There are at least 1,042 very good reasons the San Diego Music Awards (SDMA) deserve your support.
But those reasons have little to do with the talent-rich lineup that will perform at the 16th annual awards fete, which takes place Monday night at – for the first time – Viejas Concerts in the Park in Alpine. The show will feature such top area artists as Switchfoot, P.O.D., Greg Laswell, A.J. Croce, Transfer, B-Side Players, Gregory Page, Arabella Harrison, Gilbert Castellanos and Dirty Sweet.
Those reasons also have little to do with the approximately 174 bands and solo artists nominated this year in 29 categories, no matter how talented many of them may be. Nor do those reasons include the Lifetime Achievement Award that will be presented Monday to San Diego blues-jazz dynamos Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham, or the 33 local singer-songwriters who perform tomorrow night at Claire De Lune Coffee Lounge in North Park as part of SDMA's 2006 Acoustic Music Festival.
No, the reasons SDMA merits praise are the 1,042 guitars the annual awards fete has given to San Diego County schools since 2000, through its partnership with Taylor Guitars for Schools.
The instruments in question are three-quarter-sized Baby Taylor acoustic guitars, which almost perfectly fit the hands of the fourth-, fifth-and sixth-grade students who are the primary beneficiaries of the Guitars for Schools program. Taylor donates 30 guitars outright each year, and SDMA buys the rest at a discounted price, the better to nurture the young musicians of tomorrow.
“It's been fabulous and has given many of our elementary students the opportunity to learn guitar,” said Karen Childress-Evans, the San Diego Unified School District's director of Visual & Performing Arts. “And there's no way these kids would have had that opportunity otherwise.”
The impact of Guitars for Schools extends to dozens of campuses throughout the county. It is all the more crucial in an era when music and arts classes have been eliminated or drastically slashed at almost every grade level, here and across the nation.
“The Taylor Guitars for Schools program is really making a difference in the lives of our children,” said Shirley Wilson, the principal of Oak Park Elementary School Music Conservatory, which in 2004 received 30 free guitars through the SDMA/Taylor program.
The 16th annual San Diego Music Awards, with Switchfoot, P.O.D., A.J. Croce and more
7:30 p.m. Monday;
Viejas Concerts in the Park, 5005 Willows Road, Alpine;
$30-$50; (619) 641-5823
Such comments are music to the ears of Kevin Hellman, who founded SDMA 16 years ago and has been its driving force ever since. Under his guidance, the annual nonprofit event has raised more than $400,000. (Until 2000, SDMA made an annual donation to the San Diego Unified School District's music programs.)
“The only thing I've ever cared about is raising money for schools,” Hellman said. “I really don't care who wins or loses at the awards; it's about giving back to the community. When you go to the schools and see the lights in the kids' eyes when they get these guitars, its a very special feeling.”
So far as can be determined, none of the first recipients of the guitars in 2000 has been nominated for an SDMA. But that day may not be far away. And for young and veteran San Diego musicians, just being an SDMA contender is a welcome sign of wider recognition and acceptance.
“This is my first nomination, and everybody I know is really curious and excited,” said 24-year-old R&B/Latin singer Pearl Ayon, who earned a Best Hip-Hop Album nod for her self-produced debut, “Can You Feel It?”
The San Diego Music Awards' 2006 Acoustic Music Festival, with Matt Curreri, Anya Marina, Michael Tiernan and more
7 p.m. tomorrow;
Claire De Lune Coffee Lounge, 2906 University Ave., North Park;
$10; (619) 641-5823
“If I win, I'll have a better range of people I can contact who will know me. And if I don't win, it's an honor just to have been nominated because I didn't expect it at all. The main reason I want to attend is to get to know more people in the San Diego music community.”
That was precisely the impetus for singer-songwriter A.J. Croce when he attended his first SDMA event in 1992.
“I thought it was like going to the Grammy Awards or something,” said Croce, 34, a six-time SDMA winner whose latest release, “Cantos,” is nominated this year for Best Pop Album and Album of the Year. He will perform at Monday's event with musical pals Gregory Page and Gilbert Castellanos, who both are nominees for albums they released on Seedling, Croce's new indie label.
“The first time I attended, the Beat Farmers and Mojo Nixon were there, and so was every musician I knew, or knew of, in San Diego,” Croce continued. “So it was really unbelievable for me. And everyone was so supportive.”
Guitarist Mike Keneally, 44, one of this year's Best Rock Album nominees, agreed.
The 2006 San Diego Music Awards'Leading Nominees
Angels & Airwaves: Album of the Year (“We Don't Need to Whisper”), Song of the Year (“The Adventure”)
A.J. Croce: Album of the Year, Best Pop Album (“Cantos”)
Tristan Prettyman: Album of the Year (“Twentythree”), Song of the Year (“Love, Love, Love”)
Switchfoot: Album of the Year (“Nothing Is Sound”), Song of the Year (“Stars”)
– GEORGE VARGA
“It's always nice when the music community has the opportunity to bond and people from different genres can get together,” he said. “I don't play in town all that much, so it feels good to have your community recognize you.”
In an effort to bolster that community and lend a helping hand to aspiring young musicians, Hellman this year co-founded the San Diego Music Foundation (SDMF).
The goal of the new nonprofit organization is to provide year-round programming, in addition to the annual awards fete. Helman credits the creation of the foundation for inspiring him to not step down from the annual awards show, as he had announced he would last year.
The foundation is co-led by local entertainment attorney J. Benton Moore III, publicist Bryan Spevak, Belly Up Tavern talent buyer Chad Waldorf and Al Guerra, the host of radio station 91X-FM's local music showcase, “Loudspeaker.” Guerra's popular show will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a Sept. 30 concert at Viejas Concerts at Bayside that stars Switchfoot, Unwritten Law, P.O.D., Rust, Steve Poltz, Mojo Nixon and others. A portion of the proceeds will benefit SDMF.
The new foundation presented a free July 21 music publishing workshop at the Lafayette Hotel & Suites in North Park that drew more than 100 people. An Oct. 21 workshop on digital music is tentatively scheduled at the same location.
“We want to give young musicians an opportunity to learn the business,” Hellman said. “All the workshops we're planning will be free, with the idea being we can find grant money to help young bands and musicians become professionals by teaching them parts of the business they may not know.”
THE SAN DIEGO MUSIC AWARDS TOP ALL-TIME WINNERS
12 wins – Jaime Valle
11 wins – blink-182
9 wins – Sprung Monkey
8 wins – Buck-O-Nine, Candye Kane, Steve Poltz
7 wins – Greyboy All Stars, Rocket From the Crypt, Rockola
6 wins – B-Side Players, A.J. Croce, Jewel, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Common Sense
5 wins – Big Time Operator, Fattburger, Hot Rod Lincoln, Jason Mraz
4 wins – Berkley-Hart, Big Mountain, No Knife, P.O.D., Eve Selis
3 wins – Agent 51, Asphalt Ballet, The Album Leaf, Convoy, Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra, Charles McPherson, Louis XIV, Mississippi Mudsharks, Tobacco Road, Unwritten Law
2 wins – Multiple winners
– GEORGE VARGA