Call it the Grammys for subway buskers—the first-ever Riders’ Choice Award is here. Voting closed Wednesday with the all-female brass band, Brass Queens, taking home the prize.
Sponsored by the cross-sector WE♥️NYC campaign, this competition drew up from artists in the MTA’s Music Under New York roster of over 350 subway performers. For the first time, riders had the opportunity to select their favorite of three finalists. The winner took home the inaugural award and clinch a recording session with Atlantic Records.
This year’s outstanding finalists comprise a diverse array of talent, featuring winners, Brass Queens, an all-female brass band with an impressive repertoire of performances, ranging from the prestigious 2022 Met Gala to Brooklyn’s Smith-9th St. subway station. Also in the lineup was Afro Dominicano, a captivating funk-fusion group, passionately devoted to Afro Caribbean soul. Notably, Augie Bello, an exceptionally talented singer-songwriter, producer, and saxophonist, boasted an impressive following of over 500,000 on TikTok, has also made it to the finals
Alex Harris, co-founder of the Brass Queens and one of the band’s trumpeters, said winning the Riders’ Choice Award “would mean so much to us because we value the relationship we have to the people of New York.” Harris added that her band was “all in regardless of... the recording session.” When the group learned that they were in the running, they “were really surprised. Honestly, we were shocked that we even got an audition. To receive the news about being a finalist was just the cherry on top.”
Augie Bello feels similarly—upon hearing that he’d been selected as a finalist, he “was super excited and called [his] whole family,” and said that with all the buzz around the competition, “it’s like I’ve already won.”
Both Bello and his competitors in the Brass Queens are especially fond of performing on the subway. Busking became an important creative outlet for the Brass Queens, Harris said, particularly during the pandemic, when it “propelled [them] forward.”
“Playing in the subway ... gave us the exposure to gain an audience and a fanbase.” Bello said. “The subway is the best stage you could perform on when you’re trying to test out music. If I end up stopping people going from point A to point B, that means they’re really enjoying it.”
Bello added that “it’s a great place to uplift people going through their stressful days.”
Mayor Eric Adams, for his part, was excited for the reveal of the competition’s winner.
“I look forward to seeing who our city picks for the first ever Riders’ Choice Award,” he said at the launch event July 19. The city picks indeed—discerning music critics and casual listeners alike can view clips of the performers and place their votes at https://www.welovenyc.nyc/mta/#mta-vote.