Western Mass musicians up for awards: New England Music Awards and Boston Music Awards nominate only a handful of local bands this year

Jim Hewitt, a Boston native who has lived in Easthampton for 10 years, is nominated with his band, Lost Film, for Alt/Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards this year.

Jim Hewitt, a Boston native who has lived in Easthampton for 10 years, is nominated with his band, Lost Film, for Alt/Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards this year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CAM CAVAGNARO

Easthampton genre-meshing singer Kimaya Diggs, whose latest project, “Quincy,” is nominated for Album of the Year.

Easthampton genre-meshing singer Kimaya Diggs, whose latest project, “Quincy,” is nominated for Album of the Year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ANJA SCHUTZ

High Tea, comprised of Isaac Eliot and Isabella DeHerdt, who live in Colrain, is nominated for Americana Band of the Year at this year’s New England Music Awards.

High Tea, comprised of Isaac Eliot and Isabella DeHerdt, who live in Colrain, is nominated for Americana Band of the Year at this year’s New England Music Awards. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 10-27-2023 6:58 PM

For the small handful of Pioneer Valley artists nominated between this year’s New England Music Awards and Boston Music Awards, the region’s highest musical honor would not merely be an individual accolade, or even a matter of putting the Valley on their back. For some, it would be a team win resulting from a collective effort.

The New England Music Awards (NEMA), incorporated in 2011, annually nominates more than 100 artists, producers and more from the region’s six states across nearly 30 award categories (29 this year). The Boston Music Awards, incorporated in 1987, is one of the longest running regional music awards in the United States, and annually nominates 10 people across nearly 50 categories (47 this year). This year, between the two award platforms, there are enough nominees based out of Hampshire and Franklin Counties to count on one hand.

Easthampton genre-meshing singer Kimaya Diggs, whose latest project, “Quincy,” is nominated for Album of the Year at NEMA, said getting a nod was both unexpected and a “huge honor.” She explained that “Quincy” is personal for a variety of reasons: it’s a tribute to her late rescue dog Quincy Bones, and also the first album where she took an active production role. It’s also a project with contributions exclusively from “near and dear friends.” This was made possible, she said, by the “really close-knit” nature of those in the western Massachusetts music scene.

“I feel so lucky that I’m able to highlight them and their own work while also showcasing my own work,” Diggs said of her nomination. “It feels like a very special opportunity.”

Florence-based folk musician Lisa Bastoni, who is nominated for Roots Act of the Year for a second consecutive year at NEMA, echoed that “it’s a win for everybody” when somebody from a smaller, tight-knit music scene gets recognized. Shining a spotlight on those from lesser-acknowledged places can inspire hope for others looking to attain similar shine, she reasoned.

“If I can brag about our local scene, maybe I can help other music scenes feel like they’re part of a bigger movement,” Bastoni said of being a nominee.

Boston native Isaac Eliot, who currently lives in Colrain with Isabella DeHerdt, the other half of indie folk duo High Tea, grapples with “a good amount of impostor syndrome” as an artist. A bigger spotlight, such as High Tea’s nomination for Americana Band of the Year at NEMA, can “be more affirming to our already existing artistry and gives that push of, ‘keep going,’” Eliot said. Eliot recognized NEMA as a milestone for those looking to step into “brave spaces,” rather than resign themselves to merely “safe spaces.”

For some nominees, stepping into a bigger spotlight is not a matter of stepping away from home, but taking home with them. DeHerdt, an Ashfield native, said it’s extremely gratifying to bring High Tea’s “Hilltown chic” to people who “owe you nothing and know nothing about you” through music. The band concluded a national tour supporting Los Angeles-based artist Raye Zaragoza last Tuesday, an experience DeHerdt said served as a testament to the importance of connecting with people from different backgrounds.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Former social studies teacher returns as principal at Northampton High School
Leading lights: Four Hampshire County women receive state honor as ‘heroines’
Father’s Day 2024: South Hadley’s Rich Marjanski cherishes era coaching his three daughters on the soccer pitch
A ‘Refuse to Lose’ reunion: UMass stars gather to talk about Final Four run for new documentary
Judge denies Rintala’s motion to reduce prison sentence
Columnist Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: The co-op at the heart of the community

“We felt like we were invited and at home … and knowing that we have this everywhere and that we can bring western Mass with us, it’s just really special,” DeHerdt said.

Jim Hewitt, a 10-year Easthampton resident, Boston native and nominee for Alt/Indie Artist of the Year at the BMAs with his band Lost Film, credited his nomination to how he’s traveled with his music. He explained that while he makes much of his music at home these days, he performs frequently in Boston, which is, he speculated, what caught the attention of the BMAs. With the nomination of Lost Film, Hewitt hopes those from the Boston area who tune into the BMAs gain a better sense of how active the music scene is out west.

“Any time somebody talks about western Mass, they always talk about Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies or something. They’re great bands, but that was 30 to 40 years ago … and there’s still a growing rock scene,” Hewitt said, adding that the sound of the scene “may have seeped its way into our records.”

Bastoni, a Watertown native, agreed, expressing that while musicians don’t typically make music for the purpose of winning awards, winning them has the potential to send a message that reaches farther than home.

“I think for people who are in music, we’re going to (make music) whether we receive awards or not, but I think its a great thing that these awards exist, if not to just bring attention to the fact that we have a great scene,” said Bastoni, who was also nominated for Folk Artist of the Year at the BMAs in 2019 and 2020.

Nominees from the Pioneer Valley collectively opined that the western Massachusetts music scene is worthy of recognition and celebration largely due to its self-sufficiency. Diggs observed that there is an “incredibly rich” community of professional musicians producing “a high level of quality across genres” that are here because they “really value this area.”

“Western Mass is a more rural area and there’s this idea that in order to find success in the arts, you need to be in a city,” she continued. “I think being in a city can be helpful in a way … but I think (recognizing the people making music) in a rural area is really important.”

Creating in a “healthy local music scene … makes all the difference,” Bastoni commented, similarly dispelling the notion that musicians need a big city to achieve their goals.

“I think with things the way they are with Spotify and musicians not really being paid fairly with streaming … it’s hard to make a living as a musician,” she added. “When I was growing up, I had a vision of what it would look like, but … there are enough places within a really small radius where I can really live the dream.”

The New England Music Awards will be held at 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 at the Six String Grill and Stage in Foxborough. Tickets can be purchased at bit.ly/471gYUy. The voting period has closed.

The Boston Music Awards will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 20 at Big Night Live in Boston. Tickets can be purchased at bit.ly/49btWB1. The voting period remains open until Nov. 17. To vote, go to bostonmusicawards.com/vote.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.