Whalie Awards celebrate New London music scene
New London — Representatives of the United Nations of New London Music — also known as the 2011 Whalie Awards — crammed the Hygienic Art Park Saturday night for an evening of camaraderie, tunes and well-deserved self-congratulations.
It was the sophomore year for Whalie and, as shepherded by founder/emcee Sean Murray, the evening was a fun-clustered pastiche of performances, the red carpet and cocktail party chatter — and the variety of artists and musical styles was spangly proof-positive that the New London scene's come a long way from its days as a secular indie rock stronghold.
Hip hop, punk, modern rock, jazz-rock and Americana performers, along with their families and friends, joined the scene's indie stalwarts in an overflowing turnout that was arguably the most patchwork gathering of folks in the city's recent history.
The fusion/rap group Above/Below won Album of the Year honors. The Record of the Year trophy went to Gone for Good for "The Bright Lights" and Gramz won Song of the Year for "I Have Arrived."
Matt Gouette won three Whalies, for Best Singer-Songwriter, Solo Album of the Year (for Emeline at the Moontower") and Best Music Video.
"Look at this, this is crazy," said Nancy Brossard Parent of the Rivergods, who won in the Best Americana category. She was glancing around the park and marveling over the throng. "It feels awesome to have won, but it's more about all these different bands being comrades."
The ceremony started with a literal red carpet that led from the Hygienic gates on Bank Street and unspooled, Yellow Brick Road-style, through the park into the seating area. In the casual fashion of New London proper, there wasn't a strict protocol. Arriving artists either charged right in or hung back, unsure, like middle school guys on one side of the gym at a dance, trying to see who would be first to cross over to the girls' section.
It made for some great people-watching. Again, the diversity of musical styles — and the attendant "looks" associated with each — made for a kaleidoscopic processional: tuxedos and suits, the sort of evening gown finery you'd expect from art majors with access to feathers, hip hop and metal outfits, the college-dude-unwashed-laundry look — and myriad configurations thereof.
Julia Gorham and Maria Bariss, both resplendant in neo-formal wear, were in attendance because it was the place to be.
"We just wanted to dress up and support the Hygienic summer season," Gorham said. "There's Hygienic winter events, and now it's time for summer. It's a wonderful place and this is a great thing."
Opening the show were Gramz, Camacho and Juz Cuz, followed by Murray, who stepped to the mic mopping his brow. "I kind of wish it was raining. The humidity's killing me," he said, grinning. Then: "I can't believe I'm welcoming you to the second Whalies! And thank you all — there were over 7,500 votes online."
With 29 different awards, several different presenters, two intermissions — and a three hour time limit, Murray and his crew were doing a nice job of keeping things rolling by deadline. Toward the back, it was difficult to hear, not because of sound problems but because there was so much casual interraction by the beer and wine tent.
But a lot of the conversation was between musicians and fans who were learning about each other.
"This is a great thing for New London," Jus Cuz said. "It's people having a good time listening to each other's music. I discovered a lot of new music tonight."
Peter Anderson of The Fears, who won Best Dance Song, said that the Whalies are the best thing to happen to New London music.
"We're a city that's built around its arts community," Anderson said. "(The Whalies) have passed the initiation."
Steve Elci, a former rocker who now focuses on children's music, won for Best Solo Performance ("Dance With You"). He was excited and humbled. "This is unbelievable. I am actually surprised but very thankful. I mean, I play kids' music. What does that say about this arts scene that they'd recognize what I do? I'm excited for the whole community."
The Franklin Brothers, one of the evening's first performers, who throw down a very sophisticated, Steely Dan-style sound, probably would have been anathema to the New London scene a few years back. Not only did they play, but they took home a Whalie for "New London Blues" in the Best Blues/Country Rock Performance.
Just before their performance — and prior to their award — the band's Carl Franklin said, "I can't describe how great it is to play here. We've got eight years of energy focused on this one moment in time because we've sort of been outside the scene. It's wonderful to be part of this, and I'm excited for people to hear us."
When rapper NME the Illest took the stage, his energetic rhymes and crowd control — he had everyone surging forward and on their feet — spurred the night to take on an even higher pitch.
Rich Martin, longtime New London music impressario, shook his head. His band Low-Beam, which won last year's Album of the Year award even though the group had been broken up for years, was actually scheduled to play.
Since that record, "Call of the Light Brigade," has slowly broken across the U.S. since the first Whalie show — and hit #183 last week on the College Music Journal (CMJ) charts — it's almost as though Whalie has yet another claim to legitimacy and momentum.
"Who knows what might happen?" Martin said. He laughed. "We've actually rehearsed for this. We're having fun. What a great time to get together again and play."
Day Staff Writer Stephen Chupaska contributed to this story.
And the winners are ...
Album of the Year: Above/Below “Two Sides”
Song of the Year: Gramz “I Have Arrived”
Record of the Year: Gone For Good “The Bright Lights”
Best Hiphop: NME
Best Music Video: Matt Gouette “Opinion”
Best DJ: The Swagger Jackers
Urban / Hiphop Album of the Year: Erik Lamb “Shoot Everything”
Best Indie/Experimental: Brava Spectre
Best Hardcore: End All Suffering
Indie/Rock Album of the Year: Sodium Lights “Transtulit”
Best Punk/Ska Performance: Sadplant “Codependence”
Best Urban Alternative Performance: Erik Lamb “Shoot Everything”
Best Rock: The Reducers
Best Blues / Country Rock Performance: Franklin Brothers “New London Blues”
Best Alternative Performance: Straight to VHS “Patchwork City”
Best Solo Performance: Steve Elci “Dance With You”
Best Hardcore Performance: Light In May “Modern Modifications”
Best Dance Performance: The Fears “Closer”
Solo Album of the Year: Matt Gouette “Emeline at the Moontower”
Best Indie Experimental Performance: Get Haunted “Crimson Ribbons”
Best Americana: The Rivergods
Best Alternative: The Facelifters
Best Music Themed Series: Sinner's Circle
Best Punk/Ska: The Hempsteadys
Best Hiphop Performance: Gramz “I Have Arrived”
Best Singer Songwriter: Matt Gouette