What began as a lousy, overcast morning would soon turn into a sunny and exceedingly warm Memorial Day as thousands descended upon the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, CA on May 25. Drawing a mixed crowd of adults, teens and kids of all cultures, the California Music Awards (formally known as the Bammies) were held to honor the artists that bring fame to the Golden State.
Two stages: one set up in front of Oakland’s City Hall, and the other in Oakland’s city center provided a festival-like atmosphere for the day’s events. Food vendors and the like were scattered around the plaza, and passers-by began to stop and take notice. The California Music Awards aren’t a stuffy black-tie affair – they’re held outside in the sunshine, feature a killer concert line up and they’re FREE.
That’s right, FREE.
An early performance by the jam band Luce got people moving and dancing in the sunlight. Taking home the award for Outstanding Debut Album, they’re a typical “jam in the park” acoustic/singer/songwriter kind of band, with the exception of appearances of a trumpet and harmonica, both played by different members of the band. It sort of allowed for the hippie in all of us to come out and dance weird and barefoot on the plaza’s green lawn. They had a funk/jazz folk air to them. Entertaining, just not overly compelling.
As more people filed in for the free music and good-smelling food, a newspaper publication printed up for the event lay crumpled on the ground. Picking it up the small star on the bottom corner became more legible, and it read “Join Green Day as they accept their Spirit of Rock Award.” Right. Green Day. Yeah, they’ll be here.
That would explain all the young kids sitting anxiously in Green Day tee shirts… it could be a mere coincidence, as the festival is held to honor artists that brought fame to California, in particular the Bay Area… but the itinerary didn’t say a thing about Green Day. I guess we’d just have to wait and see.
Up next was Audiovent. Their initial notability comes from the fact that this band contains the younger brothers of two of the members of Incubus. Singer Jason Boyd is just like big brother Brandon, only a little more edgy and less ‘artsy,’ and guitarist Ben Einziger is just like his big brother, Mike. However, Ben seems to enjoy the crowd more than Mike. He is very entertaining to watch. Hell, they all are. Whatever the reason for their time in the spotlight, one thing is definitely true: these guys know how to work a crowd.
Energetic and eager to please, Audiovent played a 5 song power set that enfused the now hot, tired and sunburned crowd with energy. Boyd made full use of the stage, interacting with each of the band members, all wearing a smile. Who says rock n’ roll isn’t fun? Not these guys.
After Audiovent departed, the MC returned to the stage to announce the next award. Well, wouldn’t you know it, there was Green Day.
The 13 plus year punk rock veterans took the stage smiling and looked very much at home in the Oakland sun. The crowds pushed forward anxiously to get a glimpse of the popular trio, and to their dismay there would be no musical performance. Drummer Tre Cool was recovering from knee surgery, and stood wobbling on crutches. He gave a barrage of different and silly reasons for his crutches, none of which turned out to be accurate. Regardless of Tre’s injury and the band’s inability to play, it didn’t make the crowds any less happy to see them.
Green Day were the big winners of the day, taking home the awards for Outstanding Group, Artist of the Year, Outstanding Guitarist (Billie Joe Armstrong) and of course, the Spirit of Rock award.
After Green Day’s appearance, some of the crowd started to thin out. However, they missed the big grand (and I do mean GRAND) finale. The day closed with a 2 hour performance from the Graham Payne Express- giving all of Oakland a lesson in funk. Featuring Darric Graham, John Payne and friends, it was dueling basses at top volume - a spectacular finale to a busy day of music and community.
Oakland doesn’t always get the best of reputations, but this festival made it very clear that old, young, punks, funk heads, hippies, rappers, white, black, and whatever else can be and are unified through music. What a beautiful thing – a unifying festival held on a day where Americans remember the men who fought and died for our freedom.
It’s a lesson in multiculturalism and a good excuse to get outside and hear some great music.
I can’t wait until next year.
Michelle Lawlor is a Contributing Writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.