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Off the Record

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By Austin Powell, Fri., July 23, 2010

Off the Record
Courtesy of Austin Backstage Live

Where There's a Will

Imagine every Central Texas tourist attraction cobbled together into one giant theme park. That's essentially Austin Backstage Live. Located at the corner of Slaughter Lane and I-35 in South Austin, the proposed 250-acre wonderland includes a 10,000-capacity amphitheatre, a water park, a farmers' market, an extreme sports facility, and accommodations including hotels, 200 apartments, and 300 condos, which will start at about $200,000. Then there's the stationary drive-in movie theatre. "You could reserve a 1957 T-Bird for two," enthuses Austin Backstage Live CEO Mitchell Kalogridis, who also heads Florida-based real estate company MK Developments. "We want every aspect of the park to be special enough to drive 200 miles to see." While that may sound like a pipe dream, Kalogridis owns the land and says he's in negotiations with "very credible organizations" for the proposed tracts, which would be managed independently. "We intend to establish a number of venue partners and coordinate construction so the venue and park will go vertical virtually simultaneously," Kalogridis says. ABL hopes to get everything permitted next year and at least one portion completed by the end of 2012. Until then, it's an impressive website: www.austinbackstagelive.com.

Wanted More Dead Than Alive

With no fanfare or advance notice, Mississippi's blues restorative Fat Possum Records recently released a new posthumous compilation from Austin songsmith Blaze Foley (see "A Walking Contradiction," Dec. 24, 1999). An unintentional companion piece to Sittin' by the Road, a rougher set of material reviewed here last week, The Dawg Years captures "the man at the beginning of the myth: the messiah before the duct tape, the angel before the bottle, Blaze before he was Blaze," according to the liner notes of Basil Bouris, the subject of "Basil's Song" and whose slight infant cries can be heard on several tunes. Assembled from three home recording sessions between 1975 and 1978, the tapes were discovered on a research trip by Foley's muse Sybil Rosen (see "Faded Love," Oct. 31, 2008) and Kevin Triplett, local director of the documentary Drunken Angel: The Legend of Blaze Foley, who then pitched Fat Possum with help from Marsha Weldon and Jeanene Van Zandt. "I thought that I had cataloged all of his songs, but then all of a sudden there's nine new songs," says Triplett. That's not the last chapter to this saga, either. Triplett plans to release Drunken Angel in February with an independent theatre tour accompanied by Gurf Morlix, who, taking a cue from Steve Earle's poignant Townes, just finished his own tribute album, Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream. "It's something I've wanted to do ever since he was murdered," relays Morlix. "I had a hard time narrowing it down, and it's a lot longer than I usually allow for an album, but I couldn't cut any."

Forsaking the Song, Part 13

In the Shakespearean tragicomedy that's been the University of Texas' "repurposing" of the Cactus Cafe, Texas Performing Arts' Assistant Director Cameron Smith is being cast by some as Iago.

According to documents obtained through open records requests, on Feb. 10, less than two weeks after the initial announcement of the venue's future, Smith submitted a two-page letter to University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith that outlined his credentials ("eight years as a talent buyer/concert promoter for Live Nation and director of a $2 million non-profit music festival in Indianapolis") and his intentions: "My extensive booking and administrative experience and relationships within the industry would result in profitable outcomes and a diverse schedule of performances, integrating students and student-oriented programming into every part of the process."

A lecturer on artist and venue management for the Butler School of Music, Smith then helped draft a proposal submitted by his students Taylor Steinberg and John Meller on Feb. 29 to the Texas Union board pitching the Cactus as an interactive classroom. Beginning in March, Smith took part in the Cactus Conversations, and while the group struggled to even outline common guiding principles, the obtained documents reveal that Smith was already communicating regularly with Vice President for Student Affairs Juan González and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly. Later, he served as a middleman between the UT administration and KUT General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt.

Off the Record

"I had a great meeting with Stewart just now, but I want to let you know what the hurdles are going to be," Smith wrote to González and Reagins-Lilly on March 26. He elaborated the following day: "One of the concerns expressed by Stewart yesterday was a strain on existing resources."

"The disappointing thing for me was seeing how much he was seeming to work behind the scenes throughout the whole semester and how he was using his students almost to advance his placement as the hopeful future manager of the Cactus," says Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe's Hayley Gillespie, who took part in the Cactus Conversations and obtained the documents cited here. "He helped shape what the conversations were about before they even started. We deserve someone who is going to be open and transparent. We shouldn't be rewarding secrecy with positions of power."

Smith, who championed the KUT proposal at González's town hall meeting on April 21, is quick to clarify that he disclosed his conflict of interest to the UT administration before joining the Cactus Conversations and that he was still encouraged to participate.

"I want to make it clear that I had no idea which direction the decision would go as to what entity would run the Cactus, and while I thought the KUT plan had its merits, I was open to all possibilities and I would have been interested in the position no matter who ended up running it," Smith responded via e-mail on Monday. "I was not a decision maker in any of this. My opinions were solicited, just as many others' were. Everything was on the table."

According to Associate General Manager Hawk Mendenhall, KUT has received more than 100 applications for the position of Cactus Cafe manager, and interviews will take place over the next few weeks (for more, see "Planting the Seeds of the New Cactus," News, p.15). Meanwhile, Smith has resigned from Texas Performing Arts effective Aug. 31. "It's totally unrelated," Smith stresses. "I've just reached a plateau here, and I'm interested in new opportunities."

Random Play

Following last year's resurrection of Death, Transmission Entertainment is rescuing another Detroit legend, this time for the 2010 Fun Fun Fun Fest, Nov. 6-7. The Gories stripped Motor City R&B down to its bare essentials in the late 1980s, recording a couple of primitive LPs for Crypt Records that would become the blueprint for the White Stripes. Slick Rick, Suicidal Tendencies, and Best Coast have also been confirmed.

Austin's House of Songs, a foreign exchange program with Danish musicians, has now logged more than 50 artists, following the arrival earlier this week of Anna Rosenkilde and Strawberry Blonde, the duo of twin sisters Anja and Betina Følleslev. Both acts will be performing as part of the organization's Scandinavian Summer Showcase at Momo's on Tuesday, July 27, featuring ambassador Troy Campbell, Erin Ivey, and David Garza.

Following the suit filed by Sixthriver Architects in June, Maldonado Con-struction & Associates LLC is taking legal action against Direct Events and Planet Earth Music owner Tim O'Connor, the Statesman reported last Thursday. The contractor claims to be owed $344,801 for its work on the new Backyard.

Elsewhere on the legal docket, Vallejo has filed suit against BCD Music Group for fraud and breaches of fiduciary duty and contract in the company's handling of 2008's Thicker Than Water. The showdown at the Travis County Courthouse, Aug. 30-31, should be quite entertaining as the distribution company is countersuing, claiming that Pachanga Latino Music Festival's token local alt-rock act misrepresented itself as "an international group with a large following."

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