From the time the first guitar chords ring out from the stage at the OC Music Awards (OCMA) Best Live Band concert series, Ashley Eckenweiler is on the move. Weaving between stumbling, shouting concertgoers and cocktail waitresses inside a packed club is a normal routine in her nightly quest to coordinate set times for bands and check in on competition judges, and occasionally find a spot of fresh air to breathe. She may even spare a second to crack a smile as she remembers that being exhausted and having an entire music community counting on you to deliver the goods at every show you throw is a good problem to have.
It's usually a grueling task getting people to care about local music—just ask any event promoter. But anyone who truly knows the lay of OC's sonic landscape should be able to appreciate the strategically placed oomph that Eckenweiler puts into the kind of shows we stingy local-music fans want to see. Her greatest achievement in the local music scene is her work with the OCMAs. Starting as a director of the show in 2007, the Newport Beach native's mission was to expand the scope of the awards to include more genres and step up its profile.
“Many of the bands that put this county on the map either didn't know the awards show existed or had never been nominated or invited,” the 31-year-old says. “It had elements of bringing opportunities to up-and-coming musicians, but we thought there was huge potential to expand on that.”
Today, the free Best Live Band showcase series and the Lifetime Achievement and Impact awards supply a level of prestige and honor while offering plenty of OC bands a chance to shine. All you have to do is look down the freeway at scores of LA bands who'd love someone to give a damn about recognizing them to see how special that is. “It's fun to see just the five years that I've been with the awards to see what bands have done,” she says. “Look at Young the Giant: We had them in the showcase series when they were the Jakes.”
Eckenweiler is a recognizable face in the OC music scene—and not because her past life as a trained ballerina allows her to stand on her toes above the crowd. Though she works with a multitude of creative people in various industries through her Santa Ana-based PR company, the ACE Agency, it's the music and culture scene where she has found her niche. Her first event-coordinator job had her throwing a showcase at the OC Museum of Art in Newport Beach that included performances by Silversun Pickups, Matt Costa and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Still, with all the national talent she's brought to suburbs, her support for local music is what makes Eckenweiler an invaluable asset to anyone pursuing a career in music in OC.
“It's been a long journey because a lot of people didn't know about the [OCMAs] or knew about it in a certain light, so it's a slow process,” she says. “Every year it gets a little bigger, better and clearer that we're really just trying to honor this music community.”