By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Greetings, people of St. Louis: In your hands you are holding roughly 10,000 words penned by the RFT's ink-stained (er, keyboard-strained?) music scribes, covering our 2008 Music Awards nominees. It's also a handy-dandy, comprehensive cribsheet to what we feel are the very best bands and artists playing around town right now. The blurbs are meant to educate and inform as you cast your votes – using the ballot included here or one found online here for the city's best bands.
Due to space and time constraints, not every nominee in every category is able to play this year's Music Showcase, which takes place this Sunday, June 1, from 1 p.m. until after 1 a.m. in the Delmar Loop. (The acts that are playing have times and venues listed underneath their write-ups.) The two outdoor stages are free (and all-ages!), but a mere $5 buys you a wristband that'll give you admittance to eight indoor venues during the day and night.
The winners of the awards will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday, June 10, at the Pageant. This shindig takes place from 7 until 10 p.m., and the top three vote-getting artists will play live! You must RSVP to attend by Monday, June 9, at 5 p.m. by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (314-754-5921).
Most important, come on out to the Loop on Sunday and enjoy the (hopefully sunny) weather and celebration of the city's music scene. Take in a band you might not have heard before or see an old favorite through new eyes; you just never know where you'll find the next piece of music that'll change your life. — Annie Zaleski
With a slow, lonesome strum and slight baritone rasp reminiscent of Beck's work on the breakup masterpiece Sea Change, Caleb Travers brings perspective to heartbreak and paints spot-on images of a relationship's forlorn demise. But the stories told on 2007's Blue Weathered Dreams aren't the foggy, beer-soaked laments of an idealized, wayward wanderer. Instead Travers' songs capture the emotion of everyday life without melodrama or pretense — whether it be through vivid descriptions of family dealings, romantic entanglements or personal struggles. – Shae Moseley
If the Linemen sound like a traditional country band, that's just the instrumental and vocal mastery talking. Kevin Butterfield's rich, smooth high tenor, with its echoes of Don Williams and Gene Watson, modulates through a world of hurt. No jokes, no novelties and no gimmicks — just pure feeling. Around him, Scott Swartz swirls pedal steel and Telecaster sparkles, and the veteran rhythm section of John Baldus and Greg Lamb take aim, straight and true, on the shuffles and waltzes, but then veer into rock and pop terrain, with the songs their only compass. Together, the Linemen are open to all the music that's influenced country over the years — soul, rock and folk — and they fuse it all in a way that ultimately defies tradition. – Roy Kasten
For the three core members of Rough Shop, the term "folk" takes on an all-encompassing definition. John Wendland, Andy Ploof and Anne Tkach add varying elements of blues, jazz, bluegrass and early rock & roll to the pot, showcasing the depth of their musical roots and the limitless possibility of acoustic music. The trio released Here Today earlier this year, and the album highlights each member's talents while maintaining the tightness and bonhomie of a band. – Christian Schaeffer
It's nearly disturbing to witness the little white boys in the Rum Drum Ramblers do the blues so well. Harmonica, upright bass, one drum and a loose-strung guitar are all this trio need to throw down a toe-tapping set. DIY improvisation and authenticity are the main elements of the Ramblers' appeal, though. No instrument is safe from being used as percussion — it feels as though every object in sight is unmercifully slapped with the beat – and the group is just as likely to be seen busking on a street corner as it is playing a proper show.– Jaime Lees
Market in the Loop, 2 p.m.
Theodore plays ragged, unhinged songs that pierce you right in your junk-store heart. Traditional rock & roll instruments alongside a few oddball addendums like accordions and trombones brighten the corners on its first full-length, Songs for the Weary. Singer Justin Kinkel-Schuster writes loaded, potent songs that highlight his expressive voice, which can go from hush to howl at the pluck of a banjo. His bandmates help actualize his story-songs with deft gentleness and barely-contained fervor, while the band's live outings are a tempest-tossed mix of roots music and experimental rock & roll. (CS)
Vintage Vinyl, 9 p.m.
Best Untraditional Americana/Folk
The Bottle Rockets should have exploded ages ago. In the mid '90s, the band had a single, "Radar Gun," which found commercial airplay, while the majorest of major labels, Atlantic, backed one of the greatest rock albums to come out of St. Louis, 24 Hours a Day. But that momentum fizzled, and the BoRox was left with the only things that mattered: its songs and its talent. Pushing into its second decade together, it keeps building on that foundation. Steady bassist and harmony singer Keith Voegele, guitar wizard John Horton, and founders Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann continue to explore just how much soul can be drawn from the rock and country well. The band is living proof that the well really is bottomless. (RK)