For Spencer Battiest, there was no better way to celebrate his birthday than with a win at the 16th annual Native American Music Awards. He took home the win for Best Pop Recording for his album “Stupid in Love.”
Battiest also presented Joseph FireCrow with a lifetime achievement award and was a featured performer at the Sept. 17 show at the Seneca Allegany Casino in New York.
“Winning the Best Pop Recording was really great because in a nutshell, that’s who I am,” Battiest said. “I didn’t have a speech prepared, so I just spoke from the heart. I love pop music, I love to write songs and work at it every day. It was a great validation from my peers, the general public and NAMA.”
This was Battiest’s third time attending NAMA, which proved to be the charm. He’s had seven previous nominations; three in 2011 for “The Storm” with his brother Zachary ‘Doc’ Battiest, two in 2014 for “Love of My Life” and two this year for “Stupid in Love.”
Before accepting the award, Battiest had a busy night at the show; first he presented FireCrow with the lifetime achievement award. They met while working in the off-Broadway show “Distant Thunder.”
“I was more focused on that speech and getting it right,” Battiest said. “He is an amazing friend and an accomplished flute player. I won my first NAMMY after giving him his ninth.”
A few of Battiest’s friends and family joined him at NAMA, including his manager Max Osceola III.
“I thought his presentation to Joseph was one of the more professional jobs,” Osceola said. “I know how hard he worked to prepare and it showed. He’s a natural; he’s been onstage since he was a young kid and it just showed through.”
After Battiest presented the award, he relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the night. Then, for only the third or fourth time in front of a large audience, he performed the title track “Stupid in Love.” He calls the song “soul-baring” and gave an emotional performance. Afterward, Doc joined him onstage and they performed “The Storm” together.
“It was a great way to connect with the audience and their reactions were wonderful,” he said. “It gave them a glimpse of who I am as a songwriter and performer. We brought the pop element to the show.”
Battiest’s uncle, medicine man Bobby Henry, made Battiest a shaker a few years ago which he only takes out on special occasions. He brought the shaker with him to NAMA.
“It’s a sacred and special instrument,” Battiest said. “I carried it with me all the way; it was a good companion. It brought us great energy on the stage.”
Osceola said the Battiest brothers “blew the crowd away.”
“I was so proud and happy to see him up there doing what he loves to do,” said Joni Josh, a friend of Battiest. “Being surrounded by beautiful Native people from everywhere was a great feeling. He was so happy and I’m sure it meant the world to him. When they announced that he won, it was an awesome feeling.”
Any recording is a collaboration of a group of people and Battiest dedicated his award to everyone involved, including the producer, musicians, brother, manager, Hard Rock Records and the Seminole Tribe.
“When like-minded people work together, they can make the best product available,” he said.
Highlights of the show, which was emceed by comedian Paul Rodriguez, included the presentation of the Living Legend Award to Saginaw Grant; Taboo, of the Black Eyed Peas, was added to the NAMA Hall of Fame; and a tribute was given to the late Jim Boyd, who won Record of the Year but passed away before NAMA.
The show opened with members of the Standing Rock Sioux as a demonstration to show solidarity for the Tribe and its effort to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“We should always be in solidarity, not only as indigenous people, but as human beings,” Battiest said. “We were elevated to be among those people.”
Osceola and Josh were both glad to be there for their friend, along with his sister Coral Battiest.
“We saw Native American music at its best,” Osceola said. “We got together and celebrated our different cultures and songs; it was nice to see Spencer as part of that. The NAMMYS bring the various cultures together to voice their music and give it a springboard into the larger market.”
Battiest’s future plans include some concerts during Native American Heritage in November and then more songwriting. He said it was a great year to, but he doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels.
“I am working on new stuff and I always want to top myself,” he said. “My goal is to always do better.”