The 2004 RFT Music Awards

The folk music that distinguishes the Crew's version of punk isn't just a matter of acoustic instruments, Irish inflections or quasi-epic song structures. It's about how the band uses tradition to release the full spirit of its weirdness. Over the past year, the WSC's knack for storytelling has sailed far past Treasure Island and found friendly, inspiring ports in the Handsome Family and the Carter Family (whose catalog they once affectionately massacred at a Halloween gig). Lead singer and songwriter Brien Seyle says he's only "skimmed the surface" of traditional music, that he's "never been a serious student of anything," but lyrics like "I'll not relent to wail or repent for the things I've done wrong/The tears of the widows are my bitter wine, their cry is my bitter song" could make Alan Lomax stop spinning in his grave and reach for his microphone.

Since walking away with last year's Best New Artist award, the Crew has lost some members and gained others. The current full-time lineup includes Beth Dill (fiddle, vocals), Jason Matthews (banjo), Luke Deichmann (bass), Robby Laptad (drums), Chris Meister (mandolin) and Brien Seyle (guitar, vocals and second fiddle). Gone is the pennywhistle, washboard and "Commodore 64" -- not the 'puter, but the dude in the vestments beating on a broiler pan at the front of the stage.

The band will likely never outrun the Pogues comparisons -- Seyle has never denied Shane MacGowan's influence -- but the WSC knows a gimmick, even in the goof-loving confines of Frederick's Music Lounge, will only take it so far. Far better to kick off with a speedy little banjo lick, give a collective minor leap and major lean, charge right into the rhythmic squall, let fiddle and mandolin rip, and still come out with songs worthy of the antic energy you put into them. -- Roy Kasten

Top: Dave Stone  Bottom: Javier Mendoza (left) and his band
Jennifer Silverberg
Top: Dave Stone
Bottom: Javier Mendoza (left) and his band
Top: Fontella Bass  Bottom: The Dead Celebrities
Ryan Hudson
Top: Fontella Bass
Bottom: The Dead Celebrities

Best Groove

CORE Project

If, during this election year, you should hear the phrase "grassroots campaign" invoked and you should perchance wonder what it means, think of CORE Project and their omnipresent stickers. We've all seen them on telephone poles or cars and wondered if they weren't referring to some zesty new soft drink. But a tireless grassroots campaign can only be worthwhile if it draws attention to a worthwhile candidate, and CORE Project, a seven-piece hip-hop ensemble with distinct roots in funk and jazz, has done all the right things to build street cred, and without any gratuitous gangsta cachet to boot.

The band has had quite a year, having seen the exit of one vocalist and the addition of Matt "Mathias" Fornia, who moved back into the comfortable arms of the Lou after fleeing the harsh climes of LA We'll have to see whether they're engaging in any California dreamin' once they get out of the studio, in which they've sworn to escape the humidity this summer.

CORE Project continues to rule this strange thing we call groove. It doesn't hurt that name recognition, whether positive or negative or plastered on a bathroom wall, can be a bitch for the opposition when things come down to a vote. -- Taylor Upchurch

Best Hip-Hop

Nelly

There will probably be a lot of people angry about Nelly's latest win for in the Best Hip-Hop category. There were other rappers with bigger hits or more street cred this year. But even though it's been a fairly laid-back year for Nelly, he is again the winner, and there has to be a reason he was chosen once again over his more active brethren.

Nelly's win last year followed the release of the mind-bogglingly successful Nellyville and its lead single, "Hot in Herre," which also won a Grammy -- though Nelly, loving the Lou as he does, was probably just as happy for his local win as his national one (well, maybe not). Some of that success has carried over to this year, with the album continuing to sell and "Hot in Herre" still urging ladies to take off all their clothes in many of the east side's finest establishments. But all of that still doesn't explain why, in a year without a new album and with some young Turks hot on his pop-rap trail, Nelly was once again this year's winner.

Could it be that even though Chingy and J-Kwon have followed in his footsteps, Nelly is still the guy with footsteps to follow in? Like it or not, Nelly is the face of St. Louis hip-hop for many in this city and around the globe. And not only is he the biggest music star St. Louis has produced in a long time in any genre, he's also one of the proudest St. Louis natives ever -- has there been a Nelly hit without at least one shout-out to his hometown?

Though his profile has been lower this year, it's not as if Nelly hasn't been up to anything. He's released a record of B-sides and remixes entitled Da Derrty Versions, sold some of his trademark Pimp Juice, collaborated with fellow St. Lunatic Murphy Lee and the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy on one of last summer's most ubiquitous singles -- the undeniably catchy "Shake Ya Tailfeather" -- and searched for the perfect "Apple Bottom" to represent his latest venture, a line of blue jeans for young ladies with back. He's also worked hard on his nonprofit organization, Jes Us 4 Jackie, a group whose goal is to raise awareness in the African-American community about the importance of bone-marrow donation, proving that while Chingy and J-Kwon may have had this year's big hits, the voters have chosen the guy with the biggest heart. -- Travis Petersen

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