Ten Years of the OC Music Awards

Has it been 10 years already? Since its inception, the Orange County Music Awards has featured the bands we know maybe all too well (Offspring, Lit), those we're going to know well (the Steelwells) and some who've dipped below the horizon (anyone remember Bayadera?).

The whole schtick hasn't changed much since writer/music enthusiast/marketing guy Martin Brown started the awards with the goal of helping local musicians to gain exposure: Bands submit their music, and after an initial screening process, local talent both new (i.e., inexperienced) and old (i.e., pros who haven't made it big yet) perform at showcases judged by local music-industry insiders—journalists, venue owners and the like. After two months, the whole thing culminates in a big concert.

In 2009, Brown turned the show over to event producers Luke Allen and Ashley Eckenweiler. Though the duo made a few tweaks to the overall format (the largest of which was to make sure the musical showcases were free, allowing more people to see the musicians, says Allen), the purpose of the competition hasn't changed. It still aims to help local artists get more press, gigs and even record deals.

“Each year, the showcases got more exciting because these bands have gotten to know one another,” says Eckenweiler. “They come to one another's shows, put one another on bills now.”

Here's a look at how the award-giving body has evolved in the past decade.

2002: Bands competing at this year's show included Wonderlove (winner of Best Indie Act and Best Live Band) and folk musician Jay Buchanan. It was held at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, where owner Gary Folgner was given the first Lifetime Achievement award (with Dick Dale presenting, natch). Folgner says OCMA not only opened doors for fledgling musicians, but also “it introduces bands who are offered the chance to play at concert venues where they do get some recognition.”

2006: Stacy Clark's first performance at the OCMAs. “I will never forget performing solo after Dick Dale and his son,” she says. “They had a standing ovation after he received the Lifetime Achievement award. The curtains closed, and when they reopened, there I was, standing with my guitar and performing my song 'I Understand.' It was awesome and nerve-wracking at the same time.”

2007: For the first time, rap submissions outpaced punk entries. It was also the last year to feature the Best Urban category, which went to rapper Loose Logic. The Best Hip-Hop award went to rapper Brawdcast, a.k.a. Matt Castillo, a Placentia native with family roots stretching back to Guadalajara.

2009: The category for Best Song demonstrated the disparate levels of fame often present between competitors. New dogs on the block the Jakes and Aushua (now Pacific Hurt) competed against Orange County juggernaut the Offspring. Go figure. In a testament to the competition's goal of recognizing local talent at all levels, Aushua won. It was also a watershed year for songstress Clark, who was nominated for Best Pop Artist, and then signed to Shangri-La Records.

2010: Heavy drama affected this season; the previous year's winner for Best Acoustic Act, Cory Case, suffered a random assault at a Halloween-night party in Costa Mesa, which led to a crushed eye socket. (The case remains unsolved.) Fullerton band Lit dealt with their own tragedy when drummer Allen Shellenberger died of a brain tumor the year before. As a tribute to their dearly departed, the remaining members played an acoustic version of the song “Here's to Us” at the awards show.

2011: Although devoid of any over-the-top theatrics, this year's showcases were not without surprises. If there were an award for Best Use of a Bicycle As an Instrument, folkie May McDonough would win hands-down; her band used an upside-down bicycle contraption for percussion. Finally, no other band in the 2011 crop had a bigger year than the Steelwells. Not only were they winners of the Best Live Act, but also Rolling Stone has selected them to participate in a nationwide, fan-driven contest. The winner will be featured on the cover of the hallowed rock rag.

This article appeared in print as “Eyes On the Prize: The highs and lows from 10 years of the Orange County Music Awards.”

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