Thursday, May 11, 2000

The 4th Annual Webby Awards

"Let me tell you a great story about Tiffany. When she was six I threw a rolling surprise birthday party for her mother. We started in one place, would take a cable car and go to another. When 11:00 PM rolled around, we hired a babysitter to come and take her home. Well, Tiffany flat out refused. She asked why she had to go and when heard the explanation, said I'm stayin' till the end of the party! She knows how to party and loves to throw parties." Dr. Leonard Schlain, noted writer and doctor, beamed with pride as he spoke enthusiastically about his daughter, Tiffany, president and founder of The Webby Awards, and her staying power with parties.

I spoke with Dr. Schlain in one corner of the VIP pre-party for the 4th Annual Webby Awards. This was the biggest extravaganza yet in the Webby’s history and in an unprecedented move they took over three sacred sites, all next to each other, atop the hill. The austere and serene Episcopalian Grace Church, built in 1898, was the setting for the VIP party. As guests arrived in limos and walked up the red carpeted steps, 1940s-style paparazzi screamed, flashed cameras and took furious notes. Once inside the church accappella songs from the SoVoSo (SOul to the VOice to the SOng) singers filled the interior, dressed as angels, and suspended from risers in the church. Provacateurs in outlandishly outrageous hats and gloriously stylish dresses and tuxedos greeted and walked you into the courtyard for the VIP reception.

As the champagne poured, I interviewed a glittery line of digerati, who were also judges for various categories like Tina Brown of Talk Media (Print and Zines); Howard Rheingold of Rheingold Associates (Community); Charles Altschul of Cooper Union (Education); Jeff and Kim of Chic Simple (Living--which was the category I nominated in); Dr. Dean Edell, medical broadcaster (Radio); Justin Segal, co-founder of (Services) and Rosalind Hein, International Psychic (Weird). I also got to meet with VIPs invited for the evening like Henri Poole of Vivid Studios and Jordan Schlain (Tiff's brother); nominees like John Halcyon Styn of Cocky, the Monterey Bay Acquarium, the team from and Atom

At one point, A petite older woman with a classic knit gold-toned dress inquired, “Can I say something?” “Of course I responded.” “Well, I’m Bela Farrow, past president, and first female president of the Nob Hill Association. I want to say I am so pleased and very supportive of all you people. I supported you all the way and think it’s great what you’ve done.” Her comment rang deeply because there was controversy with this new media takeover of this historic and exclusive part of town.

It was partially controversial because never before had an event taken over the austere Grace Church, the Masonic Auditorium across California Street and the historic Huntington Park across Taylor Street, which was entirely covered in tents and closed to traffic. Street lampposts within a 10-block radius had banners heralding the Webby's. Outside the Masonic Auditorium a group of dancers and riggers called Project Bandaloop scaled and bounced off the smooth marble pillars, wowing guests as they arrived. Inside the auditorium lobby, the Vainglorious booth was set up. With mirrors and Hollywood-style lights surrounding the booth, people were encouraged to place their hands on the designated mats and stick their face through a cutout in the center. Participants were encouraged to mug for a camera, only to realize to their shock and amusement that their faces were being projected onto the 30-foot high screen in the main auditorium! Another main attraction was the nominee alter where nominees for Webby's could toss pennies into a pond with the Webby Award, take a Webby wooden nickel or brightly-colored rabbits foot keychain. There were candles, mission-style gods to pray to, garlic and other good-luck talismans surrounding the altar for praying and luck purposes.

Once the show got started Tony Award-winning actor Alan Cumming emceed the show with aplomb and celebrity guests like John Perry Barlow, Sandra Bernhard and Tina Brown handed out awards with decorum. There was even a surprise visit by new Internet phenomenon Mahir Cagri -- the Turkish stud! Stemming from Schlain's film background the award previews were beautifully choreographed visuals, the most humorous being the lead-in to the Politics & Law category with a parody of the dumb-guy Budweiser commercial starring Bill Gates, George Bush and Janet Reno.

After the ceremony, complete with a marching band intermission, guests filed out of the auditorium and across the street to the Huntington Park after party. Lucky winners went to the Press circle and People's Voice winners (chosen on the web) came to me for a quick interview with moi for the Web cast. Across the street DJ Spooky and Scanner mixed sounds with blasthaus/b.o.l.t's visuals. DJ Claire, essence and The Hot Club of San Francisco also played to the crowds slurping up ice cream sandwiches, sipping beers and sampling choice hors d'oeuvres from local restaurants around town. The Fluff O'Matic machine -- a car wash for people with hot pink feather boas to "fluff" oneself -- entertained some, while others just stood by and watching, laughing.

The party was going in full swing till 2:30 AM and with all the after parties lined up, too, there was no end to this night. Alas -- a 7:00 AM flight forced me to retire "early" and like the homing pigeon, return home. Getting to experience the Webby's in person was a wonderful experience. And it's a credit to the entire staff of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and the Webby Awards that deserve major applause for putting together a phenomenal show.