John Prine, Kamasi Washington, Sub Pop Win Big at A2IM Libera Awards

Out of all the awards shows Variety Music attends every year — and we hit a few — in many ways A2IM’s Libera Awards, which celebrate the tight-knit independent label sector, is the most fun. It’s got awards and performances and a host and people get dressed up and all that, but at the end it always turns into a big party. This year’s, held at new and larger digs in Midtown Manhattan’s Ziegfield Ballroom, was the biggest yet — and an hour after the show had ended, the party was still going full-tilt and hardly anyone had left.

The awards were evenly spread between artists and labels — John Prine and Kamasi Washington were the only ones who won more than one; a full list is below — and there were strong performances from R&B act Deva Mahal (who may have an open lane thanks to fellow R&B powerhouse Lizzo’s popularity), classical pianist Jean-Michel Blais, Hiss Golden Messenger, Kadhja Bonet and Sunflower Bean, who made the most of their four minutes when singer Julia Cumming first got the crowd to stand up, then shout, then wandered out into the audience and took someone’s glass of wine.

The host, comedian Chris Gethard, spoke often of his love for and youthful adventures in the New Jersey punk and alternative communities, the funniest of which was when he was traveling with a band and they asked to crash on someone’s floor. “Oh, we would, man, but we just got bedbugs and had to get rid of all of our furniture so there isn’t even anywhere to sit — but check with these guys down the street, they’re totally cool.” When the guys down the street opened the door: “Sure! The timing is actually perfect — check out all this furniture we just got that somebody put out on the curb!” The bandmembers ended up sleeping under the stars in the back of a pickup truck.

But the evening’s highlight was unquestionably Sub Pop cofounder Jonathan Poneman (pictured above) receiving the lifetime achievement award. Head here for a recap of his career, but suffice it to say he and cofounder Bruce Pavitt were the first to sign Soundgarden and Nirvana — and he has managed to keep the company vital and thriving through some extraordinarily challenging years for the music industry. Anyway, he was introduced by a stellar video spanning his career (which we sadly can’t embed here) and then, in a definitive moment, took the stage wearing a suit emblazoned with gold dollar signs. He spoke briefly about the label’s early years, said he had been its “intern” since 1987 (and said perhaps now that he’s won a lifetime achievement award, he can drop that title), and in a novel move, he got the audience clapping in time and shouting “yah!” on his command as he read through his thank-you list.

And then, after a final performance and farewell from Gethard, the real party started …

The 2019 Libera Award Winners:

Best American Roots/Folk Album

  •   John PrineThe Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy Records)

Best Blues Album

  •   Fantastic Negrito – Please Don’t Be Dead (Concord Records / Concord)

Best Classical Album

  •   Jean-Michel Blais – Dans ma main (Arts & Crafts Productions Inc.)

Best Country/Americana Album

  •   John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy Records)

Best Dance/Electronic Album (sponsored by Symphonic Distribution)

  •   Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands Of Love (Warp Records)

Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album (sponsored by Songtrust)

  •   Awkwafina – In Fina We Trust (Awkwafina Records / AWAL)

Best Jazz Album

  •   Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)

Best Latin Album

  •   Bad Bunny – X 100PRE (Rimas Entertainment)

Best Metal Album

  •   Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (ANTI Records)

Best Outlier Album

  •   Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo (Dead Oceans)

Best R&B Album

  •   Charles Bradley – Black Velvet (Daptone Records)

Best Re-Issue Album

  •   Pixies – Come On Pilgrim…It’s Surfer Rosa (4AD)

Best Rock Album

  •   Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom+Pop)

Best Live Act

  • BADBADNOTGOOD (Innovative Leisure)

Best Sync Usage

  •   Run the Jewels –  x Black Panther (RTJ Music, Inc.)

Best World Album

  •   Bombino – Deran (Partisan Records)

Breakthrough Artist/Release (sponsored by Ingrooves)

  •    IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance. (Partisan Records)

Creative Packaging

  •   Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)

Independent Champion

  •   NPR

Label of the Year (Big) (sponsored by ADA)

  •   Domino Recording Co. Ltd.

Label of the Year (Medium)

  •   Partisan Records

Label of the Year (Small)

  •   Daptone Records

Marketing Genius

  •   Aphex Twin – Collapse EP (Warp Records)

Video of the Year

  •   Mitski – “Nobody” (Dead Oceans)

Album of the Year

  •   Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)

Lifetime Achievement Award



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