We Are The World

An epic last Austin Music Awards for director Margaret Moser

The Austin Ballroom of the Convention Center bustled with this town’s finest musicians on the Wednesday night of South by Southwest: fiddle phenom and local scion Warren Hood, Octopus Project theremin temptress Yvonne Lambert, KUTX on-air favorite Jay “Silver Fox” Trachtenberg, and the horn line of Hard Proof Afrobeat. Wild Child, Wheeler Brothers, Waterloo Records’ John Kunz – so many recognizable faces and people.

Minor Mishap Marching Band circled the room in yellow and black suit jackets.

“Tonight is about celebrating Austin music on a night when the whole world is in town,” emcee Andy Langer announced at the onset of the 32nd annual Austin Music Awards, the last ceremony run by departing Chronicle senior writer Margaret Moser. “For a long, long time, the center of the musical universe revolved around this woman.”

Once again, the March madness awards ceremony functioned simultaneously as town prom, homecoming, and graduation. Add in retirement party, too. The four-hour marathon loaded 1,000 people into the long, wide room, a combination of musicians both local and national, industry drop-ins, and vintage Austinites with their children and even grandchildren. Many attended expressly for the send-off of Moser, who, dressed in a black dress with her eternally blond hair held high up on her head, had no reservations about holding center stage.

In fact, Moser – who handled many components of the production since 1982 save for three years in the late Eighties – was first in the winner’s circle, taking home the Cindi Lazzari Artist Advocacy Award. Then came a cause close to her heart: the Youngbloods Choir, a youthful conglomeration of musicians born to some of Austin’s finest players. They’d all been raised to play, and as such had been tutored in one form or another by Moser.

Up came Will Sexton’s daughter Finley, then Grace London, Christiane Swenson, and Sara Hickman’s kids, Lili and Io, all reminders that a young Lucinda Williams started out busking on the Drag. The Ziolkowskis, Victor, David, and their dad Vic (Two Hoots & a Holler), were next, playing surf rock in black suits and red ties. Charlie Sexton’s son Marlon, flanked by Jon Dee Graham’s impresario whiz kid William Harries Graham and their band the Painted Redstarts, brought rock with faint glimmers of the True Believers.

Awards happened, too. One went to Empire Control Room for Best New Club, another to Francis Prève for EDM. Quiet Company accepted Best Rock Band and shilled for Wild Child (Best Indie) and Danny Malone, while metallurgists Dead Earth Politics, who claimed they spent all their money on the suits they wore last year, urged everyone to check out Critical Assembly, Shadow Spectrum, and Fear Control.

“Metal has a place in Austin,” they swore. Those four bands help prove it.

Later, beloved blues guitarist Nick Curran, lost to cancer in 2012, received a posthumous Hall of Fame plaque alongside local known quantities Fastball, the Gourds, former Go-Go’s bassist and “Vacation” author Kathy Valentine – introduced by Blondie – the Hickoids, LeRoi Brothers, and DJ Mel. Curran’s mother offered a moving speech in tribute to her son during his segment.

“Part of Nick will remain with everyone who crossed his path.”

There were more awards: a flashy trio for flapper-era swingers the Jitterbug Vipers (a clean sweep of Best Drummer, Bassist, and Electric Guitarist); one for Emily Bell (New Artist); three for the largely unknown Jonny Gray (Song of the Year, Male Vocalist, Folk); and a historic nab for Riders Against the Storm, crowned Band of the Year in a first for an Austin hip-hop group.

Not lost in all the acceptance speeches was the evening’s true entertainment: Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson cruising through “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” with cooking combo Church on Monday and centerpiece organ grinder Dr. James Polk, once Ray Charles’ bandleader. Francis Prève, meanwhile, cranked some Zeppelin.

Few elders in attendance left during his techno-savvy set. Nothing like the mass exodus that occurred after Moser’s longtime confidant, Lucinda Williams, stilled the room with a five-song acoustic set. Those who left missed Alejandro Escovedo’s all-star punks: Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome, Stooges guitarist James Williamson, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, and local bassist Bobby Daniel. Their single song, an extended take on the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat,” mobbed the stage-front with revelers.

Nor did those exiting early get to see Moser’s own personal soundtrack, the Texas Tornados – led by Doug Sahm’s eldest son Shawn Sahm – rip through three Lone Star standards including “Mendocino” and the Sir Douglas Quintet’s fabled “Give Back the Key to My Heart.” ATX blues deities Jimmie Vaughan, Lou Ann Barton, and Derek O’Brien then began the cavalcade of local musicians assembling onstage for Moser. The Flatlanders, Marcia Ball, Denny Freeman, Shakey Graves, Bright Light Social Hour, and on and on and on. “We Are the World,” eat your heart out.

Closer “She’s About a Mover,” a song about a girl you can’t take your eyes off, rang Austin’s bell: “Well, she was a-walkin’ down the street, looking fine as she could be.”

Must have been Margaret Moser.

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