The Upstate Music Awards have evolved from an idea to a reality to a local institution over the past three years.
Back in 2019, Wes Gilliam, co-owner and booker for Greenville’s Radio Room venue, Jeremy Theall, who works in artist development for his own Future Chord agency, and I collectively had the idea to honor local, original music from within the 864 area code. The first annual Upstate Music Awards was a rousing success, drawing hundreds of nominations and shining the spotlight on all the creative musicians working within the 864.
Now in its fourth year, with help from sponsors like RockerBelles Boutique and Naked Pasta, the UMA has graduated to the big time: The ceremony honoring the winners was held last March at the Peace Center after an intense nomination and voting period.
Now, with the nominations open again at UpstateMusicAwards.com and a ceremony, set for April 2, at the Peace Center once again, the principle founders of the event are still a bit shocked at how successful the UMAs have become.
“I don’t think any of us really expected it to go so well,” Theall says. “When it started off as an idea four years ago, I don’t think any of us thought it would be at Peace Center or thought it would get the amount of participation and responses from the community. It exceeded all of our expectations.”
“Honestly, it’s weird not being the underdog anymore,” adds Gilliam with a laugh. “I’ve always felt like we were bootstrapping the operation every year, and to feel like we have a lot of systems in place now, as well as a great committee and years of experience under our belt, is very nice to be able to look back at.”
The awards are given in 14 categories
- 864 Award (for outstanding activism, philanthropy, ingenuity, character, and compassion for the music scene)
- Best Album
- Best EP
- Best Single
- Best Music Video
- Best Live Act
- Best New Artist
- Best Solo Artist
- Best Duo/Group
- Best Collaboration
- Best Studio Producer/Engineer
- Best Album Art/Visual Design
- Best Music Photographer
The nomination period is open now until Friday, Dec. 16, and any artist making original music within the 864 area code is eligible.
Of course, with three years of previous Upstate Music Awards campaigns in the rear view mirror, there’s been plenty to learn. Theall says he’s seen enough of the nominations through the years to know there’s a need for more types of music to be put up for consideration.
“Electronic music, country, folk, Americana, metal, hard rock — I feel like there’s stuff that we’re not getting, that’s not being nominated, that is out there,” he says.
Theall also points out that artists can nominate themselves for the awards, something he feels isn’t widely known.
“I’ve always thought there was a disconnect at how many major artists have electronic elements in their music and how few local artists do,” Gilliam adds. “So maybe more modern electronics would be cool.”
Regardless of the flaws, the Upstate Music Awards have found a niche in the local music scene.
“Honestly I feel like the Upstate is kind of the perfect place for something like this,” Theall says. “I think we’re able to kind of include a good percentage of everything.”
In fact, at least one of the founders of the awards sees room for growth beyond what the awards are now.
“I look forward to it outgrowing just us founders one day,” Gilliam says. “I really like the idea of it being its own thing.”
Nominations are open now until December 16 at https://upstatemusicawards.com