Light shines on movers and shakers of Modesto music makers

The Modesto Area Music Association award show made itself comfortable Tuesday night in its new home, the Gallo Center for the Arts.

Some 850 musicians, promoters, dignitaries and fans came to see the eighth annual awards show at the just-opened arts center. Besides having a new venue, the award show was open to the public for the first time in its history.

Awards were handed out in 14 balloted categories. New this year were the jam band and best DJ categories, and the split of the old hip-hop/R&B category into the R&B/funk and urban divisions. All of the winners were picked by the public voting online.

Event co-founder Chris Murphy said online voting was steady and strong this year with some 6,700 ballots cast at www.modestoareamusic.com. Last year, some 6,000 votes were counted. Votes came from as far as Norway and the United Kingdom, Murphy said.

"Voting was tighter this year," he said. "Usually, it's a runaway in some of the categories, but all the races were pretty tight. That showed us that we had a better depth of performers nominated."

The show included a slew of live performances, including numbers by best urban winner Moonshine Bandits and best DJ winner DJ Bobby Sanchez. The show also screened several new music videos, including clips from best alt/indie winner Solar Powered People and best R&B/funk winner EARL.

Best blue-collar band winner Suicide Shift had some of the night's most enthusiastic fans.

"This is for our families and fans and our groupies," said band member Jeff Stine. "I don't know how this happened. I voted for Saucy Cocktail."

In addition, two nonballot awards were given out during the show. The lifetime achievement award went to area music promoter John Griswold. As part of the Downtown Arts Project, Griswold spearheaded the reopening of downtown Modesto's State Theatre in 1994. He also founded a smooth jazz concert series under his group John Griswold & Friends (now the Modesto Arts and Music Organization). Earlier this year, he left the group to focus on artist management and start a jazz club in Modesto.

"There are a lot of people I need to thank, but really the only people I need to thank are the audience, who was hungry for entertainment," said Griswold.

The new memoriam award went to longtime area jazz keyboardist Dave Wallace, who died in December. Besides performing in several area groups, Wallace recorded keyboards for Loggins & Messina, Cher and Don Henley, and he was the music director for jazz vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer, with whom he played and toured for six years starting in the late 1970s. Manhattan Transfer will perform on the same Gallo Center stage today and plans to dedicate a song to Wallace.

The night mixed rock 'n' roll mayhem with serious salutes. Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour issued a proclamation at the event declaring it MAMA Day in the city.

"I think the city has really rallied around it," Murphy said. "It is a community event. It really is all about the bands and the community and the scene."

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.