Anyone who wants to vote on the SAMMIES – the Sacramento area’s version of the Grammy Awards – will have to do it online. The event’s sponsor, the Sacramento News & Review, has canceled the live showcase for the first time in 25 years in response to a boycott by scheduled participants.
Voting may be cast at the SAMMIES Sacramento Music Awards site until March 12. The publication will announce its winners on March 29.
According to SN&R publisher Jeff von Kaenel, cancellation of the live event was a combination of rising event costs, and criticism by musicians and the public over recent editorial decisions. “The SAMMIES are meant to unite people around music,” von Kaenel says. “We don’t want to put our local musicians in the middle of a divisive controversy.”
The most controversial item was an interview published last December about former Sacramento Police Department officer John Tennis, who fatally shot mentally ill black man Joseph Mann in summer 2016. Tennis was later fired. But the article paints Tennis’ actions in a more-favorable light, such as showing him on the cover with a Superman shirt, according to Tanya Faison, founder of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The result has been a large backlash by readers, musicians and local public rights groups, who are asking SN&R to equalize the way different communities are represented in the publication.
More than 20 acts scheduled to appear at the SAMMIES – including three up for “Artist of the Year” – have dropped out and many will instead perform at Boycott SN&R and the Anti-SAMMIES, two single-night events set in mid-March – the same date as the originally scheduled SAMMIES, according to Gabriell Garcia, co-owner of downtown Sacramento-based music venue and night club Blue Lamp.
Garcia says it was hard for some artists, especially those likely to win, to instead skip the SAMMIES. “[But] they have our support and a place to play,” she says.
Hip-hop artist The Philharmonik is among the acts that declined their invites to the SAMMIES. On his Facebook page, he says he’s honored to have been recognized, but “until the News and Review apologizes and addresses its lack of cultural diversity in a real way, I have no interest in working to support the publication.”
In a recent Sacramento Bee story, von Kaenel says he supports the SN&R’s reporting. But he also sees the importance of keeping everyone happy with a special project like the SAMMIES. “The event has always been a labor of love for SN&R,” he says.
Mone’t Ha-Sidi, founder of Black Arts Matter, says the two alternate events will act as fundraisers for local families impacted by police violence. “Racism is a problem that has been like a cancer,” she says. “Hopefully, people will learn from this and speak out when they see it.”
Cancellation of the live SAMMIES is the latest in what has been a difficult time recently for local musical events. In December 2017, organizers of the Sacramento Music Festival announced they were ending the event after 44 years due to declining attendance and revenue.