Less Talkin’, More Rockin’: The Austin Music Awards Touch Down at Antone’s

Jim Franklin, Rosa Madriz, Cherubs honored at 42nd Chronicle show

Uncle Roy and Spice, backed by Walker Lukens' all-star house band, on Feb. 25 at Antone's (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

For our 42nd go-around, we at The Austin Chronicle thought we’d take a different approach to the 2024 Austin Music Awards: Less talkin’, more rockin’.

After announcing the winners to all 53 categories in last week’s paper, rather than on stage, this year’s event tamped down the speeches – admittedly, sometimes a yawn fest – in favor of performances. Over a dozen 2023-2024 Austin Music Poll nominees took the stage at first-time AMAs locale Antone’s Nightclub for a cozy, collaborative celebration of the local music scene. (Find a photo gallery from the awards courtesy of photographer David Brendan Hall.)

Musician of the Year nominee S. L. Houser kicked off the proceedings with a three-song set highlighting her 2023 EP Hibiscus. As emcee Kevin Curtin put it, as a touring musician, multi-instrumentalist Houser delivers the “secret sauce” of Zella Day and Matthew Logan Vasquez. But as a solo artist, she issues indie pop that’s equal parts brooding and dancey. Psych rockers DAIISTAR, up for Album of the Year and Song of the Year, followed with cuts from last year’s Good Time, while Best Punk winners Pussy Gillette played from their 2021 debut in addition to follow-up Permanent Trash.

S.L. Houser (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Of course, the rapid-fire performances did slow for a few speeches to recognize scene luminaries. Longtime Resound Presents talent buyer Rosa Madriz accepted the Margaret Moser Award, which honors outstanding women in the Austin music community. As her boss and award presenter Graham Williams forecasted, the decidedly shy booker uttered few words beyond a quick thank you, but the Chronicle got her to say a few more in a recent Q&A about her career.

Nineties noise rockers Cherubs were inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame by King Coffey, the Butthole Surfers drummer who issued the trio’s first two albums – Icing and Heroin Man – on his Trance Syndicate label. Coffey recalled getting word that former Ed Hall drummer Kevin Whitley planned to front a new band, joking: “Great. I’m gonna get a demo tape by the drummer. No one wants to hear the drummer!”

Fears quelled, he described, “One amazing hook after another. So much noise. So much distortion. It was everything I wanted out of rock, out of music, out of my label.”

Graham Williams presents the Margaret Moser Award to Rosa Madriz (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Cherubs broke up shortly before the release of Heroin Man, but as Coffey explained, their 2014 reunion has since spawned two more incredible albums. “So the key here is that if you’re not appreciated in your time, apparently the secret is to just break up. Just walk away,” he said. “Wait 20 years and then record the album of your lifetime.”

Accepting the award, Whitley thanked Coffey – who rehearsed with the band one time before “kicking himself out,” making way for drummer Brent Prager – for his support, which included sending the band to producer Butch Vig’s iconic Smart Studios in Wisconsin. “The only way that we could do any of this was because of the angels involved in our lives,” Whitley said, pointing to Coffey and his late partner, Trance Syndicate and Emperor Jones co-head Craig Stewart. For his part, Prager shouted out one-time Butthole Surfers drummer Teresa Taylor, as well as local punk producer Glenn “Spot” Lockett.

Austin Music Hall of Fame Award winners Cherubs (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The second segment of performances honored Jim Franklin, the Armadillo World Headquarters poster artist who was inducted into the Austin Music Industry Hall of Fame. Accepting his award, 80-year-old Franklin theorized on the connection between music and art.

“You can illustrate a song, and sometimes a song can illustrate a picture,” he said. “I’ve done more illustrations for songs, and I’ve always wondered, when are they going to do a song about my pictures?”

Naturally, the artist took matters into his own hands, performing his own composition “Monkey Got a Gun” alongside Best Guitarist winner Eve Monsees, Best Blues nominee/keyboardist Henri Herbert, Best Country nominee Theo Lawrence, and Musician of the Year recipient Kevin Russell of Shinyribs. The all-star group of Antone’s-affiliated artists – including Ian Moore, Mike Buck, Speedy Sparks, and Best Live Music Booker Zach Ernst – went on to perform country and blues favorites. The setlist included songs by Doug Sahm, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the 13th Floor Elevators, who were all subjects of Franklin's iconic concert posters. (Read our Q&A with Franklin about his visionary art here.)

Austin Music Industry Hall of Fame award winner Jim Franklin (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Moving from Hall of Famers to the next generation, singer-songwriter Ben Kweller and his wife Liz Kweller announced a new award in honor of their teenage son Dorian Zev Kweller, who passed away last year. Introducing the Zev Award, which includes a $2,000 grant to young local artists, Liz said:

“It’s a beautiful thing when a young person can be bold enough and brave enough to put themselves out there without worrying what others think. Whether they get positive feedback right away or not, it always sends a powerful message to their peers, and inspires those who might be scared to express their true selves. Dorian was one of these people. He had the courage to march to the beat of his own drum. He knew what his soul’s purpose was, and he always encouraged others to follow their dreams along the way.”

Ben Kweller and Liz Kweller (left and right) present the Zev Award to Lila + Sofia (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Cementing the grant with a “big ass check,” the couple presented the inaugural Zev Award to sister songwriting duo Lila + Sofia. “It is such an honor to be receiving an award that honors Zev, who was kind, who was talented, who was so original,” Lila said.

Next, Best Producer nominee Walker Lukens assembled a band including Best Miscellaneous Instrument winner Zach Wiggs on pedal steel, the Bright Light Social Hour’s Jackie O’Brien on bass and Zac Catanzaro on drums, and the Texas Gentlemen’s Daniel Creamer on keys. The group led the final act of the night, which invited up nominees for a roundtable of covers ranging from Ben Kweller leading his 2020 track “American Cigarettes” to Best Vocalist nominee Kalu James (Kalu & The Electric Joint) taking on Sly & the Family Stone to Josh Turner’s mid-Aughts country classic “Your Man,” sung by Corey Baum of Best Country winners Croy & the Boys. The clear high point came from Best Vocalist nominees Uncle Roy and Spice, whose “Proud Mary” tribute to Tina Turner proved the most effective at getting the audience, well into hour three, to sing and dance along.

Walker Lukens (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Heading onstage after, for Electric Light Orchestra’s “Hold On Tight,” Magic Rockers of Texas bandleader Jim Campo quipped, “Hardest act I’ve ever had to follow… Welcome to my nightmare!”

Not to be outdone, Best Vocalist winner Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit) wrapped the evening with a rousing take on “I Will Always Love You.” Passing Dolly’s original and shooting straight for Whitney’s cover, collective awe washed over the room when Ellis cleared those high notes. New, less-stuffy, still-glitzy format in the books, the event ended, perhaps for the first time in AMAs history, three minutes ahead of schedule.

DAIISTAR (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
Pussy Gillette (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
The finale (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

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Austin Music Awards, 2023-2024 Austin Music Awards, Pussy Gillette, DAIISTAR, S.L. Houser, Walker Lukens, Rosa Madriz, Jim Franklin, Antone's, Spice & Uncle Roy

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