Forget about the college students flooding the streets again and the basketball draft news. There’s a different roster you should be paying attention to: the nominees for the 2017 Boston Music Awards.
Once again, the BMAs are back to celebrate the best of Boston’s music scene, but this year marks its 30th year as well as its most impressive set of nominations yet. The event will award various musical acts, venues, promoters, producers, blogs, and more for their hard work. The BMAs committee narrowed the awards down to 36 categories, including potentially overlooked sections of the scene like Unsigned Artist of the Year, Session Musician of the Year, and Music Photographer of the Year. Voting is now open to everyone through the awards’ website. The winners will be announced at the official celebration on Dec 7 at the House of Blues. Tickets to the ceremony can be purchased online.
The most coveted award is Artist of the Year, a title which everyone keeps a close eye on. But if you look at the names listed, the acts who scored a spot on that list (Animal Flag, Cousin Stizz, Julie Rhodes, Joyner Lucas, Palehound, Pile, PVRIS, STL GLD, the Ballroom Thieves, Weakened Friends) earned the nomination by working hard for years. In that sense, for us, the most exciting award is the one that highlights which musicians will fill those shoes in the coming years: New Artist of the Year. Rising musicians are the bread and butter of DigBoston, which is why we keep track of them with a magnifying glass. So it’s with genuine pride that we can say the 2017 BMAs choose a group that’s impossible to pick a singular best from: Ali McGuirk, Baby!, Bat House, Carissa Johnson, Lilith, Mint Green, no hope / no harm, Oompa, Sidney Gish, and Vintage Lee.
For the majority of those artists, being nominated is an unexpected surprise. Folk pop songwriter Sidney Gish tells the Dig that the nod validates the work she put into making her album, especially given that she didn’t know if anyone outside of her friend group would care. For others, like pop punk act Mint Green, it highlights what a band can accomplish if they push themselves, getting recognition in what feels like a flash of weeks.
“I’ve dedicated my life in the last year to what I’m doing, and it’s amazing to feel seen—not in this superficial way, but in a very humanizing way,” says nominated rapper Oompa. “I was simultaneously surprised and very reassured when the nominations came out. I feel like I worked my butt off this year and have been putting myself in the right positions to grow, to be heard, and felt, and it was such a huge feeling of payoff when I saw the nominations. At the same time, I was so prepared to not see my name and try again for next year, so it was also incredibly surprising in that way.”
For others, like established indie rock act Palehound, it’s a sign of representation beyond fanbase. “As a queer person, I feel really strongly about the depth of the queer music scene in Boston,” says frontperson Ellen Kempner. “I’ve been able to find a really awesome community with other queer musicians here and that means a ton to me.”
The change in coverage comes from a change in ownership. Though the team is miniature in staffing—owner Paul Armstrong and his wife handle the event, marketing, sales, booking, production, and anything else that comes up, while a video team captures the event itself—the new owners have turned the BMAs into an event that’s more representative of our city ever since they took over two years ago.
“With the new venue, 12-strong artist performances, new award categories, branding, newly designed awards, etc., I think the excitement leading up to the awards was palpable,” says Armstrong. “It was important for us to shift perceptions, and I think we did exactly that, which was arguably one of the biggest successes from last year. While the night is about the nominees and winners, I also think it’s equally about getting as much of the Boston music scene and community into a room before the holidays and saying, ‘Hey, what a year we’ve had! Let’s celebrate.’”
A peek behind the scenes reveals the BMAs aren’t just picking personal favorites for nominees. When Armstrong took over, they tried to include as many local music heads as possible. The nomination committee was around 200 people. Now, it’s over 400 people. The more people they have on the committee, the better chance they have at identifying artists most deserving of a nomination. While some information locks down who can and can’t be nominated—like how all material eligible for nomination at the 2017 BMAs must have been released between Sept 9, 2016, and Sept 8, 2017—it’s the eyes and ears of Boston locals that decide who gets the spotlight turned on them for their hard work.
“To be carrying the torch for the 30th anniversary is a great honor. These aren’t ‘my awards,’ they’re Boston’s,” says Armstrong. “So this is something I’m both proud of but also taking very seriously.”
The awards turn the tables in a way where everyone who’s seated can both celebrate those across from them while also receiving applause for their own work. It’s a hyperlocal award celebration that’s increasingly becoming more in tune with the city’s actual rising and established talent.
“My first Boston Music Awards experience was in 2013 when my friends at the Brain Trust snuck my underage self into the Liberty Hotel,” says nominated electronic act Camino 84. “They were booking Moe Pope & Rain at the time and Let The Right Ones In had come out that year. Right after the actual awards ceremony where Moe & Rain won Hip Hop Artist of the Year, there was a Bearstronaut set in, like, a conference room and Moe and Chris Talken jumped on stage and did a verse during the bridge of ‘Moniker.’ And then I ran into one of my professors, David Herlihy of ’80s Boston stars O Positive, across the room. It’s a long-winded way of saying that, to me, the Boston Music Awards is just a big cross-genre party where we can recognize all the great artistry in the city and walk away feeling good about the creative environment in Boston and the people we get to collaborate or share bills with.”
No matter what, the Boston Music Awards aim to represent Boston’s music scene, a section of our city that will always be great. It’s constantly rotating and lifting others up. In that, it’s not the upcoming BMA winners that best illustrate the city’s talent, but rather the list of BMA nominees in full. That’s what creative diversity results in: wild, inspirational, scattered talent that’s consistent only in its hard-working ethics. Perhaps the best common thread any artistic group could ask for. The musicians themselves know it to be true.
“Boston has so many amazing artists with a range of styles and talents, but the city is very small. It often feels like there isn’t enough room for everyone here. And maybe there isn’t—I hope there is!—but if you put your ear to the ground and really go out to find the talent and music that exists out here, you will not be let down,” says Oompa. “Boston is flowing with amazing artists and deserves the attention that other cities have gotten for years. Other artists know it, too. We’re up now. We’re next. That’s undeniable. We’re just waiting for the proper channels with respected opinions to catch on.”
Vote for Boston Music Awards nominees now on through October 30th at 11:59 PM right here.
BOSTON MUSIC AWARDS. THU 12.7. HOUSE OF BLUES, 15 LANSDOWNE ST., BOSTON. 7PM/18+/$30. BOSTONMUSICAWARDS.COM