The Mint is the oldest rock and roll club in Los Angeles. Originally founded in 1937 in a room less than a 1000 square feet (or so we think), its original talent lineups are lost in the mists of time. Around 1950 it started focusing on blues, a focus that remained until the 90’s when competition from House of Blues, BB King’s and other Hollywood venues drew fans away from the funky little club in a Jewish neighborhood in mid-town. It was even closed for a while until its present owner, Tod Christensen, bought it, doubled its size and installed a spacious stage, full-tilt sound and lighting and comfy booths around a dance floor.
Since then The Mint has flourished as a home for virtually every musical genre, and over the years (and still!) has attracted celebrities both on stage and in the seats. Luminaries like Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp, Bonnie Raitt, Trombone Shorty, Taj Mahal, Tom Waits, Lady Antebellum, and many more have played and hung at The Mint. So it was fitting Tuesday night that it hosted the LA Music Critic Awards Showcase.
The LA Music Critic (LAMC) is a phenomenon unique to Los Angeles. It is not an organization, it is a person. The LAMC is Robert Leggett, a local character who has built a national music community around the concept of rewarding and awarding musical talent.
Legget was a music critic in Los Angeles for 15 years and during that time he published over 1000 reviews in Music Connection Magazine and wrote for Examiner.com, and AXS.com, among other outlets. He currently writes for the Indie Voice Blog from his new home, not in LA, but in Missoula, Montana, from where he manages to keep his finger on the pulse of the LA music scene. Legget has gathered a community of music writers, managers, artists and others in the industry from around the country who nominate artists and bands for awards twice a year. The LA Music Critic has been giving awards for 6 years, but it wasn’t until last year that Leggett began producing a showcase for winners at a local venue – this year at The Mint.
Although the Showcase is open to the public, almost every person packing the booths, chairs, tables, bar and dance floor was either a friend of Legget’s, a music writer, a music executive, or a friend of the bands that rocked the stage. And there were a lot of bands rocking the stage – 11 in all, some of whom played full sets. Which is why things got underway at the unheard of hour of 6 pm and went to 1 am.
The night kicked off with the up and coming South Carolina singer Pam Taylor who sported one of the most beautiful guitars I have even seen (formerly her grandad’s) and ended with the Janelle Barreto and Rocket, a force on the LA rock scene for many years and winner of several LA Music Critic Awards. Midway through the evening, Leggett introduced special guest Rusty Young, founder of POCO and inductee into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, who came out of retirement to play and joke with the audience and receive the coveted 2018 Icon Award.
The Showcases’ genre and geographic gamut ran from San Francisco native Americana singer/songwriter Pi Jacobs, who won the LA Music Critic Award in 2015 for Best CD, Female, to the Massachusetts-based pop rock band The Khourys, to Hollywood’s punk/rap/ phenomenon Shiragirl.
Between sets, Leggett handed out awards to the artists, assisted by Kirk Pasich, President of Blue Elan Records, a LA-based label that records bands like Rita Coolidge, The Textones and Fanny Walked the Earth. At the entrance to the club, staff from Sweet Relief manned a table raising funds for financial assistance to career musicians struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.
The evening had many high points – dancing with pop star BINX to country rocker Ted Russell Kamp, meeting Pi Jacobs and her mom and not being embarrassed to gush over her new album, A Little Blue, hanging out with other writers and some of the agents who pitch artists for my radio show but whom I have never met. But by far, the highest highlight was Shiragirl and the band’s founder, Shira Leigh. The four women of Shiragirl are so tight musically, and so high energy and so lyrical direct and NOW that you cannot help but be addicted. Shira Leigh is the most determined artist I have ever met; when she didn’t get a slot at the WARPED Tour she drove her pink RV into the fairgrounds, parked next to the skate park, set up a stage on the roof and performed. She so impressed the WARPED team that they gave her a stage of her own every year, where she has brought over 200 female bands including the likes of Joan Jett and Paramore.
Rocket wrapped the night with stunning hard rock, making it clear why the band was called one of the best bands to catch by CBS LA, and is all over commercial alternative radio. We may have been in the city’s oldest rock club, but the vibes coming off the stage were very, very 21st Century. I can hardly wait until next year, but first, I have to fill out my ballot for the 2nd half of 2018 LAMC Awards.