WMAs Celebrate Local Music Scene

Before there was a renaissance in Worcester, there were the local musicians — and they deserve to be celebrated. That was the message at Pulse’s 12th annual Worcester Music Awards. “This evening is about the people in this room…it’s about the local music scene,” said Paul Giorgio, publisher of Pulse. The Cove Music Hall, which hosted the awards held April 11, was filled with local musicians, fans, supporters and folks with a passion for music dancing, singing-along and mingling throughout the night.

It was the night to celebrate the diversity of genres in the Worcester music scene, ranging from country, to pop, to hip hop, to jazz — Worcester’s music scene has it all. It was the night to recognize not only the talent, but the hard work, of Worcester’s musicians. It was also the night to discover new talent. It was a night of surprises.

The night took off with singer/guitarist Kevin Shields’s unique take on popular songs. And variety was at the heart of the evening, with performances that ranged from an Elvis tribute band to rock.

Hot Letter, the second act of the night, blended vocals and chords into a rock ’n roll serenade.

“This is the second time here, and I’ve gotta say, it’s the most heartwarming and lively crowd…I love this city, so it’s always great to play here,” D’Orazio said. “The energy is electric!”

The host, Erick Godin from Flock of Assholes, kept the crowd engaged with his hilarious commentary. The previous owner of Lucky Dog Music Hall (which then became The Cove), Godin said, “I don’t own here anymore…I own the stage tonight. But it is different to be anywhere but owning…it’s always a great time to be a customer, and I love Ted [the new owner] because the guy bought a great bar and really turned it into his great bar.”

Flock of Assholes was nominated for two categories, Best Cover Band and Best Live Act, but won none.

“It feels very odd not winning your category when we’ve won every single year… I saw that and I felt a little bad, but there’s a whole bunch of great bands in there, and they deserve every single bit of respect they get,” Godin said, adding with a smile, “And I took this gig because they were like, you know…free booze. That sounded cool. I said sure!”

Feminine energy took over the stage midway through the awards with a powerful performance by the trio Sarah French, Amanda Cote and Cara Brindisi. The energy between the three women was infectious. The trio performed a beautiful rendition of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”

“The most wonderful thing about music is that it brings us together as a community,” French said.

The women, who usually perform solo, decided to combine their talents and give the audience a captivating performance.

“This happened really organically; we don’t usually perform as a group…but we should,” Brindisi said.

“These two [Brindisi and French] are the best,” Cote added.

In one of the highlights of the evening, Mark Veau was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award goes out to someone who has worked diligently with and in the Worcester music scene throughout his or her life. Now the program director and on-air personality at 98.9 Nash Icon, Veau began his career in Worcester in 1982. Veau also worked as a film producer and has racked up a number of awards for his work.

“I didn’t expect this,” a shocked Veau said. “This city has been so nice to me…I’ve been here since the ’70s and to come here at 54 years old and win — this is an emotional experience.”

Veau, who was visibly emotional, grateful and taken aback, continued, “It was an honor to be nominated and even more of an honor to actually win something.”

Veau also expressed his gratitude for having been able to nurture country singer Ashley Jordan. There have only been two artists to win the Nashville to Nash Next competition two years in a row, and one of them is Ashley Jordan.

“I was here [The Cove] the night the Rolling Stones played…I was in high school then, so I snuck in, but it was worth it,” Veau said. “I don’t regret that.”

Speaking of the local Worcester music scene, Veau expressed the necessity for more venues for live music and opportunities for radio airplay.

“There’s a lot of talent…they [musicians] would love a place to play and get radio airplay…that’s why I’m proud of Ashley…but there should more places to play,” Veau said.

Country singer Ashley Jordan was truly the star of the night, winning six awards, including Best Female Vocalist and Best Country Act.

“I was not expecting anything. I was coming to show support for all the local musicians,” Jordan said, with tears in her eyes. “I started out as a Boston street performer, you know… so this is just…wow.”

Jordan’s music career was always supported by her grandfather, who passed earlier this year. His birthday was on April 11 — the day of the Worcester Music Awards — and she dedicated her Best Country Act award to him.

“I lost my grandfather, and he was always the one constantly supporting me, so this night is really for him,” Jordan said. “Also, Mark Veau is a great mentor and continuously encouraged me to chase my dreams. It’s a huge and emotional night.”

The next performance took over the entire club. It was Tester, who opened for KISS in 2011. The crowd began jamming out, and with the purple lighting and fog, it felt as though I was indeed watching a band opening for KISS — but in the ’70s.

“It feels so good being out here, you know, with so many different genres performing tonight and people enjoying each and every bit of it,” Tony Casella, of Tester, said.

“We’ve won 12 awards since 2010. It’s really a dream,” bandmate Nikolas James added.

The night suddenly echoed the ’50s with the Fellowship of the King’s nostalgic performance. When they performed Elvis’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” the dance-floor was immediately crowded with people paying tribute to Elvis.

“This whole night has been an honor, especially to perform with all of these people,” Danny Fontaine, of Fellowship of the King, said.

This throwback session was followed by the final round of awards, with the Blue Light Bandits winning Best Live Act. A perfect transition, as they were the closing performance of the night. Ricky Duran, of The Blue Light Bandits, won Best Male Vocalist and Best Acoustic Act.

“It means a lot because it makes everything feel worth it…I feel appreciated,” Duran said. “Sometimes, playing five days a week — and sometimes not a lot of people show up — but then I come here and see all these people out here, you know, it makes me feel appreciated.”

But Godin summed up the night best: “Live music is so important in Worcester, and we gotta keep at it.”

Kaiomi Inniss / Photography by Matt Wright

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