Playback: The King of Hip-Hop
MLK Day, ready-made for hip-hop, plus Fun Fun Fun Fest lands back at Auditorium Shores, and RIP Will Indian
"The connection between Martin Luther King and the hip-hop audience is pretty obvious," asserts local MC Bavu Blakes. "You're talking about a really big supporter of the poor and underprivileged, and someone whose impact pulls people from different backgrounds together."
From its early significance as a voice of the voiceless, to its increasingly diverse modern profile, hip-hop continues to evidence MLK's legacy. Austin's hip-hop community toasts the slain civil rights leader with two major events on the eve of King's national holiday, observed on Monday.
"Consider the different age and ethnic groups you see at a Jay Z concert," Blakes points out. "That's closer to King's dream of equality and of people of various backgrounds actually sitting at the table together than most examples we see in our society now."
For the third consecutive year, Blakes performs at local MLK tribute event All Rise. An annual installment of the monthly spiritual dance party Body Rock ATX, organized by conscious rap duo Riders Against the Storm, All Rise celebrates Dr. King's status as an American radical.
"We were a little tired of the 'I have a dream' King that's blasted on airwaves in January," says Chaka Mpeanaji of RAS. "Our events focus on the anti-imperial, poor people's campaign that revisionists don't want people to remember. The reality is that at the end of his life, King was calling for changes beyond civil rights. His voice rallied against Vietnam and U.S. foreign policy in general. All Rise is a tribute to King's growth, and his move towards social equality that could only come through drastic economic change and a redistribution of power and wealth."
Sunday's event, 8pm at the North Door, includes performances from RAS and Blakes, along with Queen Deelah, David Sha, DJ Chorizo Funk, and others. Uptown, heads gather at Spider House for the Austin Mic Exchange's MLK Block Party, a summit of rappers, graffiti artists, and breakdancers that includes a mixtape marketplace, 8pm. League of Extraordinary Gz headline after performances from poetic MC Da'Shade Moonbeam, and cerebral backpack rapper Feral the Earthworm.
"King's legacy inspires unity," offers AMX founder and word stylist Adam "P-Tek" Protextor. "Not only are we uniting the various elements of hip-hop culture into one event, we're uniting OGs like the League with young MCs making a name for themselves."
Fun Fun Fun Fest Relocates – Barely
Ending nine months of speculation over Fun Fun Fun Fest 2014's location, organizers Transmission Events announced Tuesday that its annual fall throwdown will return to Auditorium Shores on Nov. 7-9.
Adjusting for the park's impending face lift, FFF altered its layout, relinquishing use of the east end, where the mainstage was located, and annexing a portion of nearby Butler Park, the turf across Riverside Drive – adjacent to the Long Center and Palmer Events Center. Butler Park will account for 40% of FFF9's territory.
"This is definitely a compromise," admits FFF co-founder James Moody. "Festivals don't want to move. You want to stay where you are for consumer confidence. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a minor adjustment and this is a major adjustment. This is a temporary solution and not a standard for the future."
Transmission sat down with representatives from the Long Center, Palmer Events Center, neighborhood leaders, the mayor's office, and the Parks Department to hash out an agreeable festival layout. Last year, Moody told "Playback" he hoped the city would phase the Auditorium Shores renovation in a way that it wouldn't affect FFF. That didn't happen, but it could've been worse.
"People were worried we wouldn't have FFF this year or it would be at the Travis County Expo Center. We can't do that because we're an urban festival and FFF Nights are essential to it," says Moody, referring to the fest's free aftershows.
Moody added that uncertainty over FFF's location delayed the release of presale passes, which usually sell like crazy over Christmas. Tickets now go on sale Feb. 12 and make the perfect Valentine's Day gift for music-loving sweethearts.
Will Indian, 1953-2014
Austin's musical ranks are replete with unrecognized greats, whose supporting roles elude the spotlight, yet play a major role in this town's sound. Will Indian was a phenomenal Telecaster picker and Austin fixture for over three decades, who died in a Houston-area hospital last Wednesday fighting a lung infection while awaiting a liver transplant. Indian, 60, battled Hepatitis C since the late Seventies and his health declined drastically in the past year.
A New York native, Indian moved here in the early Eighties, performing in several bands before forming the popular Rhythm Rats in 1984 with Rusty Trapps and Loose Reed. He backed notables like Daniel Johnston, Blaze Foley, and tenor sax great Clifford Scott. When Scott's bandleader, drummer Ernie Durawa, left on tour with the Texas Tornados, Indian took a leadership role and produced two of Scott's albums. A longtime deejay on KAZI, Indian also played in the Nortons, released the solo album Blues Time, and landed major roles with local country great James Hand and the Cornell Hurd Band.
"He was a great, swinging, son of a bitch who could really play!" declares Hurd. "He was more than a master of the Telecaster. He was a lieutenant. Onstage, he was supportive, comfortable, and a team player."
Hurd commended Indian for his day job, educating special needs students in Dripping Springs ("That was a job for a man and Will was a real man"), while Hand credits Indian with redefining his sound.
"I always said, 'If Johnny [Cash] had a Luther [Perkins] and Hank [Williams] had a Don [Helm], I had a Will,'" remarked a tearful Hand. "Not only was he the cleanest player I have ever heard in my whole life, he was also one of my best friends and I'll miss him forever."
› South by Southwest releases its first batch of wristbands today, Thursday, Jan. 16, starting at 10am. Sales are limited to locals with a credit card and Austin area code at wristbands.sxsw.com. $169 gets you 100 stages March 11-16.
› Vocalist Karen Abrahams, who's long struggled with ear problems and is now legally deaf, needs a bone conduction implant to preserve what hearing she has in one ear. A benefit for the blues, Americana, and bluegrass singer, who fronted her own band as well as the Back Porch Vipers, happens Sunday at the Mercer Street Dance Hall in Dripping Springs, 2-9pm.
› A "for sale" sign appeared recently on the front lawn of Robert Plant's Travis Heights home. A call to the realtor revealed that the property is already under contract. The asking price for the Led Zeppelin singer's pad? $1.5 million.
› Music patronage nonprofit Black Fret kicks off 2014 with a launch party and founding membership drive at the Gibson Showroom on Saturday, featuring performances by Ben Kweller and Emily Bell. Free for members, $200 for newcomers.
› Bikinis, the microscopic party town devised by Parish and Scoot Inn owner Doug Guller, opens Friday. The rustic, hill country hangout, just south of Fredericksburg, boasts a fainting goat and a music venue named Guller Hall with big-breasted bartenders.