SXSW 2014: At Austin Music Awards, spotlight is on Margaret Moser
By John T. Davis
Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 13, 2014
Wednesday night’s Austin Music Awards featured Grammy-winning musicians, head-turning celebrities, million-selling artists and myriad musical highlights. But the person to whom the evening was dedicated was not known for either singing a note or strumming a chord.
With all due respect to the winners of the Austin Chronicle’s annual readers’ poll of the best Austin music had to offer, this year’s AMA was basically a four-hour shout-out to Margaret Moser, the event’s director for almost the entirety of its history.
After 32 years of helming the awards show, Moser, who is battling with cancer, decided to hang it up, and seemingly the entire music community came out to celebrate not just her tenure, but the woman herself.
Far beyond producing the Music Awards, Moser was touted as a passionate and engaging journalist, a tireless mentor to young up-and-coming musicians, a teacher, a ferocious advocate of Austin music and a source of inspiration and friendship to the artistic community she has championed for so long.
Emcee Andy Langer summed her up by saying, “Nobody has defined Austin music quite like Margaret Moser,” to which Moser riposted by quoting the late critic Lester Bangs: “I was just a fan with a typewriter.” But the outpouring of respect and affection made it clear that she remains much more than that.
Tributes to Moser aside, the night featured a host of musical highlights and some surprises in the awards themselves.
For the first time, a hip-hop act—Riders Against the Storm, the husband-and-wife team of Chaka Mpeanaji (cq) and Tiger Lily—took home not only kudos in their category, but Band of the Year honors as well.
Veteran Bob Schneider continued his run as a perennial awards winner by copping the top-shelf trifecta of Musician of the Year, Album of the Year (for his disc Burden of Proof) and Best Songwriter, while Jonny Gray, a relative newcomer to the scene, scored with Best Male Vocalist, Song of the Year (for “Silly Girl”) and Best Folk Act.
Singer/songwriter Gina Chavez swept her categories, capturing awards for Best Female Vocalist, Best Latin Traditional Act and Best Latin Jazz Act.
The members of the avant-swing band Jitterbug Vipers took home a bevy of trophies for Best Bass Player, Best Drummer, Best Electric Guitarist and Best Jazz Band. Best New Austin Act honors went to Emily Bell.
Strange Brew, the upstart listening room in far South Austin, upset perennial winner the Cactus Café to take home the Best Live Music, Acoustic and All-Ages Venue trophies. The late and much-beloved disc jockey Larry Monroe was honored with a Best Radio Music Program award.
Hall of Fame inductees included the late rockabilly standard bearer Nick Curan, Go-Go’s co-founder Kathy Valentine (who was inducted into the Hall by surprise guests Blondie), left-of-center local heroes the Gourds, punk pioneers the Hickoids, pop hitmakers Fastball, house-rocking deejay DJ Mel and the roots-rocking LeRoi Brothers.
Musically, the night kicked off with a colorful New Orleans-style Second Line entrance by the Minor Mishap Marching Band. The show proper began with generation-spanning ensemble dubbed the Youngbloods Choir, featuring the rocking and singing offspring of Will and Charlie Sexton, Sara Hickman, Jon Dee Graham, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson and others.
Francis Pr`eve (cq), who recalled arriving in the city “broke and homeless” a few years ago, debuted the first-ever EDM (Electronic Dance Music) set in the show’s history (as well as winning an award in that category).
Lucinda Williams, who has known Moser for decades, dedicated the first three songs of her semi-acoustic set (“Passionate Kisses,” “Pineola” and “Lake Charles”) to her friend, and stilled the house with a rapt rendition of the benediction-like “Blessing”.
The A-list jazz ensemble dubbed Church On Monday, which includes the legendary Dr. James Polk and horn men Ephraim Owens and Elias Haslanger, covered Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver standards, passing around solos like hot biscuits before being joined by Asleep At the Wheel frontman Ray Benson for a grooving take on “Route 66.”
Alejandro Escovedo made a surprise one-song cameo with members of the Dead Boys, the Stooges and Blondie for a scorching take on the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.”
The Texas Tornados, led by Shawn Sahm, the spitting visual and vocal image of his late dad Sir Doug, wound the evening to a close as midnight approached. Citing Moser, whom he’s known since he was ten, as a friend and mentor, he and the band (which included Charlie Sexton sitting in for an ailing Flaco Jimenez) romped through “Mendocino,” “Velma From Selma” and “Adios, Mexico” before being joined by guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and singer Lou Ann Barton for a salacious take on “Scratch My Back.”
But they saved the best for last. Suddenly the stage filled with seemingly every musical luminary in the city, literally scores of musicians, including Joe Ely, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jesse Sublette, most of the night’s award winners and many more, all of whom serenaded Moser with—what else?—the Sir Douglas Quintet’s classic “She’s About A Mover.”
Moser stood in the heart of it all, soaking it up, grinning from ear to ear, celebrating even as she was being celebrated. Just another fan with a typewriter. But as the evening showed, so much more.