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Musicians, Black Lives Matter Groups Protest Sacramento Area Music Awards With ‘Anti-Sammies’ Shows

Cody Drabble / Capital Public Radio

Melissa Garcia, Omar Gonzalez-Barajas and Zach Hake of PRVLGS perform on Insight With Beth Ruyak.

Cody Drabble / Capital Public Radio

Musicians and local fans were supposed to gather this week for the 26th Sacramento Area Music Awards — but the Sacramento News & Review canceled its “Sammies” event after a boycott by musicians and activists.

Now, the first of two “Anti-Sammies” gigs protesting SN&R and celebrating musicians of color will kick off Wednesday in Midtown.

Mone’t Ha-Sidi, the founder of Black Arts Matter, which started the Sammies boycott and tonight’s “anti” show, says the event “is just a mixture of all different types of art being displayed from different people in the community that transcends race lines and genders."

SN&R launched its annual music showcase and awards ceremony in 1992, and the list of past winners includes well-known acts like Deftones, Dog Party, and Cake. But after 25 years, the newspaper decided to cancel this year’s event in response to more than 20 bands and performers withdrawing their nominations after the paper’s controversial cover story on John Tennis, the former Sacramento police officer who shot and killed Joseph Mann in July 2016.

The story drew criticism on social media from Black Lives Matter and other social-justice groups, who decried SN&R for glorifying Tennis. Activists also questioned the paper’s coverage of law enforcement and communities of color in general.

Ha-sidi said speaking out against the awards show was a way to impact the the company’s bottom line. “Since SN&R puts a lot of money into the Sammies, this is going to be the best way in order to rectify what they did wrong by putting that cop on the cover."

SN&R editor Eric Johnson says the boycott hasn’t impacted the paper’s financials. But he says it has reshaped its news and arts coverage.

He spoke with people participating in the boycott. “We promised to step up our efforts to find more black voices and work with them in the paper,” he said. “And we've done that so far."

Johnson added that SN&R will “continue to do our best to hold law enforcement agencies accountable, and to do that respectfully. We're going to continue to do our best to cover the diverse communities of Sacramento.”

Christian Gates, the 24-year-old soul and R&B musician in who performs as the Philharmonik, was among the first artists to withdraw from the award show, including his Artist of the Year nomination.

"I would say that the needle that the broke the camel's back was the John Tennis article,” he said on Insight with Beth Ruyak. “I felt like over the years, if you add that with the lack of representation of people of color within the news media outlet, it was just very motivational to take a stand.”

Black Arts Matter and Black Lives Matter’s Anti-Sammies shows are advertised as two nights of music and community, which kicks off at the Blue Lamp this evening.

Ha-Sidi says the Wednesday night gig will feature artists who withdrew from the awards, including Sammies Hall of Fame member Jonah Matranga.

"Tonight is just a mixture of all different types of art being displayed from different people in the community that transcends race lines and genders," she said.

Ani Maul guitarist and singer Izzy Hess, who also will perform Wednesday night, said she felt it was important to join her musical peers. “The artists in the community really have a lot of power to come together to spread that word,” she said on Insight with Beth Ruyak.

“I felt it was a great opportunity to step up, to really let the community know that black lives matter, black arts matter, and the newspaper needs to listen to their stance and understand where they're coming from.”

The Anti-Sammies shows are at the Blue Lamp on Wednesday and Thursday night. SN&R will announce this year’s awards winners in print only this week.

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