As I believe the only person who’s officially covered Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Awards all four years of its existence, and as someone who happens to be a resident of the Austin area, moving the awards to Memphis for 2018 is a great inconvenience to me, and calls into question if I’ll even be able to be there for the fifth year running. So on a personal level, this week’s announcement was a bit of a curve ball.
But there is no doubt that it’s the right call for the organization. For Ameripolitan to grow and prosper, and to make sure it doesn’t get stuck in a rut and become simply a local Austin event, a change of scenery was called for after holding the event at Austin’s Paramount Theatre for the last three years. And with Ameripolitan’s inclusion of rockabilly in its music family, Memphis makes perfect sense as one of the undisputed nexus points of American roots.
“The 2018 awards show will mark a new milestone for the genre,” says Dale Watson. “Austin has been great to us, but when we first started the awards, the dream was to bring the Ameripolitan Music Awards to different host cities. And for the fifth year, moving to Memphis, the epicenter of roots music, seemed like a natural progression. Every year we strive to take the Ameripolitan Music Awards to a new level, and moving to Graceland seemed like the perfect fit.”
The 2018 Ameripolitan Music Awards will transpire at The Guest House in Graceland on February 13th, with other Ameripolitan events to be held starting Saturday, February 10th in Memphis. “As my father Sam Phillips said many times, ‘For God’s sake, let’s don’t become conformists,'” Jerry Phillips said in welcoming the awards to the city. “Ameripolitan is a tie to the past and a door to the future. Welcome to Memphis.”
This immediately relieves one of the growing concerns about Ameripolitan—that it was becoming too Austin-centric, and settling into an annual pattern without attempting to challenge itself, or push itself forward. But what are some of the other things Ameripolitan could do to improve its ability to support music and champion the causes it stands for? Here are some suggestions:
Make The Awards More Timely and Relevant
Something that music fans must understand fundamentally about Ameripolitan is that it’s not necessarily about the here and now. It’s about honoring artists that would otherwise never be honored. Releasing albums, or creating buzz in the marketplace may help the prospects of an Ameripolitan nominee in a given year, but if they were required to have a new record out, the spirit of the awards would be something different than it is. Since the Ameripolitan Awards are relatively new, there are decades of contributions from artists that are worthy of considering instead of just the previous 365 days.
That said, one of the reasons for awards is to be an economic engine for artists, and a guidepost for fans to know what the best music is at a given moment. That is why they are tied to a calendar year. Yet you can’t always go off the awards from Ameripolitan for that guidance since they’re based on personalities, not music. Hank Williams III won Outlaw Country Male last year, yet he hasn’t released new music or toured for multiple years.
Maybe if there were just a few awards, like Song of the Year, and Album of the Year, not taking into consideration the subgenre categories of Honky Tonk, Western Swing, Rockabilly, and Outlaw, but selecting something globally that really stands out, it would give the public an actionable way to follow through with the awards the next day, and make sure Ameripolitan stays relevant in the marketplace.
Make Sure It Doesn’t Turn Into a Facebook-Centric Popularity Contest
If the Ameripolitan awards become nothing more than a Facebook-centric popularity contest in either actuality or perception, they will lose some of their legitimacy in the minds of the public. When Ameripolitan was very first announced, they talked about forming a group of governors or senators who would have a little bit of guiding hand in who was nominated and won awards, along with the fan input. At the present, if someone chooses to spend enough dough on Facebook with sponsored posts, they can probably persuade the voting a certain way, as opposed to trying to take a true pulse of the voting public to vet the best nominees and winners.
There are probably multiple ways to address this concern, and they may be perilous roads to walk themselves. But it is something that if Ameripolitan addressed it, would place it on more sure footing moving forward.
Offer More Resources and Networking Opportunities Through The Awards
Americana’s annual gathering in Nashville every September, or events such as South By Southwest, Folk Alliance, and the IBMA’s, aren’t just about awards shows, or even the showcases and performances. That’s certainly part of it, but there are seminars, discussion panels, well-organized planning meetings and mixers to create strength and networking opportunities throughout the industry for artists, managers, publicists, booking agents, and event promoters. One of the problems with independent music is the lack of knowledge and resources similar to the mainstream. Artists need to know the best way to manage their social media feeds, how to approach the press for coverage, the best DIY recording techniques, where to find proper representation, and help working through problems plaguing the community with insight from experts.
Awards are an amazing apparatus to promote music and to put like-minded people in the same building to make connections with each other. But ultimately to be a proper genre, it takes more than trophies. It takes knowledge, and organization. Of course dedicating time to organizing people takes a lot of organization itself, and potentially will take resources away from other priorities. But as Ameripolitan grows, so should the resources and services it can offer to its community to help grow and support it.
….and no, changing the name is not an option at this point. It is what it is.