Buffet of Champions

You came, you saw, you voted: the winners of the 2005 Riverfront Times Music Awards

Best Jam Band The SchwagThe Schwag is nothing short of a St. Louis institution. For thirteen years the band has played weekly local gigs, as well as countless dates around the country. They don't play "Free Bird," but they play just about everything else. Like the band they strive to emulate, they don't make up a set list before taking the stage but instead keep a master list of song possibilities onstage and rely on the all-too-eager audience for the power of suggestion. The idea is to create a totally different Schwag show every time, and they're not joking around with this ambition: The past four set lists from their weekly Tuesday-night gig at Cicero's are always taped to the wall, and even the most discerning Deadheads should be impressed by their variety. You'll get a stellar "Sugar Magnolia" and "China Cat Sunflower," just not every week.

When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, things became more serious for the Schwag. Instead of being emulators they became torchbearers, and they take seriously the role of keeping the vibe alive. With a catalog of more than 200 songs at their disposal, keeping things lively and interesting without being repetitive isn't hard to do. Though the lineup has changed over the years -- older St. Louisans will surely remember Blue Dixie and the Kind, both of which have shared members with the Schwag -- the goal has remained the same. That goal was solidified in 1997 with the first-ever Schwagstock, a weekend-long camping festival featuring music from the Schwag and support from other like-minded local and regional acts. Eight years later, the Schwagstock tradition is still going strong, with at least one event per month during summers at Camp Zoë in Salem, Missouri.

So why with all the goodness do they call themselves the Schwag? Why not the Headies or the White Rhinos or the Mango Skunks? Sure, we'd all rather have dank, but when it comes right down to it, we'll take whatever gets us off. And in St. Louis, that's the Schwag. -- Jess Minnen

From top: MU330, Dave Black
Jennifer Silverberg
From top: MU330, Dave Black
From top: MU330, Dave Black
Jennifer Silverberg
From top: MU330, Dave Black

Best Jazz Dave stone trioWith the recent emergence of St. Louis vocalist Erin Bode as a rising star on the international jazz scene, complete with attendant publicity in the Wall Street Journal and various slick music magazines, you might think the talented Ms. Bode would be a lock in this year's RFT music poll, too -- but you'd be wrong.

See, St. Louis music fans aren't about to let any highfalutin media types from somewhere else tell them what's what. And so, in the "best jazz" category for 2005, the lock apparently belongs once again to a laconic young saxophonist little known outside St. Louis, yet beloved by RFT music poll voters: The Dave Stone Trio has won yet again.

Stone's steady Friday-night gig at Mangia Italiano undoubtedly helps him maintain top-of-mind awareness among younger listeners who frequent the South Grand area, but those votes alone wouldn't necessarily be enough to put him over the top. Fact is, Stone has matured significantly as a musician since he first began showing up in our poll results in the mid-'90s. He's greatly expanded his repertoire, developed and deepened his timbral resources, gained confidence and learned how to play within the changes as creatively as he plays outside them.

Writing about one of his past Music Award wins, at least one former RFT writer predicted massively great things for Stone, even implying that history will rank him alongside Miles Davis as one of the greatest jazzmen St. Louis has ever produced. Then and now, that seemed hyperbolic. But while it may be premature to compare Stone with the all-time greats, there's no doubt he's already made a lasting impression on RFT readers, and with any luck he'll continue to impress listeners for many years to come. -- Dean C. Minderman

Best Live Dance/Electronic Femme FatalitySometimes the worst thing one can say about a band is that they get by on attitude. In the case of this year's best Live Dance/Electronic winners, Femme Fatality, it might be the best thing to say about them. What else but attitude can make a band start twenty minutes late at their showcase, leaving the audience to stare at a blank projection screen and suffer through Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" -- then make that same audience love them just by walking onstage to dis the venue where they've been assigned to play? What else but attitude can lead two young upstarts to air a very public beef with St. Louis scene stalwarts Riddle of Steel (see either group's STLPunk.com page for the very funny back-and-forth) and come out more popular than before?

Much like the Faint, Femme Fatality play retro synth-dance punk with a heavy visual element to their live show -- handheld red lights, film clips, etc. But unlike the Faint, Monanani Palermo and Octavia Leito know it's better not to act like they're playing all the instruments when it's obvious they're not, instead working the crowd into a frothy, rabid, dancing mess by flirting, threatening and goading.

Femme Fatality's critics could say the whole dance-punk thing is so over, could make fun of their Hives-like matching outfits or their perfectly styled hair. But to do so would miss the point. It's fun to dance, and Femme Fatality can instantly turn a crowd of shoe-gazing hipsters into an enthusiastic club crowd. It's hard to intellectualize why you might not like a band when you're moving your feet. -- Travis Petersen

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