The Mint is the city’s oldest rock and roll venue. Established in 1937 in what is now a Jewish business and residential district (great food all around!!), virtually everyone who was anyone in music has played at The Mint: Stevie Wonder, Willie Dixon, Ray Charles, Toni Childs, Martha Davis, Chaka Kahn, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt, Gwen Stephani, Nat King Cole, Lady Antebellum and on and on were on that not especially large stage. So it was exactly the right place this week for the LA Music Critic Winners Showcase.
The LA Music Critic is Bob Leggett, a man who has been involved in the LA music scene for 20+ years as a critic, concert host, and discoverer and promoter of promising new bands. He has written for local publications like Music Connection Magazine, Orange County Register, and Live Magazine, as well as music sites like Examiner.com and AXS.com. Gathered around him is a loose community of music writers like me, promoters, agents, bands and managers who work together to support independent music in the LA area.
The LA Music Critic Winners Showcase is an important part of the LA music scene because it is a welcoming home for rising and successful indie bands, giving them the kind of visibility and audience often only available to signed bands. Although new indie bands enter the LA orbit all the time, old bands often stay in the LAMC family. This goes for both those that go on to national or international acclaim and those that become part of the day-to-day (or night-to-night) fabric of the local LA music scene. Friendships, mentorships and new band configurations are born at the Showcase, where songs are swapped, songwriting teams congeal, and everyone is a winner, especially LA’s music lovers.
So the Showcase this week was a long-anticipated event, and it lived up to the hope. Branded as a Salute to Women in Music, it spotlit nine women, snuck in a “token guy – Jordan Swiek, winner of Best Pop Artist — and presented the 2019 Icon Award to Fanny Walked the Earth, the first all-female band to record an album on a major label.
The Showcase kicked off right on time at 6:30 pm with Americana singer, actress, and voiceover artist Emily Zuzik — you have heard her on NBC’s Love Bites and Bravo’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. Emily delivered three vibrant songs that got us in the mood before she turned the stage over to the irrepressible Dree Mon.
Always breaking the mold, always making heads turn, and always fun, Dree Mon filled the room just with her guitar and her voice, spinning out three rapid-fire songs-stories about life, mostly hers. With orange hair and a sparkle-covered face flashing in the bright red stage lights, Dree Mon’s rap-infused, dance-inducing original songs built on the energy raised by Zuzik. My only complaint is that she could not bring the dance crew from her latest video, “Dance Like I Want To” with her.
“Token man” and Best Pop Artist Award winner Jordan Siwek came onstage and channeled Billy Joel and Elton John with absolutely heavenly piano playing and songs from his album Sun Inside You, reminding us of how music can turn darkness into light. After a break for setup and a few words from Leggett and myself about the need to protect the freedom of the many immigrant musicians in LA in the face of racist onslaughts, Leggett introduced us to the winner of The Best Latin Artist/Band, Constanza Herrero, a Chilean/Australian singer/songwriter and TV actress now living in LA.
With a megawatt smile, movie star looks and a voice that sails like a crystal ship through the air, her songs of love and heartbreak elevated the Showcase to a new level. Herrero’s stellar career in Australia may soon be eclipsed by the stars and fans she is collecting in LA if the response to her performance at the La Music Critic showcase this week was any indication. She left a pretty noisy room speechless.
But a quiet mood in an LAMC audience can only last so long, especially when the wild blues singer Brigitte Purdy comes on and explodes a blues bomb of energy on stage. Winner of the Best CD (female) and Best Blues Artist Awards. Purdy kicked ass and took names, aided by a kick-ass blues band that rocked right along with her. Her voice showed absolute tonal accuracy and precise control – sometimes rare in blues belter. But, as she delivered songs from her album Still I Rise, it was apparent that Purdy is far more than a blues belter – a blues queen is more like it.
Amelia K. Spicer and her band spread out on the stage, winked at us, and let loose with four very clever, very hot country songs. A two-time winner of the Best Roots/Americana Artist Award, she routinely sells out shows in fabled LA venues like McCabe’s. And she set the stage beautifully for one of the night’s most memorable pleasures, the presentation of the 2019 Icon Award to June and Jean Millington and Brie Howard of Fanny Walked the Earth.
FWTE was founded by guitarist June Millington and her sister, bassist Jean, in the early 1960s. After a number of configurations, the band signed with Reprise Records in 1969 as Fanny. They recorded four albums together before Fanny disbanded in 1975, but the Millington sisters continued to play music together until 2018 when they joined with former drummer Brie Howard Darling and launched Fanny Walked the Earth. The rest is history, recording and playing to critical acclaim and, more importantly, changing the perception of women in the music industry. They are credited with inspiring many more female rock and pop bands like The Bangles and The Runaways, who give them a shout out in interviews. Now with the indie label Blue Elan Records, their out-of-retirement album, Fanny Walked the Earth was a smash hit, earning them the LA Music Critic Award for Best Comeback Artist/Band and Best Video (official).
The Icon Award was a hard act to follow, but Manda Mosher pulled it off. A huge part of the beloved Americana band Calico, Mosher has formed a new band with a harder but equally entertaining edge, all of which was on full display from The Mint’s stage. A former LA Music Critic Award winner with Calico, she added unique rhythm and electricity to country and Americana songs. We were delighted when the stage lights went deep red and Mosher and her band turned up the heat with guitar twang, powerful drums, and lyrics that brought it all back home.
Wrapping up the night was The Spider Accomplice, which kept up the heat with their own brand of hard rock. Bathed in intense red light, vocalist VK Lynne and guitarist Arno Numisto blew the roof off The Mint with high sheen, high powered songs. The band has won more LA Music Critic Awards than any other band, most recently capturing Best Video (Lyric) for their song “Epilogue”. As Lynne strode across the stage in her leathers and gloves, driving notes like a hammer into the mic, she and Numisto brought the night to a dynamic and satisfying end. I can hardly wait until next year.
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