of the culture for years to come."
Whalie Awards, 7 p.m. Saturday (red carpet, 6 p.m.), Hygienic Art Park, 79 Bank St., New London; $10, wailingcity.com.