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The Alternative Press Music Awards returned to Cleveland, Ohio for its fourth year Monday night at the Key Bank State Theatre in downtown’s historic Playhouse Square district.

The 2016 APMAs were bumped from Quicken Loans Arena last summer by the Republican National Convention.  Undeterred, the ultimate alt-rock awards show-cum-concert raged in the Buckeye capitol with Rob Halford, Mayday Parade, Third Eye Blind, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Alternative Press founder Michael Shea and his staff were glad to have their party back home where it belongs, mere blocks from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (where the first APMAs transpired) and in the very land that inspired Shea’s popular punk lifestyle ‘zine.

Previous APMAs were hosted by Jack Barakat and Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low.  This year Barakat and Gaskarth got to take it a bit easier, with the emcee nod going to affable dark prince Andy Biersack (aka Andy Black) of the Black Veil Brides.

All Time Low did perform, however.  In fact, they opened the show with a live performance before Biersack checked in to say hello to the 3,500-strong crowd (thousands more watched a streaming simulcast over their computers).

Japanese ambassadors ONE OK ROCK also tore it up—with guest John Feldmann of Goldfinger—in one of the night’s many cool collaborations.

Halestorm frontwoman Lzzy Hale joined Ash Costello and gloom rockers New Year’s Day for a couple songs.  Pierce the Veil and Pretty Reckless also cranked the amps, and Andrew McMahon (who opened for Billy Joel at Progressive Field in Cleveland last Friday) served up some piano-based pop with his In the Wilderness ensemble.

Nothing More and Plain White T’s played stripped-down songs on acoustic instruments.  They even wandered into the crowd to do it, breaking down barrier between artist and audience. 

Later, Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly commandeered the stage with some hot hip-hop. 

Biersack himself closed the show with a cover of Adele anthem “When We Were Young.” 

At least a dozen “Skully” awards were presented to the best musicians in several categories, so decided by Alternative Press online readers’ polls.

Nod for Artist of the Year went to Panic! at the Disco, who performed at the first AMPAs in July 2014.  Pierce the Veil was given top honors for Album of the Year.  Song of the Year went to Biersack’s (Black’s, actually) “We Don’t Have to Dance.”

Lynn Gunn (PVRIS), Jordan Buckley (Every Time I Die), Frank Zummo (Sum 41) were given Skullys for Best Vocalist, Guitarist, and Drummer, respectively. 

Korn’s “Fieldy” Arvizu was named Best Bassist.  Korn themselves went home with a Vanguard award, but didn['t perform.

The Pretty Reckless took the cake for Best Hard Rock Band.  Best Video went to State Champs (“Losing Myself”).

Special awards were presented to LGBT advocate Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) for Icon, and to Goldfinger singer / guitarist John Feldmann for Influence.  One of the evening’s most touching moments came when “Half Access” spokesperson Cassie Wilson was recognized for her work on behalf of disabled and physically challenged rock fans.  Wilson was accompanied onstage by Wonder Years member Dan Campbell, who stayed on for the presentation of Philanthropic Grant Award to Wilson.

There were bass solos and backflips, an incendiary drum-off / team-up, some “unplugged” pieces, strobe lights and slapstick humor.  Biersack was an engaging host with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor: He even showed a home video of himself singing and acting silly. 

But most of all there was the overarching sense that this was a safe place…at least for the night.  A safe haven where kids could be themselves and be proud of it, sans fear or judgmental stares or snide comments, and that people—for all our differences—still have a lot in common when it comes to music.