News

‘Wammies’ Bring Region’s Top Musical Talent to F.C. Sunday

Each year, the Washington Area Music Association hosts the Wammies award ceremony to shine the spotlight on the vibrant D.C.-area music community, and again this year, it all happens in Falls Church. From meet-and-greets before the award ceremony to late-night parties, musicians and music lovers alike will be pouring into the Little City to attend the event at State Theatre, and WAMA expects the 600-seat venue to sell out as always.

Each year, the Washington Area Music Association hosts the Wammies award ceremony to shine the spotlight on the vibrant D.C.-area music community, and again this year, it all happens in Falls Church. From meet-and-greets before the award ceremony to late-night parties, musicians and music lovers alike will be pouring into the Little City to attend the event at State Theatre, and WAMA expects the 600-seat venue to sell out as always.

“It’s very much like the Grammys, except we won’t have Lady Gaga,” quipped WAMA President Mike Schreibman.

This year, the award ceremony and the association are celebrating their 25th anniversary, and special recognition will be given to the organization’s founders.

Five of the group’s founding members, those who “started it and kept it going,” according to Schreibman, will be recognized, and the other founding members of the organization will be listed in the program.

WAMA will be giving out about 100 awards this year – 30 of those awards will be presented on stage.

As host, Falls Church is doing a lot to contribute to the success of the event. The Falls Church News-Press is hosting the VIP reception beforehand at Argia’s, and the City’s Economic Development office is weighing in, too.

Of the musicians being honored this Sunday is Falls Church’s own Randy Barrett, up for the bluegrass vocalist of the year. This won’t be Barrett’s first time as a nominee. He was first nominated in this same category in 1996, and took the Wammie home that year.

“This is not my first trip to the Wammies, but it’s always an honor,” Barrett said. “It never gets old. It’s nice to be recognized and remembered. When you’re out there playing, it’s nice to stop and realize people appreciate it, which means a lot.”

But musical acts aren’t the only members of the music community being recognized Sunday night. WAMA also gives out awards to the technical, behind-the-scenes players in the community, in categories such as producer of the year, studio engineer of the year, and recording studio of the year – an award for which the Falls Church-based Cue Recording Studio is again nominated

And producing music isn’t the only way to be nominated for an award. In its “most supportive of Washington music” category, WAMA recognizes the efforts of those who play a roll in helping the performers in the D.C.-area community. This year, Falls Church’s Mary Cliff has been nominated for the honor, an award she has received numerous times since 2003.

“I have been nominated before, and I kind of feel like it is my job, you know, to support the community,” Cliff said. “That’s what I do.”

Cliff, a Falls Church resident of more than 30 years, hosts a Saturday night radio show called Traditions on WAMU devoted to folk music, and uses her website, marycliff.net, to bring attention to local acts.

While most of the honors to be conveyed Sunday evening recognize the accomplishments made by its winners over the year, one award looks to the whole lifetime of its nominees for merit.

Each year, WAMA confers Hall of Fame status to a number of famous area musicians. Past honorees include local legends such as Tori Amos, Charlie Byrd and Duke Ellington.

“We’ve had quite a list of Washington-area successes,” Schreibman said.

In all, about 100 awards will be presented representing about 20 different genres of music, though only 30 of the awards will be presented on stage during the three-hour show.

But the ceremony doesn’t just honor accomplishments in the music community. It also showcases some of its most talented local acts.

This year, those attending the ceremony will be treated to performances by The Charm City Devils, Faycez U Know, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, Hula Monsters, Julia Nixon and Rosa Lamoreaux. Also performing will be WAMA’s Professional Artist Support System contest winner, Rhianna LaRocque, and Hall of Fame inductee Tom Paxton.

Many of these acts have generated quite a buzz in anticipation of their award show performances.

“Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen totally nailed their showcase at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance showcase, and I expect them to do the same,” said Cliff. “And of course it’s always wonderful to see Tom Paxton. We thank him for the honor of his company; he is an immense talent,” she added, referencing Paxton’s popular song “The Honor Of Your Company.”

Three hosts have been tasked with keeping the packed agenda moving forward: WTOP’s Bob Madigan, WPGC’s Michel Wright, and Robert Aubry Davis of “Millennium of Music” fame. Presenting the awards are local celebrities such as former Falls Church Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, the Birchmere’s Michael Jaworek, and The Washington Post’s Richard Harrington.

“They do a great job, they put out a lot of music very quickly, and they put a lot into the evening, but they keep it moving,” said Barrett of the event’s organizers.

Barrett, as the president of the D.C. Bluegrass Union, which puts on the annual D.C. Bluegrass Festival, is no stranger to event planning, and knows the challenges of putting an event like the Wammies together.

WAMA also has to fill the tall order of representing the D.C. area’s diverse music, which Schreibman says it hopes to fill by showcasing a unique blend of musical performances on the stage and presenting on-stage awards in a number of genres.

“It’s a strong scene in all different kinds of genres,” Barrett said. “It’s an incredibly vibrant scene.”

“Whether it’s classical, or hip hop, or folk, they’re all here,” Cliff said. “I think the Wammies are a good way of telling the world, ‘Yoohoo, look at this. It’s a good thing.’ It’s a way of shining a light on a lot of talent, whether it’s the winners, or the nominees. It’s just great company to be in.”

According to Schreibman, putting the focus on the D.C. music community, through the Wammies and through the other efforts of WAMA, is important to helping the community thrive.

“When we started doing it, everybody used to say that we have great talent here, but they have to leave in order to make it,” Schreibman said. “We try to make it so that the musicians would get some recognition. As time has gone on, it’s been easier for people to make it in the Washington area, and they don’t have to move to make it in the industry. I’m not saying that’s WAMA’s full responsibility, but I believe we’ve made a difference in that direction.”

In addition to spreading the word about local musical acts, the award ceremony also keys people in to the entertainment to be found in Falls Church, through its use of the State Theatre, according to Falls Church Economic Development Director Rick Goff.

“We see the Wammies as a great opportunity – with folks coming from throughout the region and visiting the city, some for the first time – to introduce them to local businesses,” Goff said. Economic Development will again be partnering with WAMA to co-sponsor the event through a grant from the Economic Development Authority.

“It brings a lot of people into town, and reminds people that we’re still here,” Barrett said. “It keeps Falls Church on the map.”

The F.C. Economic Development office also coordinates pre-Wammies parties at local restaurants, where fans can mingle with their favorite Wammie-nominated musicians, and get to know what Falls Church has to offer.

They began planning the pre-parties last year, organizing meet-and-greets with half a dozen local celebrities. That number has more than doubled for the coming event.

“We got the sense that yes, not only is it a good idea and musicians will participate and people will come, but the restaurants enjoyed the involvement,” Goff said.

This year, Mad Fox, Clare and Don’s, Hoang’s Grill and Sushi Bar, Dogwood Tavern, and Ireland’s Four Provinces have all agreed to host pre-Wammies events from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Wammies guests and nominees can also celebrate before the show at Argia’s, just a few doors down from the State Theatre at 124 N. Washington, at the official VIP reception, hosted yet again this year by the News-Press, from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Afterward, a party will be hosted at Bangkok Blues, 926 W. Broad St., Falls Church, starting at 11:30 p.m.

These pre-parties have gone over well with both guests and musicians alike.

“It’s an excuse to celebrate, and musicians are pretty good at that,” Barrett said.

The 25th annual Wammies award ceremony will be held Sunday, Feb. 20, from 8 – 11 a.m. at The State Theatre, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church. Tickets are $35, $20 for WAMA members, and $15 for nominees. For more information, visit wamadc.com.