San Diego Music Awards: Top winners are Gilbert Castellanos, Jeff Berkley and Joshua Taylor

Jazz trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, Americana-music mainstay Jeff Berkley and the genre-blurring Joshua Taylor were the three biggest winners Tuesday night at the 32nd annual San Diego Music Awards at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay.

Castellanos became the first jazz artist in the event’s history to win Album of the Year honors. “Espérame en el Cielo,” his first full-length release since 2013, also took home the prize for Best Jazz or Blues Album. It was a doubly sweet victory for the trumpeter, who this winter completed extensive dental surgery that he credits with saving his career.

“Wow. I was not expecting this,” Castellanos said as he accepted his Album of the Year award.

“Thank you San Diego. This means so much to me. I want to dedicate this award to my parents. Also, I’m just extremely grateful to still be performing. I went through a four-year medical roller coaster where I had three surgeries on my mouth. To be able to play is a privilege.”

Singer-songwriter Berkley, who is equally prolific as a performer and an album producer for other artists, received the Artist of the Year award. In addition, he and his group, The Banned, won the Best Country or Americana Album trophy for “I Can Reach the Stars.”

Berkley was one of several winners to acknowledge the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that had silenced San Diego’s once again vibrant live music scene.

“It feels like we’re back. It feels like we’re back,” he said as he accepted his Artist of the Year award. “This past year, I’ve never worked harder, and I’ve never been happier, in my life.”

Joshua Taylor also won two awards: Best Pop Album for “Unscene” and Best Rock or Indie/Alternative Song for “Cars Don’t Run Forever.”

“Thank you,” Taylor said as he accepted the first of his two awards. “This is an awesome city. I don’t know what else to say, but you have a great (scene) here.”

Vocal powerhouse Rebecca Jade, the 2020 Artist of the Year winner, and the neo-soul band Thee Sacred Souls entered the evening with a field-leading five nominations apiece.

They each went home with one award.

Jade won the Best R&B, Funk or Soul Album category for her debut solo album, “A Shade of Jade.” Thee Sacred Souls won for Best R&B, Funk or Soul Song for “Love Is The Way.”

The Best New Artist Award went to Ash Easton.

“Oh my god. Whoo! We did it!” she said at the start of her brief but spirited acceptance speech.

Lifetime Achievement Award

The Country Dick Montana Lifetime Achievement Award went to guitar and keyboard wizard Mike Keneally, who rose to prominence in the late 1980s as the “stunt guitarist” in former San Diegan Frank Zappa’s final touring band.

Keneally recently relocated from San Diego to Arizona. His many credits include albums with everyone from Zappa, Rock Hall of Famer Solomon Burke and XTC founder Andy Partridge to such fellow guitar greats as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Henry Kaiser.

“Wow, Thank you. I’m a little overwhelmed,” Keneally told the audience as he accepted his award..

“My music is really weird. And to the extent that I’m able to do anything, it’s thanks to the people who have supported me, loved me and allowed me to do my thing.”

He singled out a number of people, including his parents; his wife, Sarah Crochet; his brother, Marty; and his longtime album producer and creative foil, Scott Chatfield.

“When I graduated from high school,” Keneally recalled, “my dad told me: ‘Your job is to stay home and write songs!’ ”

The evening featured uniformly strong performances by Keneally, Castellanos and his quintet, Berkley and his group, The Banned, Song of the Year-winners Daring Greatly, Best Blues Artist-winner Anthony Cullins, The Inflorescence and Earl Thomas & The Gospel Ambassadors, who got the show off to a memorably rousing start that suggested their upcoming album should be a soul-stirring outing.

Awards were presented Tuesday night in 29 categories at Humphreys, where a sold-out audience of 1,350 was in attendance. Just over $50,045 was raised for the nonprofit San Diego Music Foundation, under whose auspices the awards are held.

That brings the total money raised at the event over the past 32 years to $896,247, which has funded the foundation’s Taylor Guitars for the Schools. The program has provided free instruments and lessons for nearly 60,000 students across San Diego County.

“We want to put guitars in the hands of as many students as we can,” Hellman told the audience. “I feel like tonight is a re-emergence from the pandemic because we sold more tickets than we ever have before. We’re sold out.”

‘Who won? Who won? Who won?’

One theme of the evening was longevity.

Two of the night’s honorees, Keneally and Best Rock Artist winners The Farmers (formerly the Beat Farmers) both launched their careers here in the 1980s. So did oh-so-soulful singer Earl Thomas and Manual Scan co-founder Bart Mendoza, a tireless local music champion who was the surprise recipient of the Industry Award.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Mendoza told the audience. “I hope to do it at least another 40.”

Farmers’ bassist Chris Sullivan had an even more heady number to cite when he tallied up how long he and the band’s co-founder, Jerry Raney have been musically active,

“Jerry and I, combined, have been playing guitars for 116 years!” Sullivan said.

Also celebrating longevity were five current and former 91X-FM staff members, who all played a key role in the station’s now-35-year-old “Loudspeaker.”

The show has provided invaluable exposure for countless San Diego music artists, including Jewel, who — via a pre-filmed video — credited “Loudspeaker” for transforming her life.

The special award to “Loudspeaker” led to one of the evening’s few major misfires.

“I don’t know what to say,” mused former Loudspeaker host Tim Pyles. “I was fired by 91X.”

Another theme of the evening — and one that, alas, occurs each year at the San Diego Music Awards — was the loud, incessant chattering of a sizable percentage of the attendees.

It is unclear whether the din was because the portion of the audience near the open-air bar at the rear of Humphreys was too lubricated to realize an awards show was taking place. Or, perhaps, because they thought the musical performances and acceptance speeches were provided soley to provide background accompaniment to their blathering.

“Yo! All you people in the back need to be quiet,” said P.O.D. guitarist Marcos Curiel as he co-presented the Best Hip-Hop Artist award with local media veteran Chris Cantore. “I was back there drinking with you, and you need to be quiet.”

Curiel’s plea, which was ignored, came at 9:30 p.m. That was nearly two hours after keyboardist Ed Kornhauser belatedly made his way to the stage to accept his Best Jazz Artist award.

“I couldn’t hear (my name announced) from back there,” Kornhauser said. “(I was like:) ‘Who won? Who won? Who won? Oh, wait — they are playing my song (over the sound system)’.”


Maybe next year, a new category can be added for: Most Loud and Clueless Audience at an Annual Music Awards Show. The acceptance speech, delivered en masse, can last for the duration of the multi-hour event.

An edited, two-hour version of Tuesday’s awards show will be televised June 4 on Fox 5 KSWB.

2023 San Diego Music Awards: Official Winners List

Country Dick Montana Lifetime Achievement Award: Mike Keneally

Album of the Year: Gilbert Castellanos, “Espérame en el Cielo”

Artist of the Year: Jeff Berkley

Song of the Year: Daring Greatly, “Never a Goodbye”

Best New Artist: Ash Easton

Best Folk or Acoustic Song: Michael Tiernan, “Life in 3D”

Best Folk or Acoustic Album: Dave Preston, “Alligator Shoes”

Best Jazz Artist: Ed Kornhauser

Best Jazz or Blues Album: “Gilbert Castellanos, “Espérame en el Cielo”

Best Blues Artist: Anthony Cullins

Best Country or Americana Artist: Kimmi Bitter

Best Country or Americana Album: Jeff Berkley & The Banned, “I Can Reach the Stars”

Best Hip Hop/Rap Artist: Brothers Burns

Best Hip Hop/Rap Song: Bassassin, featuring Mitchy Slick, “Padre Gang”

Best Hip Hop/Rap Album: Katie LaDubz, “Pressure”

Best Indie/Alternative Artist: Aviator Stash

Best Indie/Alternative Album: Wild Wild Wets, “Love Always”

Best Pop Artist: Jonny Tarr

Best Pop Song: Audrey Callahan, “Good Good Energy”

Best Pop Album: Joshua Taylor, “Unscene”

Best Rock Artist: The Farmers

Best Rock Album: The Tourmaliners, “Surfidia”

Best Rock or Indie/Alternative Song: Joshua Taylor, “Cars Don’t Run Forever”

Best World Music Album: Sandollar, “Under the Water”

Best R&B, Funk or Soul Song: Thee Sacred Souls, “Love Is The Way”

Best R&B, Funk or Soul Album: Rebecca Jade, “A Shade of Jade”

Best Local Recording: Ass Pocket Whiskey Fellas, “Third Flagon”

Best Video: Black Market III, “Rosalee”

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