NorBays Celebrate Local Musicians

Each year since 2005, the North Bay Music Awards, a.k.a. the NorBays, have recognized and celebrated dozens of North Bay bands in many genres as voted by the readers of the Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

In this unprecedented year of 2020, as North Bay musicians and bands continue to safely create excellent music online and on record while they endure a pandemic that wiped out live indoor concerts and events, it’s more important than ever to recognize and support the creative folks who make the North Bay special.

Without further ado, here are the winners of the 2020 NorBays.

Americana: Sean Carscadden

The Sonoma singer-songwriter kept busy in 2020, performing solo and full-band shows when outdoor performances were permitted in Sonoma. Currently, Carscadden can be seen virtually as part of Sebastiani Theatre’s online musical holiday special streaming free right now.

Blues: Coyote Slim

The Sonoma County guitarist has played a blend of Delta blues and California soul since 2006, and while his live shows have been on hiatus since the pandemic’s onset, he’s uploaded past performances and at-home jam sessions on Facebook and Youtube.

Country: David Luning

North Bay rocker David Luning took home the NorBay’s Singer-Songwriter award last year, though local voters now recognize Luning for his heartfelt and rollicking full-band country-rock efforts, which can be heard on his latest release, a somber, countrified cover of “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.”

Electronica: Eki Shola

In 2020, classically trained pianist and songwriter Eki Shola concluded a musical journey that began after losing her home in the 2017 Tubbs Fire with the release of her full-length electronica-jazz album, Essential.

Folk: Dave Hamilton

North Bay veteran Dave Hamilton, who continues his long running NorBays-winning streak with this year’s recognition, kept the music alive this year at outdoor spots in Sebastopol and Petaluma when he could, and posted living room recordings of some of his favorite tunes on Youtube.

Hip-Hop: Kayatta

Returning NorBay Award-winner Kayatta released her debut album, Beautiful and Messy, on Juneteenth, the oldest nationally-celebrated remembrance of the ending of slavery in the United States. The album features infectious beats and socially-conscious lyrics that entertain and empower local audiences.

Indie: Ellie James

A California native and graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Ellie James now makes music from her homebase in Santa Rosa. Since the onset of the pandemic, James has taken to the web for live streaming events. She goes outdoors for socially distant performances when possible. She’s also gearing up for a big 2021 and recently hit her crowd-sourced fundraising goal for recording a debut studio album next year.

Jazz: Nate Lopez

The eight-string guitarist takes the NorBay Award for Jazz once again, proving himself to be a prolific and popular one-man jazz band even during the pandemic. While Lopez stayed at home for most of 2020, fans kept up with him online through his regularly streaming jam sessions and performances.

Metal: Hellbender

For North Bay audiences that like their heavy metal to thrash, Petaluma-based four-man musical wrecking crew Hellbender delivers the old-school riffs and pounding rhythms on their new album, American Nightmare, released this summer.

Punk: Kurupi

When Kurupi performed virtually as part of a Halloween Covers Show for Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater this past October, Theater talent buyer Jim Agius called the four-piece punk band, “One hundred percent the next generation of young musicians in our scene.”

R&B: The Soul Section

For more than a decade, The Soul Section has packed North Bay venues with high-energy funk and soul revues. With no venues in 2020, the band was able to virtually get together for several socially distant video performances this summer.

Reggae: Dan Martin & the Noma Rocksteady Band

Sonoma native Dan Martin first put together the Noma Rocksteady Band in 2010, and the ensemble has been a regular part of the North Bay music scene ever since. Keeping the jams steady, Martin is pumping out the tunes in outdoor settings and offering shelter-in-place streaming performances when he’s able to.

Rock: The Bluebyrds

The seasoned musicians who make up folk-rock group the Bluebyrds take it back—way back—to the music of groups like Lovin’ Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield. While the set lists may feature well-known classics, the Bluebyrds showcase why these songs stand the test of time.

Singer-Songwriter: Sebastian Saint James

North Bay audiences first became enamored with Sebastian Saint James as the frontman of soul-powered rock band The Highway Poets. More recently, Saint James is popping up online everywhere during the pandemic, with virtual solo performances for North Bay series like “Social Distance Live” and “Living Room Live.”

Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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