Muñoz's Cactus Cafe Plans
New manager talks old traditions, new plans
By Richard Whittaker,
9:02AM, Fri. Sep. 10, 2010
Welcome to the spotlight, Matthew Muñoz. Talking to the new manager of the Cactus Cafe on Wednesday, he said, "It's strange after being on the other side for so many years, working with the press on deadlines and working with artists to make sure that they're there for the phoners. It's going to be an interesting ride for the next few days."
Muñoz takes over the venue in UT's Texas Union building after an eight month roller coaster ride. First it was just closing, then it was being revived, then the music side of the business was transferred over to local NPR affiliate KUT.
Muñoz's hiring, announced Wednesday and discussed at length in this week's Off The Record, is already sparking serious debate. Some critics are seeing it as a period on what's been dubbed "the iconic years" and fear the room will lose its spirit in the search for new audiences and revenue streams. KUT Associate General Manager Hawk Mendenhall has countered that the very nature of the room means that any change will be an expansion rather than a radical change of direction "You can't put speed metal in there," he said. "There's no possible way that you can move away from the bulk of that stuff, that intimate singer-songwriter stuff [that creates] that classic Cactus atmosphere."
Muñoz's big selling point for KUT was his background in label management and promotions in Austin and Los Angeles (an internship and first job with Arista Austin, three years in LA with Warner Bros. and then six and a half with Universal Music, before moving back to Texas two years ago to work with the now-defunct Justice Records.) However, the Cactus isn't just any venue: Aside from its legendary status, it's also a university venue, and Muñoz said that's going to be a major part of his planning. He said, "I went to college and studied music, and when I first moved to Austin I was in a band and I knocked on club owner's doors and tried to get gigs for my band at the time, so I definitely know what it's like out there."
While he was keen to stress his respect for former manager Griff Luneburg ("If he hadn't been doing the job he's been doing, then people wouldn't have cared.") Muñoz has clearly been brought in to make some changes. While booking acts will "definitely be a big percentage of the job," he said that brand expansion and fitting the Cactus into KUT is the new part of the job description. His first target is what he called "the nuts and bolts that bring the venue into the 21st century as far as the marketing goes."
There will undoubtedly be a period of transition. Luneburg has already helped book acts through the end of the year, and Muñoz said they will be working together to fill in the gaps on the schedule. After that, he said, "We're trying to figure out and sort out what we can do, what things make sense and what things don't make sense. We're going to roll things out slowly. I don't think you're going to see changes all at once. It's going to be the right things at the right time."