Pagan Music Awards honor artists, public service

Rick de Yampert —  September 23, 2018 — Leave a comment

NASHVILLE – A hammered dulcimer and flute duo from Crete, an operatic-trained rock singer, and a singer/guitarist/keyboardist who calls his music “folk with fire” won honors at the Second Annual Pagan Music Awards.

Belthain, the Crete duo composed of Erik Belenos on vocals, hackbrett (hammered dulcimer), bass, and percussion, and Samaela on vocals, flutes, and percussion, won Best Group for 2018.

Singer-songwriter Rowena of the Glen (Rowena Whaling) won Best Female Artist for the second year in a row. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist B. Willie Dryden won Best Male Artist.

Honorees at the Second Annual Pagan Music Awards included Best Male Artist B. Willie Dryden, left, and Best Female Artist Rowena of the Glen, second from left. Gina LaMonte, second from right, presented the Mama Gina LaMonte/Nine Toes the Bard Community Service Award to Kyrja and Randy Withers and their organization Hands of the Goddess – Florida. Celia Farran, far right, accepted the Best Group award for Belthain, a Crete duo composed of Erik Belenos and Samaela. [Photo courtesy of IPMA Facebook page]

The awards, which are administered by the International Pagan Music Association, were presented at an awards ceremony and concert held Sept. 15 at Cafe Coco’s Italian Market in Nashville.

The IPMA was founded in June 2016 and is the brainchild of Melissa Anderson, the owner of the online Pagan radio station thecauldron.net. The music awards can be voted on only by members of the IPMA, which is open to anyone, including musicians, fans, and other supporters of Pagan music.

The annual awards also include the Mama Gina LaMonte/Nine Toes the Bard Community Service Award, which was given to Kyrja and Randy Withers and their organization, Hands of the Goddess – Florida.

“It’s important to recognize these musicians,” said Alfred Willowhawk, vice president of the IPMA and co-founder and high priest of the Wite Rayvn Metaphysical Church of the Ozarks ATC. “There are awards for all kinds of musicians: Christian musicians, country musicians, this kind of musician, that kind of musician. I feel if musicians identify themselves as Pagan, then they need to be recognized as Pagan musicians.”

The IPMA’s definition of a Pagan artist is “amorphous,” Willowhawk said. “It’s not specific to the gods or the goddesses or any particular Pagan path.”

Pagan music, he said, is “esoteric and alternative music,” is “spiritual in nature,” and “talks to the relationship between individuals and divine self and ‘nature self’ and community more than other kinds of music.

“As a genre it encompasses all of it,” Willowhawk continued. “You have country-type things, you have rock-type things, you have New Age-type things. It really is more about the intent of the music than the genre . . . . It’s not pop, is the bottom line.”

The IPMA website says its mission is “to support, proselytize, publish, research, and promote Pagan and alternative music and esoteric arts, sciences and concepts.”

On Belthain’s website, the duo says they began work on their debut album, The Wheel, in 2005 but didn’t complete it until 12 years later.

The album is “a cosmos of songs woven from the Celtic Pagan wheel of the year,” the website says. “Layer upon layer was opened, slowly growing the work as a whole, as rings grow to form a tree trunk . . . . The magical combination of the hammered dulcimer and flute forms the foundation of our sound,” which also includes “an accompaniment of unusual instruments – the fujara (a Slovakian bass folk flute), alpine horn, cow horns, and frame drums.”

Rowena Whaling says on her website that “[I] knew that I would become a singer” by age eight, when she began to “write poetry, songs and short stories. My parents arraigned for me to have excellent operatic vocal training for several years and this has served me well even though my heart has led me to became a rock singer.”

In the early 1990s, she and fellow awardee Dryden fronted the Nashville-based gothic pop-rock band The Beat Poets.

Her CDs include My Mother’s Song, which her website describes as “Goddess-oriented, organic, New Age gothic, magical,” and Book of Shadows, which is described as “Gothic/Wiccan/Pagan/cinematic Scandinavian-influenced rock.”

B. Willie Dryden’s artist profile on the IPMA website says he worked as a Nashville studio musician for a number of years. Along with his tenure with The Beat Poets, he is the former lead singer of the theatrical rock band The Harlequins, and has been a solo performer since 1995.

His profile describes his music as “‘Folk with fire,’ back to his roots, dark spiritual-based poetry, ’60s-influenced folk and blues.” His numerous CDs, spanning his career and available at cdbaby.com, include Redemption, Wake Up Daisy, Best in the Black, and a retrospective of his musical life from 1972 through 1995 titled Bootleg Americana.

The Mama Gina LaMonte/Nine Toes the Bard Community Service Award, according to the IPMA website, “recognizes outstanding individuals within the Pagan community who have worked tirelessly to enhance and make better the Pagan music industry as well as the Pagan community as a whole.”

Anderson, the IPMA founder, asked LaMonte, a Pagan musician who performs as Mama Gina and as her more bawdy alter-ego, Nine Toes the Bard, to found the award and select the honorees. LaMonte draws from her widespread contact with Pagans and Pagan communities during her extensive touring across the country.

This year’s honorees, Randy and Kyrja Withers, were chosen because they and their organization, Hands of the Goddess – Florida, “do so much work locally for the homeless out of New Port Richey,” LaMonte said. “They are unabashedly Pagan, but they step into the community and they do the work and they make the world a better place.”

According to the Hands of the Goddess – Florida Facebook page, the organization’s mission is “to help homeless, at-risk individuals and families as well as those who just find themselves in need. We have a monthly outreach program providing toiletries and items not found in food pantries, as well as non-perishable food going directly to those who need it.”

“They do whatever they need to do to get people fed, to get people housed,” LaMonte said. “If people just need a new pair of shoes, this is what Randy and Kyrja do. They work so hard within the Pagan community, but also work with governmental groups, with other religious groups. They are a public face of Paganism and it’s such a good face. These are good people who really care.”

This year’s Pagan Music Awards nominees also included LaMonte, Ginger Ackley, Burning Sage, Bran Cerddorion, Chronilus, Brian Henke, HobbyHorse, Mojo Kemp, Pan Galactic, Pasha and the Pagans, Tonya Threet, David Wood, Inkubus Sukubus, and Evil Masquerade.

The awards ceremony included performances by Rowena of the Glen, B. Willie Dryden, Burning Sage, Celia Farran, Ginger Ackley, and Mama Gina.

The awards were sponsored by the Pagan radio station thecauldron.net, Wite Rayvn Metaphysical Church of the Ozarks ATC, the online metaphysical store Magic Happens, and International Pagan Radio, an online radio station at internationalpaganradio.com.

Rick de Yampert

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Rick de Yampert is a freelance writer and musician who has been on the Pagan path since the early 1990s. He plays sitar, Native American flutes, guitar, djembe (African hand drum), and other percussion at Pagan gatherings, art festivals, cafes, and yoga sessions throughout Central Florida. Previously he was a daily newspaper journalist, including 23 years as the arts and entertainment writer at The Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida, and 2½ years as the rock/pop/hip-hop writer at The Tennessean in Nashville. He lives in the Daytona area.