Whalie music awards highlight New London at its best
Forget the Solstice. The official start of summer — in New London, anyway — has become the annual Whalie Awards ceremony. A celebration of the region's lushly fertile local music scene, the sixth annual Whalies took place Saturday night in the city's Hygienic Art Park.
As evidenced by the stylistic variety of awards and a diverse full-house of nominees, families, friends and fans, the event has become something far bigger than its original construct — which was a fun, partially tongue-in-cheek exercise in musical camaraderie and self-congratulations.
Just before the show started, Vince Tuckwood, a singer-songwriter nominated in several categories, took a look around the park.
"The Whalies are good for a lot of reasons, but in the biggest context, it's the only night of the year you see everyone together — black, white, brown — and we're all celebrating art and music as a reflection of the community. How great is that and what can we learn from that?"
New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio echoed the thoughts. "This event is like a microcosm of the city's diversity and potential. There are so many great musical styles celebrated here — and it's all representative of the many facets of New London."
The evening started at 6 p.m. with a casual red carpet processional as artists filed in dressed in the sort of sartorial free-for-all one would hope for from a music awards ceremony.
This included GQ style suits and gowns, lots of mild eccentricity, and outfits heavily rooted in the rock tradition of everyone from Slade to Lemmy.
First time nominees Brazen Youth, comprising two 17-year-olds, Nick Lussier and Charlie Dahlkie, weren't quite sure what to wear. At first, they showed up looking as though they'd just mowed the yard.
"Our shirts looked like Goodwill and we had grease stains on our shorts," Lussier said. "Thankfully, someone said, 'You guys really ought to go change.' So we did."
The ceremony proper kicked off shortly after 7 p.m. with a rendition of John Legend's "Glory" by multi-nominated rapper Franc Grams with participants of the New London Youth Talent Show. Grams, a city native, coordinates that annual talent show, and their performance clearly moved the crowd.
Host Sean Murray then took the stage. A co-founder of the Whalies, Murray welcomed the audience by observing what a productive year it had been for the scene.
He said, "I'd like to particularly thank the artists for making me listen to 400 tracks of local music." Murray then joked, "That's a good thing but I don't know if I can book any more local shows for the rest of the year."
Though the Whalies extended beyond print deadline, 40 trophies, in People's Choice and Critics' Choice categories, were scheduled to be handed out to winners from among more than 260 nominated artists and music business professionals.
Also scheduled to perform were Ravens in the Woods, The Friendly Ghost, The Rivergods, Brazen Youth, Grams and WolfGhost, and Chumzilla, NME the Illest and The Hempsteadys together in a show-closing mash-up.
As the beer and wine concessions did brisk business, the sustained and collective mood was warm, celebratory and even a bit goofy — but the underlying sense of community spirit and mutual admiration was tangible.
This was particularly evident during a poignant early moment when Hugh Birdsall accepted the Best Folk/Bluegrass award on behalf of his band Dogbite — who earlier this year lost bassist Jim Fitzgerald to cancer.
"In any case, it's hard to keep a band together," Birdsall said. "But you do it because to play music in front of people is the best thing in the world. The worst thing in the world, though, is when a band member dies. So what happens is that you end up doing the best thing in the world to get over the worst thing in the world. This award is for Jim."
Complete list of Critics' Choice and People's Choice winners from the 2015 Whalie Awards ceremony held Saturday night in New London's Hygienic Arts Park.
2015 WHALIE AWARD WINNERS (Critics' Choice)
Album Of The Year: Chumzilla "The Earth Man's Curse"
Best Pop Album: Daphne Lee Martin "Frost"
Best Rock Album: Straight To VHS "Weekend Weekend Weekend"
Best Hip Hop Album / Mixtape: Franc Grams "The Premonition"
Record / EP Of The Year: Paul Brockett Roadshow "Up All Night"
Song of the Year: The Brazen Youth "Alright"
Breakthrough Artist: Delyon Don
Best Pop/Rock Video: This Wretch In Me "Charlatan's Web"
Best Hip Hop/R&B Video: Jus Cuz "Momma Said"
Best Hip Hop / R&B Collaboration Video: Various Artists "New London Cypher #2"
Best Pop Rock Performance: The McJaggers "Gotta Girl Who Dunno 'Bout Love"
Best Rock Performance: Fatal Film "Oh Hell"
Best Indie Performance: The Brazen Youth "Alright"
Best Pop Performance: Steve Elci and Friends "Imagination Nation"
Best Americana Performance: The Rivergods "Fall Where They Fall"
Best Roots Rock Performance: Sue Menhart Band "Can't Feel The Rain"
Best Punk/Ska Performance: Dead City Riot "Spraycans"
Best Hiphop/Rap Performance: Delyon Don ft. Streetcode Danj "Turnup"
Best Hiphop/R&B Performance: Yasmin Ward "Choke"
Best Hiphop/R&B Collaboration: Franc Gramz ft. Craigy F "Down For Me"
Best Urban Alternative Performance: Chumzilla ft. Benn Grim "Respect My Odyssey"
2015 WHALIE AWARD WINNERS (People's Choice)
Best Rock Act: Suicide Dolls
Best Indie/Garage Act: Straight to VHS
Best Pop Act: Daphne Lee Martin
Best Punk/Ska Act: The Hempsteadys
Best Hardcore / Metal Act: Bedroom Rehab Corporation
Best Hip Hop/Rap: Franc Grams
Best Hip Hop / R&B Act: Kamoflage
Best Urban Alternative Act: N.M.E. the illest
Best Singer-Songwriter: Ethan Cash
Best Folk/Bluegrass: Dogbite
Best Americana: The Hoolios
Best Roots Rock Act: Ramblin' Dan Stevens
Best Jam/Prog Act: Incognito Sofa Love
Best Jazz Act: Thor Jensen Jazz Organization
Best DJ: Seanho
Best Radio DJ: Marko Fontaine / Punk Rock Jukebox
Best Producer: Carl Franklin
Best Music Series: Hygienic Art Park Concert Series
Best Music-Themed Event / Festival: New London Youth Talent Show