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2020-2021Best 2020

Best 2020-Themed Song
Shinyribs, "Stay Home"

photo by David Brendan Hall

(Sponsored by Precision Camera)

As documented in the christening entry of the Chronicle's popular and populist pandemic series Checking In last year, COVID-19 hadn't fully revealed its hand before Shinyribs captain Kevin Russell spray-painted the writing on the wall himself. This week one year ago, South by Southwest canceled upon orders from city health officials and one week later all area schools shut down. Eleven days afterward, on March 24, 2020, the Austin Music Awards' Band of the Year in 2018 and 2019 Bandcamped a "musical message from Shinyribs to practice social distancing. And that you really don't need more TP."

Fundraising for the capital's Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), the tune's pocket groove popped out a horn-schmeared toe tapper from your favorite Gulf Coast crab shack, seafood, and Mexican beer, all washed down in Russell's soft-leather coo instantly bottling the melancholy of a distanced social species:

"The bars are all closed,

The hospitals are full.

The churches are empty and the cafes, too.

They say there's nothing we can do ... but stay home."

The YouTube video, posted by the Texas Medical Association and titled "Shinyribs Band and Texas Physicians Say 'Stay Home'!," montages a literal visual to accompany Big Daddy's chill ditty, a single lending credence to the theory that some songs exist already and that their author merely shares them with the rest of us. Such is this sobering but uplifting reminder of the everyday heroism of local and statewide health care workers.

God bless them folks. – Raoul Hernandez

RUNNERS-UP: Akina Adderley, "Broke", Big Bill, "Death to the DNC", Dumb, "I Gave Greg Abbott the Coronavirus" and Miss Lavelle White, "Keep Your Mask On"

Best Fundraising Effort
Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM)

photo by David Brendan Hall

In a year when canceled performances and venue shutters destabilized the so-called live music capital, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians remains an argument for the latter to stick around. You play here, you live here, you get free or low-cost health insurance. The golden ticket is HAAM membership, open to any working musician, music teacher, or DJ living within 50 miles of the city.

Alongside the ability to sleuth out an in-network ophthalmologist for your favorite hypnagogic pop vocalist, the nonprofit stepped up offerings after the city called off South by Southwest. Within days, HAAM expanded assistance to food, rent, and prescriptions for the community in crisis – as if their legendary custom-fit earplugs weren't enough. The number of calls for assistance doubled, and Executive Director Reenie Collins brought in trauma training to help her small team endure the intensity.

In a spring survey of over 2,600 HAAM members, almost 80% of recipients said income losses due to the pandemic would "drastically affect their ability to meet basic needs" in coming months. The dire results fueled emergency city funding. Leader Collins spoke with the Chronicle in September, ahead of annual HAAM Day, a concert fundraiser aired both online and on Fox 7 Austin, featuring Jack Ingram, Reckless Kelly, Asleep at the Wheel, Band of Heathens, Jackie Venson, Gina Chavez, and more.

"The calls [from musicians] are so much deeper than, 'I don't have any gigs.' It's, 'My whole means of existence is gone,'" she explained. "Musicians already lived in a really fragile ecosystem. Now more than ever, it's important to have good health care and access to it."

Facing their own funding gaps, HAAM successfully rallied for support from Austin Economic Development and Travis County's Central Health. New partnerships carried HAAM's first-ever virtual insurance enrollment to close out 2020. The nonprofit's unique ability to stretch funds in the notoriously inefficient health care system makes it a great candidate for donations.

Every dollar donated is leveraged into $7 of direct services to Austin musicians. – Rachel Rascoe

RUNNERS-UP: Fine Southern Gentlemen's Austin Will Survive, Free Lunch for the homeless (Carrie Fussell Bickley, Jade Skye Hammer, Jazz Mills), No More Silence Vol. 1 & 2 and Red River Cultural District's Banding Together Fund

Best Innovation / Business Pivot
Love & Lightstream drive-ins

photo by David Brendan Hall

(Sponsored by Becky Beaver)

Drive-in concerts never showed up on the planner ... until pandemic hit.

Like many of 2020's philanthropic upstarts, Love & Lightstream's drive-in concert series reacted to COVID's near-obliteration of the homegrown music industry. Origin org Austin Love & Light planned a stacked local showcase at Scholz Garten during South by Southwest, and when everything canceled, the event pivoted to livestream-only, closed to the public.

Fast forward to August: The group relaunched as Love & Lightstream alongside production partners the Werd Company and announced a one-off drive-in music festival at Cedar Park's Haute Spot, 120-car cap, anchored by local heavyweights ...Trail of Dead, Jackie Venson, and David Ramirez (all broadcast online). Safety protocols solidified and public interest piqued, so producers expanded to five consecutive weekends (Oct. 23-Nov. 15) starring more than 40 of ATX's finest, plus out-of-state notables like Mt. Joy and Lion Babe. With few (safe) in-person performances available and an altruistic angle to boot (shows benefited performers, Black Fret, HAAM, and Austin Justice Coalition), Love & Lightstream seeded hope during a bleak year and aided more than 100 essential music workers.

They've got more planned for 2021. – David Brendan Hall

RUNNERS-UP: ACL Live week of weddings, Emo's election polling station, Mobley's curbside tour and Mosaic Sound Collective's livestream facility

Best Nonprofit
Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM)

photo by David Brendan Hall

(Sponsored by Capital Metro)

In a year when canceled performances and venue shutters destabilized the so-called live music capital, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians remains an argument for the latter to stick around. You play here, you live here, you get free or low-cost health insurance. The golden ticket is HAAM membership, open to any working musician, music teacher, or DJ living within 50 miles of the city.

Alongside the ability to sleuth out an in-network ophthalmologist for your favorite hypnagogic pop vocalist, the nonprofit stepped up offerings after the city called off South by Southwest. Within days, HAAM expanded assistance to food, rent, and prescriptions for the community in crisis – as if their legendary custom-fit earplugs weren't enough. The number of calls for assistance doubled, and Executive Director Reenie Collins brought in trauma training to help her small team endure the intensity.

In a spring survey of over 2,600 HAAM members, almost 80% of recipients said income losses due to the pandemic would "drastically affect their ability to meet basic needs" in coming months. The dire results fueled emergency city funding. Leader Collins spoke with the Chronicle in September, ahead of annual HAAM Day, a concert fundraiser aired both online and on Fox 7 Austin, featuring Jack Ingram, Reckless Kelly, Asleep at the Wheel, Band of Heathens, Jackie Venson, Gina Chavez, and more.

"The calls [from musicians] are so much deeper than, 'I don't have any gigs.' It's, 'My whole means of existence is gone,'" she explained. "Musicians already lived in a really fragile ecosystem. Now more than ever, it's important to have good health care and access to it."

Facing their own funding gaps, HAAM successfully rallied for support from Austin Economic Development and Travis County's Central Health. New partnerships carried HAAM's first-ever virtual insurance enrollment to close out 2020. The nonprofit's unique ability to stretch funds in the notoriously inefficient health care system makes it a great candidate for donations.

Every dollar donated is leveraged into $7 of direct services to Austin musicians. – Rachel Rascoe

RUNNERS-UP: Black Fret, Diversity Awareness & Wellness in Action (DAWA), Girls Rock Austin and SIMS Foundation

Musician Who Went Above & Beyond
Jackie Venson

photo by David Brendan Hall

(Sponsored by The Soup Peddler)

Jackie Venson personifies perseverance by relentlessly ascending the music industry's creaky, overcrowded, and failing ladder.

The Northwest Austin native undoubtedly "Went Above & Beyond" during a year defined by despair and death. Unable to cast her trademark joy on physical audiences due to pandemic, the ever resourceful independent artist maintained a virtual presence at every juncture of 2020 (archived on Instagram @JackieVenson). This ray of light in a disaster area, presented free of charge, makes her the rightful and inaugural title holder of Best Livestreaming Artist.

Two volumes as Jackie the Robot zoom the former blues ensemble bandleader past even her pivot to a self-sampling solo multi-tasker and catapult the guitarist into future worlds, yet it's October's Vintage Machine that travels the farthest among a whopping five releases in 2020. Her third studio album delivers a batch of good vibrations creeping closer to pop without sacrificing instrumental virtuosity. Opener "Awake" explains its creator's commitment to fulfilling the dreams of her father Andrew Venson, former bassist of Austin R&B act Blue Mist.

Across 33 minutes, Vintage Machine journeys autobiographically, so musically that yields uplifting vibes in a downbeat year.

2020 feels like a seed for Austin's ever popularizing hometown hero. Rising star these past several years, her wicked guitar solos and radiating glow got everyone to take notice, but this contemporary era of stark division absolutely uncovered in Venson a palpable hunger to fight. Increasingly, she uses her voice for change – refusing to halt or conform.

"Instead of being silent, today I'm going to demand that my city, Austin, Texas, be better," Venson tweeted on June 2. "I hope you still believe Black lives matter when you're choosing lineups for the major Austin concert events and festivals, when you're picking out music and songs for your radio shows, when you're doing artist spotlights."

Strong billing greeted her on the livestream edition of ACL Radio's Blues on the Green, but she took a defiant stand for further diversity and wound up curating an all-Black Blues on the Screen herself in July. Venson performed only briefly during R&B singer Alesia Lani's set.

In November, she remedied that by debuting on PBS live concert long hauler Austin City Limits with an incredibly bold statement. A black dress stenciled with the names of 73 victims of police brutality reaffirmed the priorities of the only Black woman to win an Austin Music Award for Best Guitarist (2019). In the midst of actualizing a lifelong goal, she once again diverted attention to people in need.

Time to eliminate "rising" before "star." Jackie Venson is Austin's Musician of the Year. – Derek Udensi

RUNNERS-UP: Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone, Adrian Quesada, Nakia Reynoso and Charlie Sexton

Industry Awards
Best Virtual
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