TONIGHT AND Monday night, Buffalo stages its own version of a Hollywood awards show -- complete with limousines, celebrity glitter, outrageous costumes and nervous thank-you speeches.
It's the Buffalo Music Awards, which are something like the Grammies and the Oscars rolled into one. An annual celebration of the best in local rock and pop -- now in its 10th edition -- it's the high point of the year for the area's musical community.
The second-oldest all-local music awards show in the United States, it's never quite the same from year to year. This time it's split into two parts, both taking place in Manikins Nightclub, 1620 Niagara Falls Blvd.
Today is an all-ages show from 4 p.m. to midnight with 10 up-and-coming bands, a musical merchandise exposition and awards for individual performers in a dozen and a half categories.
Monday's an over-21 affair, beginning at 8 p.m. with performances by 10 former award-winners, a celebrity appearance by the female heavy metal recording group Vixen and presentation of awards in another dozen and a half categories for groups and vocalists.
Amazingly, the Buffalo Music Awards are produced not by an army of professionals, but by a dedicated handful of volunteers. Chief among them are the husband-wife team of Rick and Marsha Falkowski.
A couple of nights before Thanksgiving, the Falkowskis were up to their elbows in preparations. The dining room table of their modest Cheektowaga home was deep with layout forms for the 56-page souvenir program -- the 1990 Buffalo Music Yearbook -- that accompanies this year's award show.
Marsha and Ken Czworka, who has done pasteup with the Falkowskis since the days of their local music newspaper, Buffalo Backstage, were placing finished ads and band writeups on the pages.
Rick was consulting with Andrew Dikens, another Buffalo Backstage veteran who handled the bulk of advertising sales for the Buffalo Music Yearbook. Dikens also is production manager for the awards show.
The yearbook and the awards are the legacy of Buffalo Backstage, which the Falkowskis published from 1981 to 1985. The area's most inclusive single reference on local musicians, the yearbook includes writeups on every award nominee.
"We're a couple of musicians who decided we could do more for music by writing about it," Rick said.
Rick started playing in bands when he was in Cheektowaga's Maryvale High School in the mid-'60s. School and music didn't go well together, however. Rick's long hair got him suspended several times, and late-night performances left him so tired that he often dozed at his desk. He slept through the math portion of his SAT test.
Marsha, who grew up on Buffalo's West Side and was part of the early hippie scene in Allentown, met Rick when he was playing guitar with a group called the Wildcats in a now-defunct bar on River Road in North Tonawanda.
"I was underage, illegally playing in the bar," Rick recalled. "I wasn't even old enough to have a driver's license."
"And I was underage, illegally in the bar, because my best friend's mother was manager of the place," Marsha added.
They dated by hitching rides with friends to each other's houses. They played records for one another.
"She'd bring her city influences out to the suburbs," Rick said, "and I'd introduce her to stuff she wasn't hearing."
Rick played with a couple other bands, Pharmacy Jones and the New Breed, attended college, then enlisted in the Air Force in 1970 when he got a low number in the draft lottery during the Vietnam War. He and Marsha were married and spent three years stationed in Germany, where they first conceived the idea for a Buffalo music newspaper.
Returning home in 1974, both of them returned to the music scene, playing six nights a week in Top 40 bands called Sound & Co. and Party Time. Rick was keyboardist; Marsha was the lead singer.
When their daughter Lisa, their third child, was born in 1979, both of them quit playing and started talking about starting a music newspaper. As neophyte publishers, they found they had a lot to learn.
"We didn't know what typesetting was," Rick said. "We didn't know what a halftone was. We didn't know about continuing stories, so we tried to make every article the same length."
Nevertheless, they brought out their issue on April 1, 1981, and published more or less bimonthly for the next four years.
The Falkowskis noted that several music writers did their first work for Buffalo Backstage -- Anne Leighton, now an editor at Hit Parader; Jeff Johns, free-lance writer and host of WGR-FM's Sunday night "97 Rock Music Papers," and Kevin Hosey, music writer for Night-Life magazine.
The music awards grew out of a desire to give special recognition to local musicians and call attention to Buffalo Backstage. For the first four years, they were known as the Buffalo Backstage Music Awards.
"The magazine stopped at the end of '85," Rick said. "That was when the drinking age went up to 21 and our advertising base dried up. The clubs have never recovered from that. Actually, I think we got more serious about the awards after we folded the paper."
As the Buffalo Music Awards have grown from a musicians' party to a major event, the format has evolved also. Categories have been added and changed. A Hall of Fame division, now numbering 24 members, was started in 1983 to recognize multiple award winners and special achievements.
"People ask us, 'Where is the Hall of Fame?' " Rick said. "We wish there was a permanent place for it."
The biggest change came four years ago, when the Falkowskis changed the method for determining award winners. Instead of a popularity poll with voting by fans, they instituted Academy Award-style balloting restricted to bands and those associated with the music business.
To answer criticism about the nomination process -- at annual nomination meetings, booking agents commonly sought to pack the list with their client bands -- Falkowski and writer-designer Paul Marko handled all of the nominations themselves, researching the bands and players for months.
This year's two-night format is in response to another complaint. The all-ages show Sunday is designed to give younger fans a chance to attend. Music merchandisers were invited to set up on the second floor of Manikins to give the all-ages night an extra dimension.
"Controversy has made us change over the years," Rick said. "That's why we added all those categories for original bands. There's always been criticism that we shouldn't give awards to people who play in cover bands.
"But some people are better at doing it than others, and with the market the way it is, you have to do it. Take the Beatles and the Rolling Stones -- they both started out as cover bands. Cover bands can become great original bands.
"The original reason for the music awards was to bring attention to people out there playing," he added. "People are nominated because they're out there doing something. The winner isn't necessarily the one who takes the top or runner-up. Everybody's a winner."
Financially, however, the Falkowskis don't see much on the plus side for all their work on the Buffalo Music Awards. When snow postponed the 1985 awards, Rick sustained a loss that took him six months to repay.
"For the past six years, we're $134 ahead," he said. "You can't do just one show a year and make any money at it. This is how I spent my vacation this year, taking days off to work on the music awards."
Rick, an area representative for ASCAP, licenses clubs and businesses for music in accordance with the copyright law. He has had opportunities to move elsewhere for a better-paying job, but has turned them down.
"If I left the music awards behind," he said, "I'd feel like I was turning my back on one of my kids. But we wish we could find other people out there to help with it. Basically, it's all done by the four people here tonight. If we could find some other people who were as sincere and interested in Buffalo music as we are, we'd welcome them with open arms."