The year’s biggest musical event, the San Diego Music Awards, takes place on April 25 at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay. While the main, televised event, gets the lion’s share of the attention, in truth it’s the culmination of a week’s worth of showcase concerts that have become an integral part of the SDMA’s fundraising. Proceeds from all shows and events during San Diego Music Awards Week help to keep participatory music programs alive in local schools through the San Diego Music Foundation’s Guitars for Schools program, in partnership with Taylor Guitars. To date, this program has raised over $746,000 and put instruments into the hands of students at over 100 schools, from San Ysidro to San Onofre.
This year, there will be nine showcase concerts, running from April 14–23, featuring three to six performers per night. It’s a great way for music fans to take in a lot of the area’s top talent, with the bonus of the ticket purchase being a way of giving back to the community. As with the musicians, local music promoters contribute their time and effort.
How hard is it to put the bill together each year?
“Not that difficult,” said Rosalea Schiavone of Wicked Harem Productions, good naturedly. “I have always had venue support, and the talent is ripe for the picking.” This year she has three showcases: the SDMA Blues Buffet on April 17 at the Til Two Club, featuring Robin Henkel and Friends, Black Market III, Shane Hall Trio, Taryn Donath Duo, and the Anthony Cullins Trio. This will be followed by the SDMA Americana/Country Barn Burner Showcase on April 19th at the Til Two Club, which features Kimmi Bitter, Mudflap, Thea the Band, Farm Truck, and Lady Psyciatrist’s Booth. Finally, on April 20th, the Star Case Hoedown at the Ramona Mainstage will spotlight artists that live in Ramona who are nominated for various SDMA awards, including Lady Psychiatrist’s Booth, Jason Winters, Thea the Band, Calamity, and Farm Truck.
“The shows actually fall into place fairly easily,” Schiavone commented. “I use the formula of picking a category and booking all the artists that are up for the award. My thing is the best of the best in blues. The feedback that I have received over the years from music enthusiasts is that they love coming to a showcase where some of their favorites are all sharing the stage for one night. The talent love it as well, performing with their peers that are also up for the same award. They also get to see bands that, due to their own shows, they don’t get to see, and perform with musicians whom they normally don’t get to share the stage with. These nights always end up in a mash-up after the last band performs. It’s a night that everyone—nominees and enthusiasts—look forward to being a part of.”
Promoter Emily Bartell of Bar None Productions takes a slightly different approach with her showcases. “I like to create lineups for the showcases that show a variety of genres to audiences. I just figure it is the best way to offer audiences a chance to see something they wouldn’t normally consider attending but might inspire them to attend in the future,” she said.
“When booking the showcases, the most important thing to me is that as many nominees as possible get a chance to play. There are a number of showcases each year, in different venues. The way I tackle it is to create my “dream lineup” of nominees and then start making calls. Other promoters are making calls too, so if they’ve already booked an artist that I am interested in, I just move on to another nominated artist.”
On April 20 Bartell will host six bands at Tio Leo’s: Chickenbone Slim, MohaviSoul, Ass Pocket Whiskey Fellas, Manzanita Blues Band, Taryn Donath Duo with Mathew Taylor, and Blue Largo. Meanwhile on April 21, Navajo Live will feature an impressively diverse bill of Audrey Callahan, the Farmers, Paradise Drive, Daring Greatly, Spice Pistols ,and The Taz Taylor Band. Finally, on April 23, also at Navajo Live, scheduled performers include Chloe Lou & the Liddells, Amanda Cogan, Bobo Czarnowski, Sandé Lollis, Lindsay White, Lauren Leigh, Joshua Taylor/King Taylor Project, and Jonny Tarr.
It’s a thankless task putting these events together; what motivates you to volunteer your time like this?
“Volunteering in support of our rich and diverse San Diego Music Scene is never a question,” Bartell said. “It is my way of supporting the San Diego Music Foundation and the wonderful work they do in support of music education for youth (Guitar in the Schools Program), professional development forums for the music artists, and public recognition of the vast pool of talent on the San Diego Music Scene, through the San Diego Music Awards.” She considers the SDMA’s to be a vital part of San Diego. “I love being able to offer the public a chance to hear all the incredible talent in our town, while supporting a program that means so much to me,” she said. “To be able to think that the little I do is helping raise funds for another child to have the chance to pick up an instrument and possibly find an outlet for their creativity, it means the world to me.”
For her part, Schiavone concurs. “San Diego has a world-class music scene that I love and passionately support. My talent, my contribution to this scene is my ability to produce events. I love bringing people together; my purpose in life is to be a part of making visions come to fruition.” She notes that she does “these events so the nominees can celebrate each other and receive the recognition that they have worked so hard for and deserve. To give music fans an opportunity to be a part of the whole of the San Diego music scene’s most special yearly event. And not the least of it the programs that these showcase events support to keep music alive and thriving.”
Nominated for Best R&B, Funk or Soul Song / Song of the Year, “Devil in the White City,” with the group the King Taylor Project as well as scoring a nomination for his solo album, Unscene (Best Pop Album), Joshua Taylor feels the latter is important. “Obviously any time an instrument can be put into the hands of a child, it is a good thing,” he said. “Empowering children to express themselves through music does a profound service to their psychosocial development and, ultimately, to the quality of our society. I can think of nothing more important to the life trajectory of young people than equipping them with the means to connect more deeply with their humanity.”
Keyboardist Taryn Donath (Best Blues Artist) notes that the Guitars for Schools program “is reaching the hearts and minds of young people all over Southern California. I believe music is a powerful conduit to exploring our inner selves in countless ways,” she said. “You never know how music could touch someone’s life and therefore touching the lives around them. It can make a larger positive impact on the world as a whole, and the GFS program is making a substantially positive impact.”
Singer-songwriter Thea Tochihara of Thea the Band (Best Country or Americana Album, American Honey) agrees. “Coming from an art school myself, I know how deeply music can connect with young folks and help them not only get from one day to the next, but to feel the magic and possibilities that otherwise you wouldn’t have thought possible,” she said. “A guitar for a student can mean a gateway to a whole new world. I feel honored to get to say I’m a part of contributing to that and want to do more!”
Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Tarr (Best Pop Song, “The Rules” / Best Pop Artist) considers the guitar the perfect gateway for young creative minds. “I’ll tell you what—If I could go back and start my music journey again on any instrument, it would be the guitar,” he said. “My in to music was the saxophone but if I had my druthers, it would be guitar all the way. It’s versatile, it’s portable, and it’s sexy. Therefore, I think it is absolutely essential and even humanitarian work that the Guitars for Schools programs are doing. We need our young people to be exposed to as much music and, more specifically, music making as possible. It’s the only way to save the human race. I honestly believe that. The Guitars for Schools people are doing work that benefits everyone!”
Guitarist Taz Taylor (Best Rock Album, Nocturnal) is also happy to be involved for that reason. “I am very impressed by the Guitar for Schools program and was actually unaware of the enormity of it until very recently,” Taylor said. “Props to Taylor Guitars for sure as well as to the San Diego Music Academy. I have a Taylor acoustic guitar myself, which I play pretty much daily, and it is featured very prominently on our album.”
How do the nominated artists feel about the awards themselves?
“There are high points as you attempt to pave any path, and being nominated definitely felt like just that—a high point on this musical path,” Tochihara said. “What a confidence boost to be considered with the other nominees who I have so much awe, respect, and admiration for. It’s a motivator to keep pushing for the next goal.”
“Honestly, I feel like we’ve already won,” Ashley E Norton of Lady Psychiatrist’s Booth (Best Country or Americana Artist) remarked. “To be nominated at all is the honor. We were chosen by a panel of the strongest pulse on the San Diego music scene and that feels incredible. It makes us feel seen, like we’re doing something right. Of course, it would be very cool to accept the award on the big stage, but just being in this category with the top musicians I know is the trophy right there.” She considers that there is not only countywide pride in the events but also regional pride as well. “I also am really proud of my town, Ramona,” she said. “There are five of us that have nominations this year, including my own band, Farm Truck, Thea the Band, Jason Winters, and Calamity. It’s soon to be six as Chloe Lou is currently moving up here, as well as the Amalgamated, which was produced by our own Jon Hasz. There’s a lot of town pride up here. Our little music scene is exploding and the camaraderie between us is one of the best I’ve been lucky to be part of. Although, I’ve noticed that is happening down the hill as well,” Norton said. “Everyone is looking after each other, cheering each other on, collaborating, sharing gigs and information, and just helping each other do better. The awards show and showcases are going to be one big musical hug.”
After all, the hard work is said and done, what do showcase promoters look forward to the most at the SDMAs?
“Well, the dream on event night would be that everything you’ve planned goes off without a hitch. So, what I look forward to is beautiful weather, everyone being healthy and on time to the venue, all tech aspects are in working order, that the artists are excited for a great performance for their adoring public, and funds are raised,” Bartell said. “Personally, having spent the past year listening to and following all the nominees and all their achievements; I am on a natural high the whole night, dancing and singing along. Not to mention seeing all the happy faces!”
Schiavone points out there are many elements of the Awards show itself that are special. “The long-awaited announcements of the winners, the performances, the excitement, surprise, and gratitude expressed during the acceptance speeches. The remembrance moment of silence and respect is shown to the artists who have died within the last year; those are all givens for me,” she said. “The whole event is pretty spectacular, the seen and be seen aspect of it. Hanging out with all the cool kids. All the artists of the various genres mingling together. And then there is the fashion show!! I embrace it all.”