Bob Makin , @ReporterBMakinPublished 6:11 p.m. ET Dec. 21, 2016 | Updated 2:56 p.m. ET Dec. 22, 2016
The 18th annual Makin Waves Awards' celebration of New Jersey's best local talent shows just how rich and fertile the Garden State is for independent arts and entertainment
- The Makin Waves Awards return for the first time 11 years with Lowlight, Will Wood and dollys.
- Big winners also include Shady Street Show Band and filmmaker William DeVizia.
- For the first time, the Makin Waves Awards include film, dance, theater and visual art.
- The non-performer Tsunami Award goes to Brittney Dixon, general manager of The Court Tavern.
After a 11-year exile in journalistic purgatory, the Makin Waves Awards have returned for their 18th annual acknowledgment of New Jersey’s best independent artists. Included for the first time is film, art, theater and dance. By independent, I mean they don’t have major record label or movie studio distribution or corporate sponsorship or affiliation.
The big winners are Lowlight, Will Wood, dollys, William DeVizia, and Shady Street Show Band, who each won two.
Best Band: Lowlight. The most fiercely loyal, dedicated and hard-working independent band in New Jersey’s music scene also released one of its best albums, the brilliantly self-produced “Where Do We Go from Here.” Featuring members raised throughout Central Jersey, the Asbury Park-based alternative roots-rock outfit has found a fine home away from home in Brooklyn’s BNS Sessions to grow the female-fronted five-piece from a local into a regional act.
Best Female Artist: Danielle Illario. Whew! Hot does not begin to describe the awesomeness that is Danielle Illario’s sassy, classy jazz/R&B act, whose calendar is filled dates each month throughout Central Jersey, as well as the Jersey Shore and North Jersey. She recently recorded her solo debut album with Anthony Krizan at his Sonic Boom Studios in Raritan Borough. Can’t wait for that baby! See it featured here upon release.
Best Male Artist: Will Wood. Whether solo at his psychedelically detailed piano or thumping away at it on his psychotically detailed songs with his exhaustingly entertaining band, the Tapeworms, Will Wood is New Jersey’s next big thing. And Will Wood and the Tapeworms are the Garden State’s unsigned band most likely to succeed based on the strength of the live show, the devotion of the growing following, and two spellbinding LPs, including this year’s insanely masterful “SELF-iSH.” How often do you see a local, unsigned band get encores or outdraw headlining national acts? I’ve seen them do it twice in as many months.
Best New Artist: American Trappist. The latest band to arise from the ashes of Tom River’s excellent River City Extension (see GayGuy/StraightGuy and Yawn Mower), American Trappist features lead singer and main songwriter Joe Michelini. His haunting, gothic take on folk, roots rock and country is mesmerizing. You can tell how diversely talented Michelini is within seconds of two tracks on American Trappist’s self-titled debut LP, as he goes from the low, Johnny Cash-like growl on the cowboy clomp of “Heaven” to a world-weary falsetto on the EDM-fueled “The Devil Is Real.” I look forward to reviewing this record in the New Year.
Best Album: “Low Year,” dollys. This New Brunswick indie trio broadened their sound with their dynamic sophomore outing. Jazzy breaks, psychedelic washes, cooing background vocals and acoustic sparseness complement cool bombs of indie chic. Vocalist-drummer Natalie Newbold is an indie-pop chanteuse with a steel reserve to match her alluring aggressiveness and cathartic confessions. Guitarist Jeff Lane is at his best matching the sorrow of “Cornerstone” with a fitting slash-and-burn, juxtapositioning a fuzzy buzz and solid ring among the bubble gum-smothered thorns of “How Charming,” and pinning a pretty acoustic accompaniment to the regret of “New Year.” Bassist Erik Kase Romero also does a great job in the producer’s chair piecing together subtle, clever, eclectic nuances within the broad strokes of indie pop.
Best Song: “Don’t Be Fooled by the Rain,” Shady Street Show Band. A cross between The Band with the Toussaint Horns and the late, great keyboard-driven New Orleans groove unit Papa Grows Funk, the Americana soul of The Shady Street Show Band is musically sweet, lyrically rich and rhythmically enthralling. It’s a shame that classic rock radio doesn’t play new bands because the keep-on-keepin’-on hopefulness of "Don’t Be Fooled by the Rain” would sound great alongside “The Last Waltz” version of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The track brings it all back to a time when music meant something and wasn’t disposable.
Best Songwriter: dollys. The bubblegum punk of dollys — vocalist-drummer Natalie Newbold, guitarist Jeff Lane and bassist-producer Erik Kase Romero — has spread throughout the East Coast like an infection, but in this case, infectious pop. Blended with the indie trio’s punk energy and emotionally raw lyrics, the 10 song-filled nuggets on the band’s sophomore LP, “Low Year,” have taken them far with frequent tours up and down the East Coast. 2017 promises to be an even higher year for this exceptional songwriters.
The Battery Electric rock Asbury Park's House of Independents with "Holiday in Heaven" The video was made by Red Bank Film Factory's William DeVizia, director of "Let Me Down Hard," a local independent film featuring The Battery Electric. BY WILLIAM DEVIZIA/RED BANK FILM FACTORY
Best Live Act: The Battery Electric. Asbury Park’s Devils in Denim are as fun as rock ‘n’ roll gets with your clothes on. The soul-punkbrothers need to turn the rest of the country and eventually the world onto their deliciously decadent charms that fuse The Misfits, Kiss, and Ramones with James Brown and Duane Eddy.
Tsunami Award: Brittney Dixon. For 17 years, the Tsunami Award went to the person behind the scenes of the New Jersey music scene who worked hard to keep it great and make it greater. Previous winners include Jacko Monahan of The Brighton Bar and WRSU’s “Overnight Sensations.” This year’s award hands down goes to Brittney Dixon, who forever will be known as the Woman Who Saved the Court Tavern. I can’t image if the Court had closed for good. Dixon not only saved the historic Hub City nightclub but also developed inventive programming and many stacked weekends to increase interest in the city and the state’s rich and fertile music scene. Dixon is without question a cornerstone on which many within the scene have come to rely, and her love for the scene is contagious.
Chevonne and The Fuzz perform a live in-studio version of "The Higher The Hair" recorded and filmed at Architekt Studios in Butler, where they recorded their self-titled debut album. ~Courtesy of Chevonne and The Fuzz
Best Bassist: Johnny Zabe, Experiment 34. Zabe puts the groove in E34’s psycho funk in an aggressive but fluid way that would make Flea proud and makes me proud to be a band dad to this my son Matt’s band.
Best Keyboardist: Will Wood. One of the many things that makes Will Wood such a dynamic performer is his steep piano chops. Love a guy who can make Mozart rock!
Best Instrumentalist: Bruce Krywinski Jr., Backyard Superheroes, Waiting on Mongo, Fun While You Wait, and Shady Street Show Band. Krywinski is such an in-demand horn player, I’ve probably left some stuff out of his credits. But whether mainly on trumpet and flugelhorn or fooling around with a trombone, this brass man is aces.
Best Producer/Engineer: Ryan Weil, Weilhouse Productions. Ryan Weil made great albums this year by Fun While You Wait (“Continuity”) and P-Funk North (“Buds Won’t Break Your Heart”) with another on the way for his Backyard Superheroes.
Best Music Video: Lowlight’s “Bones” directed byAndy Bond. This is actually a short film that has screened well at festivals. The gorgeous images blend beautifully with this lush, but rootsy song from Lowlight’s pastoral debut, “Where Do We Go from Here?”
Best Short Film: “Moves We Make” by Nonstop Entertainment. Based on Plainfield author J.M. Benjamin’s crime-thriller “Checkmate,” “Moves We Make” is an award-winning short that also works as a television pilot. Here’s hoping a series gets picked up.
Best Feature Film: “Let Me Down Hard” by William DeVizia. This film hits home so hard with anyone closely associated with the New Jersey music scene that it’s a pleasure to add this accolade to awards won at Garden State Film Festival and Asbury Park Music in Film Festival.
Best Web Series: “Here We Wait” by Olivia Baptista. With this behind-the-scenes look at a restaurant’s staff shot at her family’s restaurant, Ria Mar, in her hometown of South River, writer-producer-director-actress Olivia Baptista demonstrates why her company is called Multihyphenate Productions.
Keith Roth of Siriux XM radio stars as a veteran rocker who returns home in the hopes of a professional and personal comeback. Roth will participate in a GannettNJ-sponsored indie music panel on April 16 at the Court Tavern. VIDEO COURTESY OF RED BANK FILM FACTORY
Best Filmmaker: William DeVizia. It takes a great deal of talent and fortitude to make an independent film even better than could have been done with the offer of a big-budget, star-studded production. Williams DeVizia’s six-year effort with “Let Me Down Hard” always will be remembered and appreciated by the Jersey Shore music scene it soulfully depicts.
Best Dance Group: Rock Dance Collective. Under the lovely artistic direction of Cleo Mack, Blair Ritchie, and Kelli McGovern, co-owners of Washington Rock Dance in Warren, Rock Dance Collective are as environmentally and socially minded as they are beautifully inventive.
My first introduction to the Asbury Park music scene was in 1978 when Lord Gunner played a Goodbye Bennie Beer Bash on Elizabeth Carter Beach in my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach. In addition to former E Street drummer Vini Lopez, I met singer-songwriter Lance Larson. It’s great to see that nearly 40 years later, we’re still rockin’, especially Larson, who recently had a song, “Angel with Broken Wings,” placed in the new Lionsgate film “Solace,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell. The song was licensed via Larson’s publisher, Westwood Music Group, and the video featured above was shot by Neil Seiffer. Congrats to all …
Reminder that Roxy & Dukes is hosting a free Christmas dinner from 4 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 25 for all those in need with a performance by Will Wood, winner of two Makin Waves Awards (see above). If you know anybody in need, send them the club’s way. And be sure to check out one of Roxy & Dukes best-love regular acts, The Gas House Gorillas, on Dec. 23 for their annual holiday spectacular, featuring the Massachusetts-based vaudeville folk-punk band Bella’s Bartok, burlesque dancer Vivi Noir and much more …
If you're looking for a super sexy take on Christmas, definitely check out Plainfield R&B diva Jayel's "Wrap Me Up," a hip-hop reworking of Earth Kitt's "Santa Baby" and other alluring holiday classics. A video was directed and edited by Jayel, who also is an actress, Jazmine Lambert, featured in the award-winning Plainfield-produced film, "Moves We Make" (see Makin Waves Awards). For more about Jayel, visit IAMJAYEL.COM ...
Congrats to coLAB Arts, who not only won the Makin Waves Award for Best Theater Group, but also a $10,000 Challenge America grant to support the Rail/Arts/River Artist Residency, an artist-in-residence who will be selected and embedded in the work of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. The environmental organization is dedicated to conservation and restoration of the Raritan River. The soon-to-be-named artist will develop public artwork in the low-income community of New Brunswick. Past work created through this arts and environmental partnership has resulted in the Watershed Sculpture Project, which integrates refuse from river cleanups into the creation and exhibition of sculptural works.
"Receiving our first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is a major milestone in the growth of our organization. It signals a national recognition for the value of serious community-engaged art practice,” said coLAB Arts Producing Director Dan Swern in a news release …
Whoa! Stacked benefit for the Joyful Heart Foundation on Dec. 28 at The Saint with TV Tramps, Little Vicious, Fast Clare, Emily Bornemann (Dentist), Doug Zambon (The Vansaders), and Chris Brown. Admission is $10. Funds raised will support the mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse; support survivors’ healing, and end such violence forever. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1121361824643554/ …
You’ve heard of Toys for Tots. Well, now there’s Toys for Paws, which provides pet toys to homeless dogs and cats at the 11th Hour Rescue. The Dec. 29 show will feature Trenchfoot, Dusters, Dissent, Manalive and Forbidden Subjects at 8 p.m. at Cianfano's Bar, 715 4th Ave., Elizabeth. Admission is a donation of $5 and a toy. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1328835860522243/?ti=icl …
The Central Jersey hip-hop duo The Empire Project has produced a video remix of the holiday classic “Carol of the Bells” to benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Enjoy the clip below. Happy Holidays from Makin Waves!
Staff Writer Bob Makin: 732-565-7319; email@example.com