Did you know it’s National Midyear Music Award Day?

Matthew Kauffman Smith’s “fake awards in fake categories to real musicians”

Every Christmas, my mom, a high school French teacher, would take her seasonal decorations out of storage. She had four wooden blocks, one for each letter of the originally French word Noel. My brother and I had a tradition of our own: reversing the letters to spell the name Leon. My mom would find Leon, sigh, and transform him back into Noel. This cycle repeated itself dozens of times throughout the Advent season.

First presented in 2014, and again in 2015, the awards resume this year after I celebrated Take a Yearlong Hiatus Day in 2016.

Unbeknownst to my brother and me—and perhaps 99.9999 percent of the world—this past Sunday was National Leon Day. Every June 25, Leon Day organizers celebrate the halfway point to and from Christmas, and crafters to start thinking about their upcoming homemade gift ideas.

As I have expressed in the past, I’m all for creating obscure national days to celebrate small things, or even really big things, like National Paul Bunyan Day (June 28). Skeptics may ask things like, “Do we really need a National Parchment Day”? But parchment paper is vastly underrated and could use more exposure with a national day of recognition every June 29. It is far worthier of a day than Social Media Day, which is recognized every June 30. Social media certainly doesn’t need more exposure. The world needs another tweet like it needs another web article where the readers are wondering just exactly where the author is leading them.

Without further ado, today is the semiannual National Midyear Music Award Day, where we hand out fake awards in fake categories to real musicians. First presented in 2014, and again in 2015, the awards resume this year after I celebrated Take a Yearlong Hiatus Day in 2016. Below are four artists worthy of real awards, but until they receive them, we’ll present them with our pretend awards.

  • Best Attempt to Put the Word Real Back Into “Reality”: Grace VanderWaal. By this point, even the least discretionary viewers know that reality TV is scripted, highly edited, and contrived. Thirteen-year-old songwriter and ukulele player Grace VanderWaal, however, won America’s Got Talent last year because she seemed like an everyday kid writing original songs in her room. She released the highly infectious single “Moonlight” last week, and a full-length album will follow. Undoubtedly, the music industry will try to mold her in different ways, but even most recent live videos show VanderWaal having a blast performing on stage. Judge Simon Cowell said last year that the burgeoning young star would be the next Taylor Swift, but we’re all better off if she remains the first Grace VanderWaal. For people who like: underdogs; swinging on the swings at the playground; dancing in the moonlight.
  • Best Song about Being Civil to One Another: Jason Isbell. It’s no surprise that there are myriad opinionated songs written during our current divisive political climate. Isbell, a two-time winner of the Americana Music Honors and Awards for album of the year, might win again for his latest album, The Nashville Sound. The rocking song “Hope the High Road” expresses some anger, but also hope for reconciliation when Isbell sings, “But I ain’t fighting you down in a ditch, I’ll meet you up here on the road.” For people who like: RC Cola and Moon Pies; finding common ground with other people; grit.
  • Best Mennonite Album of the Year (So Far): Heather Kropf. A few disclaimers: (1) I haven’t listened to any other album by a Mennonite songwriter this year; (2) Heather Kropf is a longtime friend of mine; and (3) this album is good enough that nos. 1 and 2 don’t really matter. I once referred to the vocalist/pianist Kropf as the “Mennonite Sade.” While I will stand by that assessment for life, that distinction is somewhat limiting in that Kropf’s music isn’t really a singular genre. What she aims for—and achieves on her latest album, Lights—is musical construction with more layers than a bean dip at a church potluck. Recorded in Nashville, Lights features Kropf’s sonic edification at its best. For people who like: finding animal shapes in the clouds; essential oils; seven-layer bean dip.
  • Best Non-Mennonite Album of the Year (So Far): Valerie June. Speaking of hard to classify, Valerie June is often characterized as a folk singer. Yes, she’s mostly mellow and plays guitar, steel guitar, and banjo, but June can also sing the blues, delve into bluegrass, and then turn around and sing a soulful ballad. She once described her style in an interview as “organic moonshine roots music.” That’s an original assessment, and with her roots in Humbolt and Memphis, Tennesse, and a twangy voice straight out of the Smoky Mountains, June is a distinct talent. For people who like: putting hot sauce on fried eggs; taking slow sips of whatever they’re drinking; roasting marshmallows from sticks they find in the woods and didn’t buy at the store.

With Hollywood devoid of any original ideas during the summer blockbuster movie season, now is a good time to declare today Explore New Music Day. And although there are new TV seasons coming out all the time, viewers have to have subscriptions to a dozen services and a few thousand hours of free time to keep up with them all. As of right now, I’m declaring today Simplify Your Life by Turning Off Your TV Day. I also just decided it is Dust Off Your Stereo Day. Happy listening—I mean, Happy National Listening Day.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.