Tuesday, 24 January 2012 12:53

John Sinkevics' take on The Jammies, pop music and buzzworthy shows

Written by  John Sinkevics
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It's all about the music.

Unlike the Grammy Awards' la-la land of red carpets and celebrity sidewalk stars, Grand Rapids' Jammies are the no-hype awards.

That's what makes it one my favorite nights of the year.

February's roots-driven, camaraderie-filled Jammie Awards show hosted by community radio station WYCE-FM at The Intersection has grown over the past 12 years into a can't-miss event.

And this year, it falls on Valentine's Day, making it a real love-in for local music. Dozens of regional acts will perform, applauded by hundreds of fans and pals from other bands. WYCE will dole out awards to grinning, appreciative musicians, some of whom may never get further recognition for their hard work and alluring albums.

More important, attendees will experience a microcosm of West Michigan's tantalizingly eclectic music scene. I'm convinced there's more envelope-pushing passion coursing through the veins of Jammie nominees than there is among the ego-driven, international artists vying for Grammys.

That's because mainstream pop music needs a jump-start.

Influential rock guitarist Carlos Santana told me that in an interview years ago and his words still ring true.

"A lot of music today is coma-inducing," he offered without apology. "Radio is really programmed. They're afraid of emotion and intensity."

Blame it on a long-standing romance with mediocrity: Industry movers and shakers hype copycats and re-treads, hail safe and screen-friendly stars catering to unsophisticated tweens, and revel in the lowest common denominator. They lock their audiences in a dumbed-down loop of musical blandness.

Maybe it's like that old rock 'n' roll joke about the bass player who locked his keys in the car: It took two hours to get the drummer out.

Or maybe I just happen to be a sucker for musician jokes.

Fortunately, plenty of savvy, independent musicians working outside the mainstream refuse to get locked into mediocrity. Many have become the face of West Michigan's music scene: revered by those who appreciate innovative talent even if it fails to attract major label interest.

These artists aren't beholden to the industry money machine, which once again is sure to trot out over-rated pop stars for bizarre duets in a televised Grammy spectacle just two days before the Jammies.

To be fair, nominees in 2012's revamped Grammy categories include deserving acts/critics' darlings Bon Iver, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, The Civil Wars and Fleet Foxes, as well as a few folks with West Michigan ties: rock's Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, R&B's El DeBarge, pianist-composer Clare Fischer and opera singer Meredith Arwady.

black-keys-2012But it's the no-hype charm of the Jammies that really gets my musical taste buds salivating. After surviving a mostly dull January, it's the perfect kickoff to another year of promising musical highlights, with buzz-worthy international tours and notable local milestones looming ahead:

The Black Keys make a March 18 stop at Van Andel Arena on the band's first national arena tour. The hot-as-blazes duo from Akron, touring behind a new album, El Camino, might not fill all the arena's seats, but they'll fill the rafters with their blues-infused garage rock. And "Run Like Hell" for tickets to this one: Ex-Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters brings his high-tech "The Wall" to the arena on June 6. After catching this eye-popping affair in 2010, I can vouch for it as one of rock's most impressive productions ever. Plus, don't rule out a 2012 Grand Rapids homecoming by Kiedis and the Chili Peppers.

• On a smaller stage, Calvin College's Covenant Fine Arts Center boasts appearances by Canadian hip-hop artist Shad on Feb. 13, singer-songwriter My Brightest Diamond on Feb. 20, indie-rock's Eisley on March 13, and Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn on April 20. The Intersection, meanwhile, hosts the harmony-filled Milk Carton Kids on March 21 and pop-rock's Hot Chelle Rae on April 25.

• Festival-wise, West Michigan apparently will see return of the Electric Forest Festival at Double JJ Resort north of Muskegon June 28-July 1. It's not Rothbury, but after stopping by this jam band-laden hippie camp last year, I can attest it's still got an out-of-this-world vibe. If promoters can work details out with the city, the week-long Rock the Rapids may return to parking lots behind the arena in August. And plans are afoot for an expanded and improved musical showcase hosted by St. Cecilia Music Center during this fall's ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

• Look for major new album releases this year by local artists on the rise: singer-songwriter Drew Nelson, pop's Stepdad and Americana's The Crane Wives.

Call these welcome alternatives to the "coma-inducing" pop that's commanded attention for too long. As Santana put it, "I like melodies. I like wisdom and passion and emotion."

Me, too.

Veteran journalist John Sinkevics spent more than 13 years as The Grand Rapids Press' principal rock/pop music critic and entertainment writer. View his blog at localspins.com.

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