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Colorado Springs' "Grammy Awards" struggles to find harmony with local musicians

If you don't know anything about the first annual Colorado Springs Music Awards, then you aren't alone.

By the time popular nominations were closed on Dec. 31 for what is being touted as the local equivalent of the Grammys, few musicians had heard anything at all about the event that was designed to honor them, and to raise money for Foundation for Artists In Medical crisis (FAIM), a new foundation created to provide medical assistance for musicians in need.

"I didn't know anything about it. I don't remember the ballots or anything," said John Wise of Johnny and the Jukes, a local band that was nominated for several awards. Marni Green, lead singer of the indie-rock group Boondoggle -- which was nominated in nine categories -- was equally surprised when she learned that she and her band were nominated for this major, yet seemingly unpublicized, event scheduled April 14 at the City Auditorium.

"I didn't know anything about it until someone sent me the nomination."

Bright gold boxes

Adding to the skepticism of local musicians is the fact that the music awards promoter and producer Rachel Agwu is a relative outsider to the local music scene. Agwu, who was born in New York, moved to the Springs from Nigeria with her family less than two years ago.

Last October, Agwu's company, Konga Entertainment Inc., sent out press packets, hung posters and placed 14 bright gold ballot boxes around the community in places where she said music lovers would be most likely to place their nominations. Among the spots included were Graner School Music, Independent Records, the Colorado Music Hall, and the Music Exchange.

When the nominations were closed in December, Agwu reported 1,741 "valid nominations" had been submitted, which she considers "a lot" for the first awards ceremony of its kind in Colorado Springs, a city with a population of nearly half a million.

However, the fact that music acts with large fan-bases like The Joanne Taylor Rhythm and Blues Review, bluesman "Magic" Dave Therault, guitarist Mo' Kauffey, and local rock favorites Looks Like Me weren't nominated immediately brought the validity of the awards into question among many local musicians.

"The whole thing appeared shady," said Lance May, lead vocalist for the band Looks Like Me. "A very small portion of the music scene was represented, so I really don't take a whole lot of stock in it. It just leads you to question the organization process.

"It's a great idea to try to recognize Colorado Springs talent, but maybe they just dropped the ball this time."

Very popular

Agwu, who claims to have promoted similar kinds of awards ceremonies in Nigeria, defends the upcoming awards. Her group, she said, publicized nominations in the daily newspaper, as well as with street fliers, at local production companies and on Konga's Web site.

According to Agwu, it was important that the nominations and voting be "popular" -- meaning open to anyone in the community -- so that no one could point fingers at specific nominators.

"It's been a popular vote from the very start," Agwu said. The "popular" voting process, however, has been one of the main points of contention among musicians. Almost all artists the Independent spoke with, for example, wanted to know why Boondoggle had been nominated for so many awards.

Austin Linford of FreeVote.com, a Seattle-based company that sets up online voting booths (but leaves the tallying to the client), said popular votes are seldom tamper-proof. These kinds of loose vote tally systems often draw complaints, he said, but they are meant only to serve as general barometers.

Simple voicemail

The way the votes are being tallied has also raised many questions. Voters are being asked to review the nominees online at

www.kongaentertainment.com and then call the telephone number 1-877-APRIL14 to cast their final votes. However, the voice-mail message is a garbled, computerized woman's voice that says, in halting speech, "You have reached the Noele Pennsylvania Tally Center." The caller is then directed to leave a message with the nominee's name, category and subcategory.

While Agwu claims the telephone number connects to the awards' official tally center, it's nothing more than a simple voice mailbox. Agwu declined to provide further documentation that would verify its credibility. However, when voting was temporarily interrupted on the evening of Feb. 27, an "emergency backup number" with a 412 area code was posted, and the Independent was able to trace the residential number back to a Noele F. Williams in Homestead, Pennsylvania. When asked about the awards, Williams hung up the phone.

According to Agwu, the tally company's phone number will be made public after the voting is closed. Linford of FreeVote.com indicated that it was unusual for a promotions company to be so secretive about their tallying center, though he did note that there is a large degree of irregularity in these kinds of voting processes.

Many inconsistencies

In addition to the inconsistencies surrounding the nomination process, music awards co-host Karen Thompson has subsequently attacked as "unworthy" members of the local media who have attempted to decipher the many inconsistencies surrounding the music awards.

Despite the many doubts from musicians, Agwu remains optimistic about the upcoming ceremony, whose ticket prices will range from $10 to $30 (tickets cost $30 for the general public). Agwu said she won't pocket any of the proceeds, even to recuperate costs, and that all proceeds from the ceremony will benefit a newly formed nonprofit, FAIM Foundation.

The foundation, Agwu claims, will provide up to eight months of financial assistance to qualified artists who are suffering financial hardship during a time of medical crisis. Information on how to apply for assistance has not been released.

But for one nominee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the local music scene and will not attend the upcoming ceremony, the awards won't benefit true musicianship. "This has nothing to do with who's the best -- it's who has the best Web site," the musician said "It's not about the music; it's about who has the most names on their e-mail list."

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