Local musicians, well-wishers and curious spectators crowded the foyer of the Andy Warhol Museum earlier this month for the first annual Pittsburgh Rock Music Awards. An effusive handful dressed in their red-carpet finest; others wondered how they got nominated ... and who all these other bands were.
The event is the brainchild of Pittsburgh musician Allie Nickel, who heads up a new Internet label, Backallie Music. Beginning last November, anyone could visit the Backallie website (backalliemusic.com) and nominate their favorite local punk, hardcore, alternative, indie and metal bands. A second round of voting was conducted by celebrity judges, Anti-Flag's Justin Sane and Liz Berlin, of Rusted Root. At stake: a plaque and the opportunity to be represented by Backallie Music.
Sane probably spoke for a few attendees when he confessed that, when initially approached by Nickel, "my immediate reaction was to run from it, because anything resembling a 'battle of the bands' is complete bullshit." His mind changed, he said, as he came to see the awards as a chance to "break down barriers, and inspire one another."
And the night did hold an inspiring moment or two. The evening's charming emcee, Phat Man Dee, opened with a moving tribute to recently deceased local rocker Bobby Porter. But many in attendance seemed preoccupied with: a) hopes of winning something, if only to make the $12 entrance fee worthwhile; b) not puking as award presenter Andrew the Impaled hammered a screwdriver into his nose, and seemingly into his brain; and c) trying to decipher (with a sketchy sound system and mildly confused presenters) what exactly was going on.
"If you guys are actually here, you're supposed to come up and accept your award," Nickel announced after the first couple of winners proved to too shy, befuddled or absent to figure that out on their own.
"Best All-Around Music Video" went to The Composure; the winner's list is on Backallie's Facebook page. As often happens with online voting, the list of nominees seemed lumpy and uneven; a stronger get-out-the-vote effort might have helped. Not so bad for a first go-round, though: Backallie Music is admirably ambitious, and all hearts are in the right place.