New London - At 4 p.m. Saturday, whilst holiday weekenders, early diners and street denizens meandered through downtown New London, Rich Martin and Sean Murray unloaded a spooled length of carpet from a truck. It could have been two college dudes moving into an apartment.
But the carpet was Hollywood red and Murray and Martin are arguably the two main batteries of the local music scene, so when they unrolled the narrow rug, fashioning a path from Bank Street all the way to the stage in the friendly confines of the Hygienic Art Park, it was a very cool symbol of an event whose time had come.
Two hours later, praying that a modest rainstorm would abate, the finest and most popular musicians in this area trod the dampening carpet in a processional. The first annual Whalies, an admittedly self-congratulatory but well-deserved and crazy-fun awards show honoring a long-fertile scene renowned from Boston to New York City, was under way.
"The last we heard was there was an 80 percent chance of heavy rain at 8 p.m. - for 15 minutes. We're on a pretty tight schedule, but we can deal with that," Martin said.
As it was, the showers turned the preliminaries into an umbrella'd cocktail party as organizers delayed the start. Being an awards ceremony celebrating music, the sartorial mix was what you'd expect when quasi-ironic hipsters decide to mix formality with thrift-store lunacy.
Matt Gouette, a multi-nominee who won Song of the Year and Best Solo Artist, pranced the carpet in parody, wearing what appeared to be Kevin Barnes' clothes from an Of Montreal yard sale.
Meanwhile, the Sue Menhart Band, triumphant in the Best Americana Performance category, arrived in a stretch white limo. They were just behind drummer Bobby Crash of the Lo-Fi RadioStars, who emerged from the sort of Lincoln that Kennedy was shot in. Except there was a roof.
A terrific and poignant moment marked the start of the show when Gone for Good, performing for the first time since drummer Joshe Lecce died in a car accident a year ago, took the stage. Joined by an all-star horn section, the band was an inspired choice and performed wonderfully.
As the show got going, in the crowd, more than one artist acknowledged the Whalies had a bit of a self-congratulatory atmosphere - who, exactly, wasn't nominated? - but, actually, that's OK. And they all knew it was OK.
In the more than a year it's taken for Murray and Martin and the musical community to put this all together, the crossover of the original indie-rock scene with the mostly separate Americana bands - not to mention the infusion of burgeoning hip-hop, punk and metal niches - has been inspired and gratifying to see.
So by the time the rain stopped and the twilight sky took on the tone of shredded lilacs, the Whalies were rolling. I suspect even those artists who, on the surface, considered the event a sort of modestly goofy parody might have been astonished at how justifiably proud they felt at what an amazing scene and community they are part of.