Celeste Quesada Retires From the Austin Music Awards

Creative director led the metamorphosis of the AMAs

Celeste Quesada preparing for the 34th annual Austin Music Awards in 2016.
Celeste Quesada preparing for the 34th annual Austin Music Awards in 2016. (Photo by Cecile Fusco)

Celeste Quesada, the hometown event guru who served as producer and creative director for the Austin Music Awards since 2014, has announced her retirement from the event. In a statement issued to the Chronicle, she writes:

“It's been an honor to be the producer of this incredible institution for the last five years. I want to give my deepest gratitude to all who have been so supportive of the Austin Music Awards and of me personally: staff, volunteers, and, of course, the incredible founders Louis Black and Nick Barbaro. Without this team, the Austin Music Awards would not be as vibrant as it is. I will watch with much excitement and anticipation as it strides into the future!

Quesada, who previously produced the Texas Film Hall of Fame gala and continues to orchestrate special events locally, took over the helm of the AMAs following the longtime stewardship of the late Margaret Moser, who largely organized the event since 1982. Quesada’s tenure saw many changes to the model, most significantly a move into February, so it could exist as a stand-alone show separate from South by Southwest.

Working closely with AMA co-founder Louis Black, she implemented musical director Charlie Sexton and a house band. Quesada also helped start the Austin Music Industry Awards, a spin-off event celebrating the winners of behind-the-scenes categories from the Austin Music Poll. In its fourth year overall and first at Emo’s, the AMIAs experienced a record number of attendees this year.

During Quesada’s run, the local soiree also added two special honors: the Townes Van Zandt Award for excellence in songwriting, and the Margaret Moser Women in Music Award. At the same time, her tenure continued the AMAs long-held practice of mixing up national favorites with hometown heroes. Lineups in the last five years have featured appearances by Robert Plant, Little Steven Van Zandt, Chrissie Hynde, Fiona Apple, Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams, in addition to local luminaries including Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Ely, and the Black Angels.

Quesada also pushed for the increased inclusion of hip-hop. Her term saw sets featuring Phranchyze, Third Root, Riders Against the Storm, Bavu Blakes, and Abhi the Nomad, plus last year’s tribute to MC Overlord. Her retirement comes at a time when the AMAs are shifting from being operated by Louis Black Productions to a new nonprofit: the Society for the Preservation of Texas Music (SPTM).

The Chronicle remains intrinsically intertwined with the award show as its media sponsor and the operator of the Music Poll, the winners of which are celebrated at the AMAs.

“We are deeply indebted to Celeste for her tireless work on behalf of the Austin Music Awards,” wrote Alan Berg, Board President for the SPTM, in a statement. “During her five-year tenure, she helped the Awards show reach new levels of artistry. We’re also looking forward to her continued collaboration in a less formal role with this Austin institution.”

Berg tells the Chronicle that the nonprofit will be evaluating the AMAs this summer and will likely announce future plans and appointments in the fall.

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Austin Music Awards, Celeste Quesada, Nick Barbaro, Louis Black, Austin Music Poll, Alan Berg, Robert Plant

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