Thursday, March 5, 2015 12:01 am
Triumph, tragedy and Torch Tuesday
Since 2010, Bar None in downtown Springfield has played host to Torch Tuesday, billed as “the longest running hip-hop open mic in central Illinois.” More than just a showcase for aspiring talent, Torch Tuesday has evolved over the years into a positive community force as well as a destination for performers from across the region and a frequent tour stop for national musicians. Last month’s Torch Tuesday Awards (or “Torchees”), recognizing the achievements of local talent during 2014, proved a celebratory event despite a recent tragedy threatening to cast a pall over the proceedings.
“Have you heard about the young man that was gunned down?” asks Torch Tuesday founder and de facto leader Howard “Torch” Tomas. He is referring to the Feb. 2 murder of Demarco Lee, a frequent performer at Torch Tuesday. Under the stage name “Tatted Lee,” he had been active as part of a popular group called AMN, which took home this year’s award for Group of the Year. Tomas mentions a piece on Lee’s death which aired on channel 20, noting with some small satisfaction that it included footage of the late musician rapping at Bar None. “I got together with some family members and some of the group members and family friends to do a fundraiser,” Tomas says. “We raised close to $1,000 for the family, just to give some relief.”
Overall the awards show was a success, Tomas reports. It fell on Fat Tuesday, leading to a Mardi Gras theme, replete with gumbo and shrimp and other appropriate food offerings. Torchees organizers also went to the trouble of obtaining a red carpet and rolling it out, lending an atmosphere of legitimate glamour to the event. As far as the actual awards, Tomas reports that some of the winners were a challenge to determine this year. Choosing Group of the Year – a race which came down to AMN, 2 Live Nation, Moonmen, Co-pilots and Chasin’ Treez – was especially difficult.
Tomas was still abuzz about another recent TT event, an “industry night” held the week after the awards, featuring self-made Ohio-based hip-hop mogul Big Heff along with DJ WhoBeta from St. Louis. “They offered [regular TT performers] AlvinTrace and Deezy da Paperboy a chance to go to LA and perform,” he says excitedly, noting that the date and venue are yet to be determined.
In the near future, Torch Tuesday plans to start hosting producer contests, “where you can watch them make the beats and we’ll judge the beats.” Also coming up, March 29 will find renowned rap-battler Aye Verb from St. Louis challenging all comers. The presence of out-of-town talent is becoming more and more par for the course at Torch Tuesday. “This year we’ve been getting a lot of support from outside of Springfield,” says Tomas. “Our attendance dropped off a little bit, but artists from Peoria, St. Louis, Chicago and Decatur come out to perform regularly, so we’ve branched out beyond the 217.”
The little hip-hop showcase that could has also continued to attract national touring acts on a regular basis, having reached an early peak with Rakewon of the Wu-Tang Clan back in 2010, as well as Ras Kass and Copywrite, who dropped in last year as part of their Writer’s Block tour. “We’ve been able to snatch people on their tours,” say Tomas. “Like on a seven-city or nine-city tour we can get them to add us between St. Louis and Chicago.” The next step is to take their act on the road, with plans for a Torch Tuesday West in California and a Torch Tuesday East in Philadelphia.
Still, no matter how ambitious things get, the essence of Torch Tuesday is always community. “That’s why we do what we do,” says Tomas.
Scott Faingold is a staff writer for Illinois Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winners of 2015 Torchees:
Artist of the Year:
Deezy da Paperboy
Producer of the Year:
Group of the Year:
AMN (featuring the late Tatted Lee)
Mixtape of the Year:
“Superbad 2”- Trizzle
Album of the Year:
“HNL”- A Boogy
Video of the Year:
“JFK” -Deezy da Paperboy
Single of the Year
“Runaway”- Deezy da Paperboy
Rookie of the Year:
New Group of the Year:
ReUp Von WolfGang
Lyricist of the Year:
Collaboration of the Year:
“What if Feels Like”- Dre Lotto and A Boogy
Battler of the Year:
Community “Unity” in Hip Hop Award:
Lifetime Achievement Award:
Hip Hop Supporter of the Year: