[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
[The Worcester Phoenix]

Meet the winners
Everyone you loved in '98-'99, from the Beasties and Shania Twain to Fortydaysrain and Chuck and Mud
by the Phoenix staff

Sick sixth sight

Local musicians celebrate this year's winners
by Brian Goslow

Kick-off party and intro to the Best Music Poll

It was a sight that summed up the Worcester music scene: Cheez, veteran bassist and founder of Upsidedown Cross, holding court at the Worcester Phoenix Best Music Poll kick-off party. What remained of one of his eye teeth -- a jagged, metal post -- caught the light off the Commercial Street bar mirror. It looked spooky, but magical. And we were all sucked in. He's undeniable, loud, a bit obnoxious -- you wouldn't bring him home to mother, after all -- and, best of all, back. Yup. If one group's unanticipated ascension this year captures the state of local music it's the Cross. Freshly emerged from an eight-year hibernation, Cheez and fellow inverts were instant hotshots even before their one gig (which, by the way, ended with a touch of drama; the bartender kicked them out after the band dumped 200 bagels and thousands of spider rings on the dance floor). We sense a legend. Gotta love it. Gotta hold on to it.

Weren't we just bemoaning the state of local rock and roll?

Time to rephrase: Boston may be groping for the defibrillator, but Worcester is back. In little more than a year, four new venues -- Lucky Dog, Commercial Street, the Tiki Hut, and Vincent's -- all started showcasing what's good and what's local. The Space and the Espresso Bar continue to thrive despite being in flux (keep your fingers crossed for EBar owner Eric Spencer who hopes to relocate to Water Street). Even Ralph's, which inexplicably divested its stake in the music scene last year, retains its niche as the city's quirkier bar hop for local artists.

And don't forget, metal is forged here, at the Palladium, not at the Orpheum. We know, it sounds a bit harsh and a tad separatist. After all, there are loads of great Boston bands. But there's nothing wrong with looking inward to celebrate what's good about Worcester. If you had to ID the one group that has come together in the past year to share similarities -- not differences -- it's local musicians.

Hot groups from across the genre divide -- Downchild, Reveille, Chuck and Mud, Sonic Explorers, Thinner, Mark Fisher, the Pathetics, Clutch Grabwell -- all have new releases that have been celebrated in crowded clubs. Even the oldie-but-the-goodie, the venerable, in fact, Reggie Walley made a comeback this year.

New blood seems to be pumping in too. Troy Gonyea, Jeff Berg (on the blues front), and a legion of young jazz artists (as evidenced at the popular jazz jams) retrain our attention on true, gritty American standards.

Now in its sixth year, the Worcester Phoenix Best Music Poll has become as much a part of the music scene as the musicians and the venues themselves. And each year, the poll grows. This year, in fact, we had more votes than ever; and part of that had to do with the Web. Almost half of you voted on-line. Also new this year was our kick-off party -- even we were stunned by the turnout. More than 350 musicians came together in the spirit of rock, folk, jazz, etc.

And your feedback was tremendous. After the party, a series of e-mails came across our desks. They were notes from local musicians to us, to their fans, telling people to get out the vote. And there was an incredible, if coincidental, tone to them. All of you urged each other to vote for all bands: to support local music.

Now back to Cheez: it was very gratifying the day after our nominees party when Cheez and MacNamara (Cross guitarist) came to our offices, day-old doughnuts in tow. The Cross, though a forgotten band in Worcester who had scored nationwide in the early 1990s as part of the Taang!-label crew, came by to say thanks -- and to see if we had any liquor around the office. We're sorry they went away dry. But they left us with a quite a buzz -- they wanted us to know that they were happy to be remembered at home. Glad we can be a part of that.

-- Melissa Houston
Managing editor

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