Since its humble inception as the Golden T-Bird Awards back in 1993, the goal of The Asbury Music Awards has been to reward those who have put their blood, sweat and time into the local music scene. Going all the way back to those golden T-Bird days, this show remains true to its vision, regardless of the naysayers and conspiracy theorists that pop up like prairie dogs throughout the landscape of music scene drama.

Speaking of drama, the show is famous for participant hissy fits and over reactions. After all, except for its location, it’s really not that much different than anything Hollywood has to offer as nominees hustle to garner the grass roots support for their contributions in the areas in which they excel. One thing is undeniable: It brings out the bad in some, but the good in most. Emotions at this event always run high, and the sensitive folk that feel they’ve been snubbed always crash and burn to make way for the winners. Is it a popularity contest? According to the anonymous folks that vote, it is based on merit. Of course, some of it has to do with popularity but isn’t that the way of life? Isn’t that why you get picked in the first place? Because everyone likes you? This to me translates that you are good at what you do.

The nominees and performers are selected by a panel of industry veterans, including promoters, sound technicians, radio personalities, music writers and club owners. Artists that have graduated to a major label or those who have won or been nominated for a particular category for five consecutive years at the Asbury Music Awards are eligible for “Record of The Year” and “Best Thing To Happen in Asbury Park,” and may appear onstage presenting or performing during the ceremonies. However, they have graduated from being nominated from most, if not all other categories, making room for up and coming artists, musicians, singers and songwriters.

This year’s show had a brand new feel with a fresh face. Many new performers played, presented, or took home awards, and it was rewarding to see first-timer enthusiasm and genuine happiness after years of watching local heroes clogging the popularity pipeline with “Big Fish, Small pond” territorial diligence.

Some of the winning high points of the night were Emily Grove, who took home her first trophy for “Top Female Band/Acoustic Act,” and Fish Tank Mafia, who snatched “Top Young Band” (under 21). Other notable award highlights were Matt Wade’s “Top Keyboard” win and Glen Burtnik for his “Beyond Asbury Top Record/Single Release.” Glen’s song, “Where Music Lives,” has been garnering much press and praise and has even been called the unofficial song of the city of Asbury Park.

The “Top Guitarist” category went to Tommy Strazza, a great player and a humble guy that speaks gritty truth with his trusty Stratocaster. Other outstanding awards went to Quincy Mumford and band for “Top Pop Group,” as well as Eryn Shewell, grabbing both “Top Female Vocalist” and “Top Blues Band.” New entry for “Top Club DJ” went to DJ Jack the Ripper, while my boys from Chemtrail snagged the “Top Avant Garde” title.

Perhaps that it’s just that the five-year rule came into effect with a lot of locals, but this year’s nominees consisted of a lot of new blood. New winners were Maria Marr who took “Top Radio Personality In Support Of Live Music,” alongside heavy rock and roll gurus Toothgrinder, winning “Top Heavy Rock Act.”

Even though there was no trophy reward for his efforts, artist Josh Matson not only designed this year’s logo for the show, but, as he always does, he captured various artists on canvas. His design was featured on the 2011 Program Guide cover and on really cool T-shirts made for the 2011 AMA’s. Josh has been a quiet and important supporter of the scene for quite some time, and is a focal point in one of the many rock rooms from here to Seaside Heights.

Live performance highlights came from the heavy-duty three-piece sounds of Only Living Boy, the down-home, hillbilly twang of Thomas Wesley Stern, the arabesque vibe of Emily Grove and the bodacious heavy pop-rock sounds of Scarlett Carson, who were so visual and fun that I actually stayed up front and paid attention for their entire set. These up-and-coming rockers will be appearing in this column over the next few weeks. So stay tuned for more on them.

Newcomers The New Royalty put in a solid set of Paramore-esque rock ‘n’ roll tunes, as did Accidental Seabirds and “Top Indie Rock Band” winners No Wine For Kittens.
Honorary awards were also given to Asbury Park’s iconic Lance Larson, who was finally acknowledged for his life in music with the “Living Legend” award, as was soundman extraordinaire Jason Dermer, who got his trophy for Jim McDonald’s “Behind The Scenes” Lifetime Achievement Award. Jason has supplied the best sound in New Jersey for some time now and his company, Asbury Audio, is ranked number two in the entire country. So, if you didn’t already know, this is one guy who truly deserved this nod of approval. I personally felt that “Best Thing To Happen In 2010/2011” was a misguided pick and that it should have gone to a true local nominee, but my opinion is just that; mine.

Finally, The Aquarian Weekly was once again honored with “Top Publication In Support Of Live Music,” as well as “Top Website/Facebook Page In Support Of Live Music.”
2011 has been a great year for original music, featuring new bands, cutting-edge artists and interesting performers. It really demonstrates that just when you think the scene is getting stagnant, the replacements come marching in, bringing fresh enthusiasm and new sounds to an area that has welcomed musicians since the beginning of the 20th century.

Special thanks goes out to Scott Stamper and Meg Donoghue Kelly, who are inspired by a strong desire to give something back to the musicians and music community that make up the Jersey Shore’s incredibly diverse music culture. Stamper began presenting the awards to the many talented musicians, singers and songwriters who had created live original music and paid their dues in the various music rooms in the area. Some of the Asbury Park music venues presently include The Saint, The Stone Pony, The Wonder Bar, Asbury Lanes, Twisted Tree Cafe, Langosta Lounge, Tim Mcloone’s Supper Club, The Brickwall/Annex, Rosie’s Cafe and more… Outside of Asbury Park, The Brighton Bar in Long Branch, The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, and The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, just to name an important few.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank all of my friends, readers and fellow industry associates that voted me “Top Journalist In Support Of Live Music” for the fifth year in a row. It’s a mind-blowing honor that leaves me shaking my head in awe of a group of folks that have become like family to me. Special thanks goes out to my editors JJ and Andrew, Scott, Meg, Drew, Kyle, Caroline, perspective guru Katie J, photographers Mike Black, Kristen Driscoll and Lauren Ferrara, Christine Martucci and Tony Tedesco who both tell it like it is, and finally, Joe Berardi, a tireless supporter of our armed forces and the music scene in general. These people are irreplaceable advisors and guidance counselors on my continued journey through the jungle of music, journalism and life in general.

Each year brings new hope that bands will go on to find the success they work so hard to find. Here’s hoping that 2012 sees many of you moving on to bigger and better things. Besides, the better you do the more money I can borrow to buy that bass boat I’ve been eyeing up. For more info on all the performers and winners, head over to thesaintnj.com.

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