2021 Motif Music Award Winners
More than 4,800 of you voted, and the winners of the 2021 RI Music Awards are in! Thanks to the over 230 people came to celebrate and enjoy Fête Music Hall’s drinks and Haven Brothers’ hearty eats.
The event kicked off, in music awards tradition, with an inspiring performance by future rock stars from the School of Rock Seekonk. Then MCs John Fuzek and BettySioux Tailor introduced a bevvy of local music makers, club owners and booking agents. There were performances sprinkled among the awards, including a glow-in-the dark surprise immersive show from the Providence Drum Troupe, a solo performance by emerging country singer Lauren King and some serious rock by lcoal-super-group quartet PonyBoy.
Congrats to all the winners above, to everyone who was nominated (it’s a rigorous process) and to everyone who managed to make original music during the very fraught, weird year we’ve had.
Look for more content, including our Rhody After Dark’s team’s video of interviews with a few of the winners and presenters, online soon at motifri.com/musicawards2021
BEST ONLINE STREAMING PERFORMANCE: Joe Potenza at the Parlour
Bassist Joe Potenza began streaming from the Parlour with his band, Evening Sky when COVID hit, and quickly gained a large and loyal following, so it’s no surprise Potenza took home this inaugural award. – EO
BEST COVID PIVOT: Dusk – Outdoor Concerts and Movies
When RIers were urged to “Take it Outside,” Dusk did just that by developing a full suite of music and movie programming that made attendees feel safe and entertained, with the help of the City of Providence, which turned a mostly unused alley into an outdoor entertainment space. – EO
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO (ALL GENRES): Beth Barron – “I’m Alive”
Beth Barron’s video for her single “I’m Alive” is a beautifully produced piece of art that depicts a classic boy-meets-girl story against the backdrop of Barron’s vocals; she sings straight into the camera, bathed in sepia tones. – EO
FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHER: Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson started photographing live shows for local act Sybil Disobedience, then began getting calls to shoot other bands’ shows. He said of his work that “I make enough money to put pizza in my belly and pay for my big camera.” What more could a photographer ask for? For the second time, Johnson has taken home the laurels by popular write-in vote! – EO
FAVORITE SOUND PERSON: Greg Bass
Greg Bass is a life-long East Providence resident who started mixing bands at the Cage nightclub on Richmond Street in 1984. James McGrath mentored him and gave him the job as house sound person. He stayed with the club in its second location on Union Street and continued when it became Rocket. He has run sound at the second and third Met locations, second and third Living Room incarnations, the second Lupo’s and Lupo’s at The Strand and for the celebrated Thursday night dance concerts at The Towers in Narragansett.
Greg was the original sound person for the PVD/RI Folk Festivals and Common Fence Music since 2016. Greg also is a multi-instrumentalist and singer and has performed in many bands over the years, such as The Bastards, Cool Beverages, Electric Joey, Huge, The SuperMags (who opened for the B-52’s a few years back), and many others. Plus, he is is a non-denominational RI wedding officiant: The Rock and Roll Reverend. – JF
FAVORITE PROMOTER: John Difruscio
John “Cyco” Difruscio has been a promoter since the ’80s, cutting his teeth at The Living Room and Confetti. He now co-owns Askew and Alchemy with his wife, Windsong Hadley, and continues to bring the best bands around to play his stage. – EO
BEST AMERICANA ACT: Man and Wife
Man is Kris Hansen, Wife is his actual partner in marriage Tara Hansen (truth in advertising!), and together they conceive a sound born out of a lifetime of companionship. Friends since they were 15 years old, there is a natural interplay between their voices, a harmony that instinctively knows when one must lead and the other follow. We now pronounce you Best Americana Act 2021. – NC
FAVORITE AMERICANA SINGER / SONGWRITER: Allison Rose
A counselor by day, Allison Rose composes melodies precisely engineered to deliver that “good cry.” This talented multi-instrumentalist’s most devastating weapon is not the guitar, piano or even ukulele, but her voice, which modulates from breathy, secretive whispers to soaring high notes that trigger all the appropriate synapses. There’s an undeniable empathy in her music that enables her to stand out in a field saturated with sad journal entries. When she sings through her grief, it’s to let you know that you can survive your hardships, too. – NC
FAVORITE AMERICANA SINGER / SONGWRITER: Dan Lilley
Last year’s Critic’s Choice Award recipient, Dan Lilley’s decades of dedication yield him the 2021 popular vote. A veteran of numerous bands and projects including Sane; Tyger, Tyger; The Flying Ditchdiggers, Lovetrain, Dan Lilley and the Keepers, Dan Lilley and Scatman, and Forever Young, Dan has become something more than just a fixture in the music community, but a true brand unto himself; a reliable name for honest rock n’ roll. – NC
FAVORITE AMERICANA VOCALIST (1 of 2): Becky Bass
Actress/model/voice-over artist/steel pannist, this supreme hyphenate never ceases to amaze; least of all when leading the band, breathing life into old familiar standards with her honey-coated vocals. Don’t be fooled by her baby face; her commanding presence on any stage is evident the moment she steps in front of the microphone. Countless audiences have found themselves bewitched by her voice, which sounds somehow magically transported from a crackling Victrola to the present day. – NC
FAVORITE AMERICANA VOCALIST (2 of 2): AJ Salemi
AJ Salemi’s words and music are the secret sauce that gives Consuelo’s Revenge its signature eclectic folk gypsy punk vibe. Listen to the beautiful “Teri’s Song” or the barnstorming “The Palatine Light” to see what I mean. – JB
FAVORITE BLUEGRASS BAND: Ocean State Ramblers
If this isn’t the most warm and inviting assemblage of kindly neighbors I’ve ever witnessed, I don’t know what is! The sweet souls who make up this quartet carry the torch for a traditional form of distinctly American music that endures solely because of the love and labor of musicians like these. If you aren’t fortunate enough to catch them at your local farmers market or various festivals around New England, their website offers tips for the best settings to experience their Soundcloud. I would like to nominate the Ocean State Ramblers for Most Endearing Musical Act, if possible. Protect them at all costs! – NC
FAVORITE COUNTRY ACT: Back Rhodes
With their unique take on progressive, or shall we say, thinking man’s country, Back Rhodes have won over audiences across New England. On stages great and small, their bright, well-polished style shines just as much as it twangs. The fullness of their sound, accentuated by banjo and violin, create little worlds for us northerners to dream away to. Their most recent single, “Hiding from the Sun,” evokes the feeling of walking into a honky-tonk, not quite getting up the nerve to approach the cowgirl with the biggest hair, stepping outside for a smoke and regaining your courage after a shot of Jack. Maybe I’m overthinking it? – NC
FAVORITE BLUES ACT: Neal & the Vipers
I have a vivid memory of a local television commercial that ran circa the early ’90s, when I was still an impressionable youth. Some venue, probably defunct, advertising its summer concert series. The rock radio DJ voice-over announces “Young Neal & The Vipers” and for no more than three seconds an image of a man in black sunglasses playing a black guitar with a bad attitude splashes across my low-definition floor unit. These guys have been at it forever and they still gig more than anyone you could possibly name. They are the realest out there and it is once again our honor to recognize them. – NC
FAVORITE CHORAL ACT: Rhode Island Gay Men’s Chorus
Last year’s winners in this category return as champions under a new name! Formerly the Providence Gay Men’s Chorus, this celebrated ensemble rang in the new year with a declaration to represent the Ocean State in its entirety. With a mission statement “to build a world where musical beauty, creativity and expression are experienced, valued and nurtured,” we couldn’t ask for better. – NC
FAVORITE FOLK ACT: Dan Lilley & the Keepers
Racking up the accolades, Dan Lilley takes home another award for his work with accompanying band The Keepers. Our readers voted them Best Folk Act, but you’d be hard pressed to pigeonhole them. Classic rock, blues, covers and originals, Dan Lilley & The Keepers personify timeless, quality music. – NC
FAVORITE JAZZ ACT: Joe Potenza
In a very tight voting race, acclaimed bassist Joe Potenza edged out the competition. Consummate professional and staple of the Rhode Island jazz scene, Joe has provided the groove for every combination of trio, quartet and impromptu collective of note. As humble as he is talented (if that’s even possible!) he’s self-described as “just a bass player trying to get by.” Our readers seem to think you’re doing just fine, Joe! – NC
FAVORITE R&B ACT: Steve Smith & the Nakeds
With nearly 50 years experience in the biz under their championship belt, it’s no surprise that Steve Smith and the Nakeds are repeat winners in this category. This road-tested and RI Music Hall of Fame inducted 10-piece (!) puts on a live show that is second to none. Steve’s booming voice and magnetic presence keep crowds of all ages engaged, while the armada of highly skilled musicians assembled on stage make the whole thing sound larger than life. – NC
FAVORITE WORLD MUSIC: Atwater Donnelly
The term “world music” is a bit inelegant, a terse phrase that’s meant to be broad, but not-quite-all-encompassing. I find it similarly difficult to describe Atwater Donnelly as merely a musical act. Sure, they play music: on an array of instruments and across numerous genres, spanning multiple cultures and continents. But they also dance, and recite poetry, and write books, and curate a radio program. The common thread apparent in all of their endeavors is that they educate and work to bring the world wherever they go. – NC
FAVORITE STREET BAND / BRASS BAND / MARCHING BAND: Brass Attack
Last year’s winners of the coveted “Favorite Wedding Band” award, Brass Attack are the go-to guns for hire for any event in need of live music. Emphasis on live. They perform without a net (“no pre-recorded sequenced music tracks, vocal tracks, are used … ever!” reads their bio) to the delight of audiences at wedding receptions, corporate events, and even two former presidents! With a wide-ranging repertoire that guarantees a little something for everybody, it’s easy to see why Brass Attack remains a favorite. – NC
FAVORITE OPEN MIC: Askew Thursdays with Mike Newell & The Parlour Open Mic with Steve Donovan
Voters couldn’t settle on just one best open mic night, so this year we recognize the outstanding weekly happenings at The Parlour and Askew! Every Wednesday, Steve Donovan gives you the stage at The Parlour to perform your music, comedy, poetry, one-man show, you name it. Thursdays at Askew are an open jam session led by the decorated Adam Newell. (Checks calendar…) Looks like you don’t have to choose either, why not experience both? – NC
FAVORITE AMERICANA ALBUM: Lauren King – “The Wolf is Back”
On chilly dirt road ballads like “Wild Woman,” you can picture the vapor leaving Lauren King’s mouth as she repeatedly pleads “What if I can’t change?” to a desolate, wintry landscape. Composed in nature, primarily during the early days of the pandemic, the lyrics on The Wolf is Back frequently circle around feelings of loneliness and longing, all while a violin sighs in the background. Just when the heartbreak gets to be almost too much to bear, “Romeo” switches up the mood with its peppy horn section and subtle pop production flourishes. Followed by the inspirational “Angel Song,” which urges “Don’t stop that fire within you / They can’t take it away,” King presents an album that is cohesive but complex in the facets of emotions displayed. – NC
FAVORITE AMERICANA FESTIVAL: Rhythm and Roots Festival
Spanning three days, three stages, dozens of food and craft vendors, and an entire campground full of activities, this big time music festival has been a Labor Day Weekend tradition in Charlestown for over 20 years. Music lovers congregate at Ninigret Park to experience an eclectic assortment of artists playing blues, swing, zydeco, polka and everything in between. Previous years’ lineups have included performers such as Bruce Hornsby, Los Lobos, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and The Squirrel Nut Zippers among other well-known national acts. – NC
ALT / ROCK
FAVORITE ALT ACT: The Quahogs
The Quahogs taking the top honor in the top category was really a long-time-coming coronation. The Quahogs squeeze the juices from the roots of Americana and burn them up in a boiling rock ‘n’ roll stew. The Quahogs don’t have any shows listed, but they play out pretty frequently as a band, and guitarists Stev DelMonico and Steve Donovan regularly play out solo. – MC
FAVORITE LIVE ACT: David Tessier and the All-Star Stars
David Tessier and the All-Star Stars are always a great time live, whether they are performing their own stuff or doing a few themed tribute sets to bands such as The Monkees. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them live, but back in 2018 I described them as somewhere between an intergalactic hybrid of Radiohead meets E.L.O. with a nod to ‘70s Pink Floyd. Seems about right to my foggy memory. – MC
FAVORITE REGGAE ACT: Becky Bass
Becky Bass is renowned for her angelic voice that soars over the beat of her Caribbean Soul music (winning her two nods in these awards). Over the years, Bass has opened for and played with many international artists, including Oumou Sangare, Yellowman, Warrior King and Wyclef Jean. I couldn’t find out any listings online but in pre-pandemic times, Bass regularly performed at The Parlour on Foundation Mondays. – MC
FAVORITE SKA BAND: The Copacetics
The streak continues as, once again, The Copacetics take home the honors for “Favorite Ska Act” for Lord only knows how many years in a row. I’m guessing at least 8 years (I’m going to assume they would have won in 2020 had there been a Music Awards) but even that could be selling them short. They dominate this category as if they were the Beatles of local ska. – MC
FAVORITE JAM BAND: The Free Radicals
This was a tight category where, with roughly 4,800 votes cast, The Free Radicals pulled out a victory by just five votes. Their margin of victory is probably the only thing narrow about The Free Radicals, as their sound crisscrosses genres and erupts dance floors. – MC
FAVORITE GARAGE BAND: Dirty Birds
The perennial bitter pill in any artistic pursuit is that an artist’s work is lauded only after they are gone. If Facebook is to be believed, this year’s garage band award is posthumous, as the Dirty Birds have officially disbanded. Alas, they gave us only 2019’s Fowl Language EP, four songs of blues-tinged garage rock that clearly made its way into the hearts of the online voting public. – JB
FAVORITE NOISE ACT: Psychic Graveyard
Psychic Graveyard specializes in an anguished collage of industrial noise and is interestingly listed as being from both Providence and San Diego, likely made possible by the magic of digital file sharing. The band’s members previously played in the bands Arab on Radar, Some Girls, All Leather, and Chinese Stars, among others. Their upcoming album, veins feel strange, is due out on September 10. – JB
FAVORITE LATIN ACT: Mambo Pa Ti
Mambo Pa Ti brings the party with them wherever they perform. The organization specializes in dance nights at their home base on Mineral Spring in Pawtucket, where they will teach you salsa and other Latin specialties. But their enthusiastic performance and friendly-teachers vibe can make many other events – including festivals, celebrations and Pawtucket block parties – lively, welcoming and dancerific. – MR
FAVORITE POP PUNK ACT: Math the Band
Someone asked if Math The Band were still even a band. I don’t know as they have been pretty silent other than a livestream earlier this year from AS220. From pre-pandemic times, I remember Math The Band as infectious high energy pop-punk, so I’m glad they won this category instead of Best Choir because that would have really messed with my head. Here’s hoping they’ll play out again. – MC
FAVORITE PUNK ACT: The McGunks
The McGunks have been banging out infectious punk nuggets with big sing-along choruses for probably somewhere close to 15 years. They haven’t lost any luster; on their recent Going Out Early, the whoas of the backing vocals on “Ghost” and “Tire Fire” still soar like a Misfits tribute band. “Think About It” sounds like a tribute to vintage Social Distortion, which is never a bad thing.
There are so many great songs here, but my favorite tune is “Radio” with its Ramones references. It pulls off being earnest while still a total banger to do bad dance moves to in one’s bedroom. Check out Going Out Early on the streaming service of your choice, or pick up the biscuit in person the next time The McGunks come to rock your town! – MC
FAVORITE HARDCORE ACT: Reason to Fight
Reason To Fight has been playing shows constantly, and if you’ve never seen them you’ve been missing out. These guys have been playing music together since 2001, sticking to a classic hardcore sound that never gets old. Last year they put out Demo 2016 on Bandcamp, which I’m assuming is a collection of demos from 2016, but I could just be making that up. – MC
FAVORITE METAL ACT: Angry Skull
This was my personal favorite winner in this year’s awards, as Angry Skull edged out a victory in the Best Metal Act by a mere five votes! Angry Skull is part of the Outsider Art movement and promotes community, human rights, autism awareness and Down syndrome awareness. Angry Skull hasn’t been able to play, or even see each other, for the last year and a half. Hopefully one day we will see them back rocking onstage when COVID goes away. Angry Skull also has my favorite band name among this year’s winners! – MC
FAVORITE PROG AND EMO ACT: People Eating Plastic
People Eating Plastic are self-described “progressive math rock,” which I think is one of the toughest genres to play. All the stops and starts, tempo changes – it would drive me mad. They are like a hardcore band playing prog-rock – it’s insane! I have the highest respect for musicians like People Eating Plastic who can pull that off. – MC
FAVORITE ALT VOCALIST (1 of 2): Malyssa BellaRosa
A tied result, long the refuge of European sissies, is in this case well-deserved by both parties. Malyssa BellaRosa, a past winner in this category, is a super versatile singer who fronts (with gusto) the groups Gamma Rage and The Sugar Cones. – JB
FAVORITE ALT VOCALIST (2 of 2):
At the helm of myriad punk rock bands like Stubborn Hearts, Lucky United, and For What It’s Worth, Jenn Lombari is constantly busy writing and rocking. If that weren’t enough, she also has a series of solo releases, including 2017’s Heartcore, and a bunch of football trophies, we hear. – JB
BREAKTHROUGH ALT ACT: Bullet Proof Backpack
When it comes to crushing hardcore riffs, I always say it’s best to start ‘em young. Newport’s Bullet Proof Backpack is helmed by 14-year-old Alex Simmons, and their recent Live at Simmons Farm is five or so minutes of maximum tempo, fast-as-you-can-play pandemonium. Here’s to many more Music Awards for this young whippersnapper. – JB
FAVORITE ALTERNATIVE ALBUM:NOVA ONE – “loveable”
Released in late April 2020, the height of the early pandemic, Roz Raskin’s second post-Rice Cakes release was a breath of fresh air that in hindsight seems like a great tonic to a tough stretch. Motif described Loveable at the time as a “nice mix of experimental and conventional, challenging the listener with ambitious themes on a bedrock of melodic maturity.” – JB
FAVORITE TRIBUTE BAND: Dirty Deeds
Speaking of dynasties, how about Dirty Deeds, who are another band that has to be close to at least five consecutive wins. Next year I’m going to suggest adding a new category called Favorite Non-AC/DC Tribute act just to give another band a chance. Dirty Deeds are an interesting story where they have been cranking out those classic AC/DC riffs so long that the band has two generations of family members. Dirty Deeds – The AC/DC Experience will be performing at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival on 11 Ventura St in West Warwick on September 4. – MC
FAVORITE COVER BAND: Heavy Rescue
The Heavy Rescue Band’s recognition here is well deserved as they’ve been bringing happiness to the people for roughly 25 years give or take. The six-piece band is a tight machine that gets asses shaking on the dance floor. The Heavy Rescue Band will be at The Rathskeller in Charlestown on September 4. – MC
FAVORITE KARAOKE NIGHT: The Parlour
As COVID slowly recedes, we’re glad to see the return of karaoke Fridays at The Parlour. Grab the mic and let it rip. – MB
FAVORITE ALT FESTIVAL: RI PRIDE
It was great having the RI Pride Festival return this past year after a year away like everything else in 2020. It is always fun to watch the parade go through downtown and see people come out and celebrate equality. – MC
FAVORITE ELECTRONIC ARTIST: DJ Venom
With a following of nearly 20,000 people, DJ Venom has proven that he knows how to speak to his listeners without even saying a word. While the online following is impressive, DJ Venom is also actively hosting events on a regular basis, in cluding the FReQ show at Alchemy in PVD. He will always be one to look out for if you are a fan of hard dance electronic music. – HK
FAVORITE HIP-HOP ACT: jesse the Tree
jesse the Tree left a major impression on all hip-hop artists and listeners with the debut of his highly anticipated album space tomatoes. He is one of the most talented organic hip-hop artists to come from RI. – HK
FAVORITE HIP-HOP ALBUM: jesse the Tree – “space tomatoes”
With his trendy flows and hard-thought lyrics, jesse’s music is definitely a favorite for all hip-hop fans. space tomatoes starts with the track “Purple,” which is a great way to set the pace. In this track you hear some solid lyricism as well as a clean mix and master that can be heard throughout the entire project. Aside from his own music, jesse made the solid decision to include feature tracks from the likes of NICE and Joe Bruce as well as many other talented artists on this project. – HK
BREAKTHROUGH HIP HOP ACT: Atomic
Atomic is a wonderful addition to the hip-hop scene in RI. With the release of fast-paced tracks such as “Serenity” and “Where I’m At,” a collaboration with Joe Bruce, Atomic has definitely solidified himself as one of the leading acts to look out for in the future. Some of his flows and sound are reminiscent of legendary rapper Eminem, and it is apparent from his work this year that the talent of Atomic can go beyond what we have seen from him. – HK
FAVORITE CLUB DJ: DJ Nes
If you were ever struggling to find a good playlist, turn to DJ Nes. DJ Nes can piece together music of several genres to create just the right atmosphere. The most popular regular tracklists of DJ Nes would be his Valentine’s Day annual project. DJ Nes has an understanding of music that goes deeper than just composing it, he has an understanding of how it is intended to be heard. – HK
FAVORITE DANCE NIGHT: Soul Power
Often referred to as “the best old school dance party” in RI, Soul Power has made a name for itself through years of dedication to the art of inspiring others to dance. Soul Power is generally hosted at Dusk, a highly anticipated event for all party-goers. While it is an old school dance night, that does not make it any less enjoyable for the younger crowds who tune in to the fun. – HK
Fete Music Hall was rigorous in checking vaccination / testing status, and had a gracious bar staff and a great production team. Over the course of the evening, over 230 people came to celebrate and enjoy the music hall and Haven Brothers’ hearty eats.
We kicked things off, in music awards tradition, with an inspiring performance by future rock stars from the School of Rock Seekonk. After MCs John Fuzek and BettySioux Tailor set the tone for the evening with some banter that probably took unfair advantage of the concussion John was performing with, we got into the heart of presenting awards, only to be interrupted by a surprise disruption.
“What is happening? I am completely surprised. I did not see this coming,” deadpanned Fuzek as members of the Providence Drum Troupe emerged unannounced from all corners of the room and balcony, with belly dancers and some sort of huge neon angel taking to the stage as well.
After a glow-in-the dark performance that had the crowd on its feet, the crowd resumed drinking, eating and awarding.
Lauren King then brought the house down again with a solo performance from her new album The Wolf is Back. King later picked up an award for favorite Americana Album. Motif usually plans out the acts before we know who the winners will be, so that was a pleasant surprise.
The last interlude was by super-group quartet PonyBoy, which includes members of multiple other local bands — Vic Foley, Dave Laros, Eric Hanson and Bob Giusti — who brought their manic energy to the stage.
Throughout, we had paparazzi photos and interviews with band members by Motif’s Rhody After Dark video team as well as many delightful acceptance speeches and a microphone take-over featuring the comic stylings of Amber Lynn.
The evening ended with the awards for favorite act in Alt-Rock – The Quahogs; Favorite in Electronica – DJ Venom; and favorite act in Americana – Man and Wife. Congrats to them, to all the other winners above, to everyone who was nominated (it’s a rigorous process) and to everyone who just managed to make original music during the very fraught, weird year we’ve had.
Motif would like to thank so many folks and places for making this year’s awards possible… it’s hard to describe how strange and wonderful it was to again be in a room full of (vaccinated) people who share a love of making music.
Thank you to Fete Music Hall and their excellent staff for choosing our event to be their grand post-COVID reopening event. Dan and Daniel, house producer extraordinaire Steve Domenici, Justin, Christina and all their support team.
Thank you to our sponsors, R1 Entertainment Center, Empire Guitars, RI Blues Fest, Jerry’s Artarama and FoodTrucksIn
Thanks to a collection of amazing performers: School of Rock Seekonk, The Providence Drum Troupe, Lauren King and PonyBoy
Thank you to the many presenters who helped out: MCs John Fuzek and BettySioux Tailor, Amadeus Finlay and Jade Axel, Lizzy Aruaja, James Toomey, Joe DeMarco, Tammy Laforest, Rick Sunderland, Jeremy Dubois, Gregory Rourke, Dave Sorgman, Marc Clarkin, Mike Delehanty, Bobby Forand and Mark Cutler.
Thanks to Haven Brothers and FoodTrucksIn for all the food!
Thanks to our volunteers: Emily Olson, Gary Janczinski, Rico Lanni, Shawn Tetreault on video, Michael Bilow on stills, Amadeus Finlay and Jade Axel on interviews, Jessamy LeBeau, Rob Smith, Mike Ryan and Francie Eannarino on design.
And finally, thanks to all the musicians who came out, supported the cause and agreed to become a part of our new, 200-member cross-all-genres supergroup.