Column: First Pagan music awards recognizes Pagan artists

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The first annual Pagan Music Awards were held this month on June 8, just outside of West Plains, Missouri about two miles off of the Arkansas border. This first-of-its-kind event in recent memory was held at the Wyte Ryvan Retreat Center.

“The International Pagan Music Association grew out of that station and Sacred Grove radio, International Pagan radio, which are all newer stations that are playing 24/7 this kind of music. We just wanted to help those kind of musicians get recognized so that we could give them some satisfaction and something to hang their hats on that says they are doing a good job,” said Alfred Willowhawk, who sits on the board for Wyte Ryvan and also serves as the vice president of the International Pagan Music Association (IPMA), which was organized as a nonprofit to put on the Pagan Music Awards.

Willowhawk, himself a DJ on the Cauldron, noted that many of the current IPMA board members are radio personalities on various Pagan streaming radio networks, and with the aid of IPMA president Melissa Anderson, they brought the event to life.

Mama Gina [International Pagan Music Association].

Taking inspiration from other music awards, Willowhawk said they “thought about how to recognize esoteric and Pagan musicians in an environment that is very similar to the American Music Awards, for the purpose of enhancing their reach within the mainstream and Pagan community.”

The association and the awards were created after Anderson got a flash of inspiration from a dream. She says she quickly reached out to several people and within six hours, they had a website.

Part of her love of Pagan music is that it is often better than what you get from mainstream musicians, “they sound better than the ones I hear on TV, and not only that, they sing about things that matter to me,” she said.

Ginger Ackley [International Pagan Music Association].

Couple that passion with how hard she sees Pagan musicians — many of whom are her friends— working, she felt that as a community, more needs to be done more for them.

“These artists book themselves, they are their own roadies, they look for their own places to stay, they do it all. And then they have to show up and smile after driving all day. Some will throw up a tent and sleep on whatever mat they can get and I think that’s just ridiculous that the community can come out and listen to them and that’s it. They download their music from YouTube, we have to get people to understand that they need to get a loaf of bread on their table as well. That’s what IPMA will hopefully do,” she said.

The organization is member-sponsored, granting all members one vote for each of the respective categories. Artists who join are likewise eligible to vote and automatically entered into the competition. Non-artists who pay the yearly fee of $29 can vote and are given complimentary entrance to that year’s Pagan Music Awards. For those who don’t want to join the IPMA but are still interested in casting a vote, they can do so for a $5 fee.

This year there were three professional categories— best male artist, best female artist and best group— as well as a category honoring the hard work of a community member to aid musicians.

Left to right: Mama Gina, best male artist David Wood, best female artist Rowena Whaling, Ginger Ackley [International Pagan Music Association].

Best female artist was won by Rowena Whaling of Rowena of the Glen, best male artist was taken by David Wood, and best group was won by U.K. artists Serpentyne, a symphonic/folk/metal act who were unable to attend.

The “Nine Toes the Bard Community Service Award” is selected by Mama Gina Lamonte (aka Nine Toes the Bard) who recognized Amanda Bell of St. Louis, Missouri.

Lamonte said that Bell “had been wrangling Pagan musicians/bands for the St. Louis Pagan Picnic when I met her, and I have witnessed firsthand her opening her home, her heart, and quite often her pocketbook, to help musicians as they travel through her area.” She further said that Bell has been a tireless promoter of Pagan music at local venues, and in her own back yard.

“My hope as the Pagan Music Awards grow each year is to raise up someone who is not necessarily one of our big name Pagans, though they are certainly deserving. Rather, I hope to recognize those who serve our community who aren’t always seen regionally, nationally or internationally. Next year’s award will likely go to someone who serves community in a very different way,” Lamonte said.

“I didn’t expect to win, it was a great honor to be nominated by the committee and as much of a surprise as winning,” Whaling said. She added that it’s important to see an awards ceremony for the Pagan community come together because it helps lend a sense of legitimacy and can aid musicians in bringing more Pagan music into the mainstream.

Wood agreed, saying, “it is important to honor the hard work of Pagan musicians and their dedication to the community.” While people rarely think twice about paying for books, he said he feels that people “rarely spend a dollar for their favorite Pagan music download that comes from the heart and soul just as well. There are plenty of our communities’ artists on many Pagan radio stations worthy of recognition. The IPMAs really are about bringing Pagan music to a level of equality in the community.”

Wood went on to say that he was humbled to be among such artists as Bran Cerddorion and Jack Montgomery. “I didn’t expect to win, but love that my fans voted for me. I want to thank them, especially,” he added.

Left to right: Sue Balaschak, David Wood, Gina Lamonte [International Pagan Music Association].

There were some impromptu pre-show performances that Whaling said turned out to be a wonderful addition to the show. Ember from Rowena of the Glen performed with Sue Balaschak of Burning Sage, and there were also performances by Wood, Whaling and Ginger Ackley.

As to the future, Anderson says that it’s going to be a yearly thing. They are committed to moving the awards ceremony around to a new location each year so that it’s more accessible to different people. There was some talk about combining it with existing festivals, but the logistics of doing so are complicated and ultimately they decided against it because “it just puts a lot more on the (existing) festival.”

While they’re kicking around ideas for where it will be held in 2018, Willowhawk said the final decision wouldn’t be made until their November board meeting.

Both Willowhawk and Anderson expressed their satisfaction with the awards. “For the first year, I feel like it did better than I would have imagined,” Anderson said.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.