FARMINGTON — When J.J. Otero, the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of Saving Damsels, arrived at the awards ceremony for the Native American Music Awards Saturday night in Niagara Falls, N.Y., he was told to sit in the very back, about five rows from the exit. Otero didn't think they'd put a winner that far back, so he assumed Saving Damsels hadn't won.
The band's main competition came from The Joint Effect, an Oklahoma metal band. Otero said metal fans can get pretty competitive.
"When they get together in swarm, they can get stuff done," Otero said.
The announcers began reading through the names of the nominees for Best Rock Record. Then they listed the winner — Saving Damsels, an Albuquerque-based band. "Find My Way," the award-winning album, was the band's second album and a follow-up to its debut album, "Empty Rooms."
"I just yelled out a big old, Yeah!'" Otero said.
Then he started to walk up to the stage to accept the award, yelling "yeah!" the entire way.
Once up on the stage, Otero proceeded to give his acceptance speech, which he hadn't really prepared.
"I talked about my journey in music," Otero said.
Otero wrote his the music on the band's debut album telling his story about alcohol addiction. His girlfriend took their daughter and left him. Then Otero decided to change his life. By placing alcoholism behind him, he was able to start doing what he loves — creating music.
About seven years ago, he formed the band Saving Damsels and he decided to share his story through music.
"I felt like I didn't want to be anonymous about the fact that I have issues," Otero said.
While being in the band provides him with accountability, it also presents some challenges and temptations.
"We play a lot of bars," Otero said.
Often while the band is performing at these bars, there will be rounds of beer at stage. Otero refuses the beer and uses it as an opportunity to share his story.
"There is always hope in something," Otero said. "Everybody has a creator inside them."
Otero said this creator inside people enables them to make music or art. After tapping into this creator, Otero said things open up such as peace and happiness and even love.
While in New York for the awards, Otero said he had a spiritual experience at the Niagara River. While looking at it, he remembered some of the Buddhist teachings he has read about how the rivers have no memories.
Standing beside the river, Otero was able to let go of a lot of the stuff he did in his past and to look forward and enjoy the moment.
"I do believe that the present moment's all we have," Otero said.
Hannah Grover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4652. Follow her on Twitter @hmgrover