Buffet of Champions

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

Best Roots/Americana

The Whole Sick Crew

The Whole Sick Crew will go out with a bang. After a Music Showcase set that's supposedly their second-to-last show ever -- the last will be at the Hi-Pointe on July 15 with their pals the Pubes -- the Crew wins the best Roots/Americana award. Don't be mistaken: This isn't a case of a hard-won, last-breath victory before a quiet, dignified death -- no, this crew has won before. Two years ago they took the New Artist prize, and last year they became the face of the now-deceased Eclectic/Uncategorizable category. It seems no matter where you stick these guys, they always come out on top, spitting on the losers as well as the people who write about the winners.

G. Ohlenbostel/Action Press
From top: Soulard Blues Band, Steve-O, The Trip Daddys
Jennifer Silverberg
From top: Soulard Blues Band, Steve-O, The Trip Daddys

The Crew began singing pirate ditties in a sea-shanty style that has progressed into a more streamlined brand of punkified Irish folk. They don't quite match their obvious idols in the Pogues -- who could? -- but they sure as hell kick the asses right off the other imitators more well-known on a national level. The band's rolling march drums underpin tight rhythms so that the more exotic instruments -- mandolin, banjo and one, sometimes two fiddles -- can go off, exploring the battlefields carved out of distant seas. And remember, these guys were singing about pirates long before anyone had heard of the Decemberists, and in a way that's far from cute.

Will the Crew survive another year to win in yet another category? Their previous "final show" was about nine months ago, so no one can be sure that this upcoming final show will be their last final show. Perhaps they'll stick around to be part of next year's showcase and win another award in yet another category. Maybe we've found the only way to topple the Soulard Blues Band's century-long reign over the Blues category: Put the Whole Sick Crew in it. -- Travis Petersen

Best Singer-Songwriter/Folk

Dave Black

A musician who clearly doesn't fit the most ill-fitting category ever has won it this year. The award defies common sense. Consider, however, the cosmic sense. Dave Black doesn't write songs, and he doesn't sing. And you wouldn't want to hear him sing, either, though you want to hear him play guitar, as he's one of the deepest, most free-spirited musicians this city has ever known (and we've known quite a few). His pedigree is jazz, but when he plays a solo gig he'll cover "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (as an instrumental) and knows more than a few Leo Kottke numbers. When he takes a contemporary folk tune, you won't recognize it at first. His musical imagination is hermetic but somehow wide-open, free of the piety and earnestness that continues to plague so much acoustic music. One of his great role models, Django Reinhardt, approached jazz guitar the same way: taking gypsy inclinations and pushing them into a space far beyond their folk origins.

Black has been playing guitar in St. Louis for more than twenty years and has frequently gigged beside folkies or folk-influenced players like Monica Casey, Tom Hall, John Higgins and Sandy Weltman, and he's recently been sitting in with Blueground Undergrass, an amped-up bluegrass jam band. Whether plugged in or not, Black's the ideal accompanist for the more elemental acoustic sounds, understated but in total control of every possible combination of every note on the fretboard. His touch is light and quick and takes a melody -- be it from blues or country or rock or jazz -- as far as two hands ever could. It's jazz, but then so are Vassar Clements, David Grisman and Béla Fleck, though some jazzbos would call them folk, and folkie purists don't even bother. "Jazz is open to anything, all accepting, and anything is fair game." That's Dave Black's vision. Folk music has always needed it. -- Roy Kasten

Best Reggae/Ska


Cynics will note that including a Reggae/Ska category in these awards seems either charmingly anachronistic or irritatingly clueless. These naysayers forget this city's long-standing (if not widespread) allegiance to the rock-steady beat. If ska's first wave began in Jamaican dancehalls and its second wave can be traced to middle-class English estates in the late '70s, the fabled third wave may have formed some dozen years later in high school band classes all over the Midwest. At least that's where 2005 RFTMA winners MU330 began the transformation from band geeks to leaders of a regional (and eventually national) ska scene.

Since the early '90s, MU330 have remained true to the joyously kinetic style they began with, using frantic tempos and shredded guitar alongside melodic, forceful horn lines. The band has settled into a five-piece after several personnel changes, the most notable being guitarist Dan Potthast's move to lead singer. In the past couple of years, band members have begun to branch out of the ska vein with well-received side projects: Potthast's solo work recalls Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, while drummer Ted Moll and his wife Heather front the science-fiction-loving combo Bagheera. Such diversions have done little to dull MU330's psycho-ska edge; with the double-trombone assault of Rob Bell and Gerry Lundquist (including the latter's Hulk Hogan-inspired onstage behavior), the band remains one of St. Louis' most reliable high-energy groups.

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