A noteworthy night in the city

No one expected a local version of the Grammys. But the second annual Orlando Music Awards shone a bright light on the original and mostly independent musicians who define the Central Florida scene -- one that is inclusive, worthy of wider recognition and large enough to warrant a celebration on the scale of the proceedings held Oct. 21 at The Club at Firestone (see photos).

The night centered on diversity, as DJs and acoustic troubadours shared drinks with hip-hop heads and hardcore punks, journeyman jazz vets and avant pranksters. And while last year's inaugural event had a certain let's-get-the-gang-together-and-put-on-a-show charm, this year producer Shayni Howen enlisted WSHE-FM (100.3) DJ Shark and WESH news anchor Wendy Chioji to host.

The awards were the culmination of months of work by many, including a 20-plus member board who sifted nominees from Orlando Weekly reader surveys and the nearly 100 judges who picked the winners. Rather than being a proclamation of the definitive "best" in every genre, the goal was to reach some consensus about what artists were doing excellent, worthy work within each genre.

The stinging harmonica of Blues nominee Mark Hodgson kicked off the first live set of the night. Hodgson's label boss, Kingsnake owner Bob Greenlee, presented the first two awards with Sid Weinberg of the Central Florida Jazz Society, whose scholarship fund was the night's beneficiary. Greenlee noted that all the Blues nominees recorded for Kingsnake, including the winner, Noble "Thin Man" Watts. Sam Rivers surprised few by winning in the Jazz category before Sandra Carresquillo, of Spanish-language radio station WONQ-AM (1030), co-presented the Latin award. "This is the first year for the Latin-music category," she said. "Wait, I was supposed to say that in Spanish." She did, and Cuco Reyes & Orquestra Vibración walked away as winners.

Chioji and Shark returned and chatted briefly about their favorite live show -- Wellville at the Blue Room and My Friend Steve and VonRa at the House of Blues, respectively -- before remarking that MTV had been in town the previous week filming a piece on Orlando's diverse sounds. And diversity was the watchword for the bands nominated in the Eclectic category. Although post-goth rockers Blue Eyes lost out to merry musical pranksters Obliterati, they did expose a lot of neophytes to their melancholic sound when they took to the stage to perform "Honey Bitch."

Jamie Bogner of Ska-tastrophe magazine and Jeff Hogan of d.i.y. Records gave Bloodlet the Hardcore honors, then named Skif Dank best Ska band. The Kill took the new Metal category, and Shyster was singled out for Punk band. Unfortunately, a globe-trotting Q-Burns Abstract Message was absent for his honors in the DJ and Electronic categories.

The night's most bizarre occurrence came when bubblegrunge trio and Rock nominee Precious hit the stage accompanied by two ballet dancers to perform their semilegendary Bi-Curious George. A moment that could have been a painfully bad joke turned into an oddly beautiful, more poetic-than-precocious moment in musical absurdity. Precious wound up losing to Bughead, who received their award from Atlantic Records A&R rep Steve Robertson.

The Nature Kids, who had been strangely quiet throughout the year, took Hip-Hop honors in a victory over Da Few and Grand Ultimate, who have been infiltrating downtown stages in a big way this year. Kow took R&B/ Soul/Funk, Nutrajet the Garage/Surf/Rockabilly award, and Swingerhead the Lounge/Swing and CD of the Year honors (for its debut, "She Could Be a Spy"). Terri Binion won the Folk/Acoustic category, and the now-signed My Friend Steve took top Pop Rock (and predicted next year's winner as VonRa).

Indeed, VonRa got the loudest cheers of the night when they took the stage to perform Just Waking Up. Members of Kow, who won Live Act of the Year, and Umöja then began pounding out rhythms -- but without Kow frontman Anthony Cole, who had not made it back from another gig. Down the street at the Sapphire Supper Club, Umöja eventually would play a sweat-soaked, intoxicating and sexually charged set for the after-party. But the faithful remained at The Club, and Cole finally made it to the stage to join the assembled musicians.

After a start that went beyond everyone's expectations, the 1998 Orlando Music Awards sputtered to a halt.

And 1999 is just around the corner.

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