Many Tulsans expect this to be a showdown of the generations, pitting the young gun, Dustin Pittsley Band, against his senior master of the blues, Steve Pryor. Throw David Dover Band into the mix, and you've got three guitar slingers vying for the win. Wanda Watson Band also makes for a strong contender with a tight band and one of the strongest blues voices in Green Country. The real wild-card of the bunch, however, might prove to be Apagee as the sole R&B act competing with a room full of blues giants.
Only time will tell if Halo Jordan can follow up with another win in this category with its blend of country, pop and rockabilly. This year's competition includes a pair of rising R&B and hip-hop acts in Baby B and Apagee and Christian blues rocker Matt Thompson. Holy Fire rounds out the nominees list with a fiery take on gospel to keep this category heated -- right down to the finish.
Best Club DJ
This year's competition is nearly a replay of last, pitting two of Tulsa's old-school favorites, DJ Robbo and DJ Moody, against DJ Oreo, who works on air at KHits, and last year's winner, DJ Spin. As a newcomer to the category, DJ Kylie is far from new to Tulsa's clubs. She's been spinning here for more than a decade and has risen in prominence with her tenure in DanceRobotsDance as well as branching out to spin at Majestic and Candy Bar. With more than 50 years of experience under their collective belts, there is no clear-cut favorite for the category, making it fair game for anyone to win.
Kristin Nicole Band has seemingly come out of nowhere in the past year, riding high on the popularity and voice of its namesake singer, but you can't ever count out one of Tulsa's hardest working musicians when Brandon Clark Band shows up on the ballot. Dixie Train Band leans into contemporary country, while Merle Jam follows a more traditional path to balance the ballot. Don't count out the young guns from Lenapah, Okla., 2 Steps Back, however, as they just might prove to be the fire that ignites this category with their rock-infused take on modern country. Plus, whoever wins this category will have a stage awaiting them at this year's Tulsa State Fair.
Best Dance Party Band
Once again, we revisit a dance card similar to last year's with DJ collective DanceRobotsDance facing off against Guardant's infectious blend of new wave, dance rock and indie-pop, Kamikaze Slut's cut and paste sonic explosions and Recorder's playful blend of electronic and new-wave synth pop. This year's nominee list is completed by Digital Graffiti, an electro-industrial dance rock act with an ambient twist.
Best Hip Hop
This year's field is wide open with newcomer Algebra blending his rap flow with an indie-rock sensibility, Navigator's more aggressive rapping style and The Ne'er Do Well, rapper X-Cal's latest project. It might just boil down to a battle of the Tulsa rappers who have tried their hand on the west coast, however, as P.D.A. and Johnny Polygon face off with their own respective blends of pop vocals, rock sensibilities and hip-hop beats.
Best Indie Rock
As strong as our indie scene is, the competition could get nasty in this category, so we're glad our nominees are lovers, not fighters. They also demonstrate how broad the genre is. Fiawna Forte is the old soul in a young lady's body with a huge voice and the heart of a lion. Popular Culture puts a straight up pop and rock spin on indie, while Scales of Motion takes it in a slightly more moody and dynamic direction. Meanwhile, Bruder strips things back as an electronic, dance-rock duo, and Dead Sea Choir gets as big and bombastic as possible while still remaining concise enough to draw you in and keep your attention.
Every corner is covered in this category as well as Joesf Glaude and James Ruggles blend new age and classical sensibilities, And There Stand Empires explores the outer confines of indie rock. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey blows up all your expectations of what a jazz combo can be as it premiered its Project Ludwig recently, and Panda Resistance defies any categorization. Surprisingly enough, Tulsa Rock Ensemble might prove to be the mildest and most mainstream friendly act on the ticket by blending classic rock and classical string arrangements.
For nearly 10 years, Cindy Cain has been spreading her jazz and blues chops around the Tulsa club scene, and she remains one of our favorite jazz singers. These next two nominees look fairly familiar. Joesf Glaude Group provides its namesake an outlet when he steps away from his various other excursions into blues, classical and new-age ambience, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey remains one of Tulsa's most innovative and creative musical entities, regardless of genre. It's the newcomers to the scene that really liven things up, however, whether it be with the fiery torch song vocals of Olivia Duhon or the experimental, indie-rock vibe of GoGo Plumbay making sure jazz remains alive and well in Tulsa.
Best Live Performance
Whether recreating the '80s with Dr Squealsgood, creating a dance party with Recorder or bringing the party on stage with Smunty Voje, our local bands know how to put on a real show. And if Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers prove to be just a little too intense while delivering a fist-full of metal and a redemptive message, you can always look up Ptiaradactyl and experience your punk-infused indie chaos complete with costumes and stage props. Who says a live show has to be boring?
Best Local Producer/Studio
When local bands are ready to commit their songs to CD, they don't have to look out of town to find a place to get a high-quality recording. Hank Charles reigns as the Godfather of local recording at Valcour Sound with experience in nearly every genre and a gift for capturing acoustic performances and straight up rock and roll. Mark Kuykendall works with history and tape at the recently reopened Church Studios, while Jared Tyler and Travis Fite work with many of the same artists that frequent The Colony and Soundpony at their more modernized SoulTree Studios. Meanwhile, Brian Osborne is making a name for himself in modern and hard rock circles at Brady Street Studios, and Damen Banks has proven to be Tulsa's go-to guy for R&B and getting discovered at Swahill Studios.
Best Lounge Cover Band
Jon Glazer Trio can deliver the standards of jazz and pop anywhere the band goes, and Kitt Bender can flourish in a piano bar or in pop setting, but Full Flava Kings deliver everything from R&B to house party funk and rock as one of Tulsa's reigning cover bands. As of late, however there are a couple of new kids on the block that are making waves and garnering their own fans as The Usual Suspects cover four decades of rock, blues and dance hits. The young guns in The SellOuts breathe new life and a party into the lounge scene, even working in a few songs of their own.
Best Party Cover Band
Whoever takes this category has a guaranteed spot at this year's Tulsa State Fair, so fans have been going at it. Although The SellOuts can play the lounges, they're young and wild enough to bring the party to life, especially if the crowd is looking to dance. They might be the biggest competition for last year's winner in this category, Crossland, but that band still knows how to pump up a party. You know it's going to be a close call when you've also got longstanding party hounds Imzadi and the band that creates a party on stage, Smunty Voje, in the running. You'd also be remiss to overlook JetSet Kings, the party band with a high-stakes pedigree with former members of Citizen Mundi, My Solstice and Congress of a Crow.
Best Metal/Hard Rock
Although there has been some concern as to the health of our metal and hard rock scene, we've got five nominees that can attest to the fact that our metal bands are indeed alive and well. Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers has to be considered the front-runner again this year after winning in 2009 with its bluesy take on metal, but a solid challenge can be made by either their friends in Hector Backwoods or former UTW cover band Mercy Street, which continues to be one of the most exciting live bands in town, despite the fact that it still has not gotten its first CD out. Pedal Point continues to fly the flag for both classic and modern metal as it consistently plays at local clubs such as Utopia, Shenanigans and The Cimmaron. Inoperable, on the other hand, keeps to the more niche driven grindcore and metalcore corners for the metal genre of town.
Best Radio Station Personality/Show
When it comes to radio, we can get music anywhere, but it's the people and personalities that hold our attention when the playlist goes flat. It's no surprise to find 97.5 KMOD's Phil & Brent Morning Show battling Z104.5, The Edge's Greg & Chuck in the Morning along with 92.1, The Beat's Big Mad Morning Show. The only real surprise here is 106.9 KHITS' afternoon girl, Crystal, making a run for the award. The real question, though, is can an afternoon jock beat out a morning show? If anyone can, I'd lay by bets on Lynn Hernandez with KMOD's Ratt/Poison Drive-Thru Lunch. So, will the lunch crews beat out the morning drive crews? Only time will tell.
Best Radio Station for Music
Although most of us are guilty of channel surfing while in the car, we've all got our favorites and old standbys programmed for when we're tired of searching. But what station is Tulsa's preference when all we want is a solid selection of music? 97.5 KMOD is a rock institution in Tulsa, providing a mix of contemporary, classic and modern rock, while 106.1 Gen X Radio has quickly grabbed our attention with a mix of late '80s and early '90s retro hits. 106.9 KHITS provides the hit radio and pop fix for most of our readers, while Z104.5 The Edge still stands as the only remaining alt and modern rock station in Tulsa. Meanwhile, Claremore is just close enough for us to still pull a strong signal if we want a more eclectic blend of everything from a more mainstream minded college rock station in 92.1 KRSU.
Best Concert Venue
Whether we're looking for history, modern amenities and great sightlines, or just a great room that welcomes all of the latest up and coming bands, we've got venues of all shapes and sizes within a few block of each other in downtown Tulsa. The question remains, though: Would you rather catch your favorite band at Cain's Ballroom, Brady Theater or BOK Center? Or maybe the close quarters of The Marquee or the warehouse party-type space of Flytrap Music Hall? Each one offers up a great lineup each and every week, but only one can take home the trophy.
Best Club for Live Music
When we're just looking for a club to hang out and hear some great live tunes, we've got plenty of choices in town, regardless of whether our preferences lie with original music, cover tunes or a blend of both. Shenanigans is quickly becoming known as the place for a good live party, while Utopia is open to host bands of nearly any style with its dual indoor and outdoor stages. Meanwhile, reigning champion Soundpony has built its reputation on being a haven for indie-rock, while The Colony builds upon its history and legend to become the place where musicians come to hang out and hear as well as to play and be heard. The Hunt Club provides possibly the best patio stage in all of Tulsa, though.
Best Red Dirt
There's just something about having your roots planted deep in Oklahoma soil that makes you just alt-country eclectic enough to have people consider you Red Dirt, even if you've never been based in Stillwater and/or you've relocated to South of the Red River. This category wouldn't be complete without Red Dirt Rangers and their country-hippie infused jams. Once we leave the Rangers, however, anything goes: from the honk-tonk and beer hall rock of Brandon Clark Band to the country twang of Turnpike Troubadours, the Steve Earle and Johnny cash influenced alt-country of Brandon Jenkins and the old-school outlaw country of Jason Boland and the Stragglers.
There's nothing wrong with being "pop" when your band is tight and has great hooks. In fact, becoming popular is the reason why most people join a band. Restless Ribbon returns to the ABoTs again this year with a modern pop/rock sound that could easily co-exist on pop radio with Boys Like Girls and All American Rejects, while Ransom James explores the bluesy side of the rock band map. Stars Go Dim is the band turning heads everywhere it goes, landing a song in Hollister stores and opening for bands ranging from John Mayer and Daughtry to Switchfoot and Better than Ezra. The Red Alert has seen the Hanewinkles develop from a White Stripes tribute act to a modern alt-rock band that is now earning admirers of its own. Finally, Eric & the Adams completes the ballot with an original sound that can only be described as guitar driven soul-pop. Each of these bands rock, no matter how popular they become.
Best None of the Above
When an artist doesn't really fit any particular category but is still so good that recognition is deserved, we have to create "None of the Above." Whether it's the alt-country-rockabilly-songsmith conglomeration that Brian Parton brings to the table, the psychotic punk rock explosion of Triple Fang, or a new spin on the classic "Tulsa Sound" as presented by Paul Benjaman Band, you just can't deny the depth of the talent pool that Tulsa retains. Mix in the pop-country-bluegrass energy of Rockin' Acoustic Circus and the rock-infused reggae juggernaut that Sam and the Stylees has become, and "None of the Above" becomes the no-rules cage match of the ABoT Music Awards.
Newcomer of the Year (UTW NewVo Award)
Not every band survives its newness, but these nominees look to hang around our scene for quite some time. Rapper Bobby B might be a California kid that was transplanted to Oklahoma who's still pretty young, but he's quickly made a name for himself as a rapper with a positive message. On the other hand, we're not surprised to see 2010 NewVo performer Bruder nominated here as he brings out a fresh blend of electro-rock that sounds both current and retro-chic at the same time. Broken Arrow-based band, All The Kings Men, has primarily played in the intimate confines of The Soundpony, but they've got a broad and expansive sound and vision, delivering its punch with an elegance and grace. Ransom James' nomination isn't that surprising either as the Tulsa music veterans use backgrounds in pop, hard rock, indie and hip-hop to create one of the grittiest, blues-rock bands Tulsa has seen birthed for years. Aries Road is an acoustic duo that has brewed a quiet chemistry storm between Ashley McCarty's voice and husband Ryan's song-writing.
Best Female Vocalist
Once we've recognized all the bands and categories, what's left? The biggest awards of the night, of course. With a pool of talent as impressive as we find in Tulsa, we'd be remiss to not honor the best voice amongst our tempting sirens. Fiawna Forte has the small indie-rock package with the mighty roar, while Kristin Nicole proves to be the hot new voice on the country scene. Sarah Sellers lifts Apagee above its peers on the local R&B and hip-hop scene. Traditionally, however, the best vocalist category gets dominated by a jazz siren, and this year it could end up being a showdown between the established torch singer Rebecca Ungermann and the young chanteuse that is turning heads everywhere, Olivia Duhon.
Best Male Vocalist
Jacob Dement of The SellOuts and Chase Stites of Restless Ribbon might provide a showdown of the young Turks in the Male Vocal category, but they are far from standing on their own. Chris Cleveland is the voice that has driven Stars Go Dim to radio airplay and placement in retail stores and television shows. And you can't overlook last year's winner, Eric Himan, who continues to churn out hits whether by himself or with a group. Ben Kilgore remains the man who had a corner on the market for years and remains a dark-horse candidate, even when he's been laying low.
Song of the Year
Finally, it's the songs that capture and keep our attention above all else, and our local artists are proving to be as strong in their songwriting as they are performing. Restless Ribbon proves that the band is radio-ready for the pop market with "Here When You Need," while Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers open their blues-rock ode to overcoming obstacles with a flamenco guitar on "Moving Mountains." Joesf Glaude and James Ruggles find a balance between classical composition and pop sensibility with their translation of David Belanger's "Pastorale," and Apagee blends Sarah Sellers' soulful vocals with AJ Sellers' fluid rapping to deliver a positive message about discontent with questionable moral consciousness in "It's Not OK." Finally, Fiawna Forte proves why she's the darling of the local indie-rock community, delicately balancing a bouncy tempo and captivating vocal melodies against a darker and more melancholy vision in "I'd Rather Die."
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