Weird City Hip-Hop Canceled

Local festival’s second year is scratched out

Just 19 days before its scheduled kickoff, organizers have pulled the plug on Weird City Hip-Hop Fest. The cancellation comes as a result of poor pre-sales and scheduling conflicts with headliners.

“I can’t just say ‘shit happens,’ because that’s not fair to how big of a deal this is,” says Adam Protextor, a local rapper who founded Weird City along with his Austin Mic Exchange (AMX) partners Aaron Miller and Leah Manners. “This year’s festival isn’t happening due to circumstances beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up. Weird City is not dead.”

After a promising inaugural run last September, Weird City upped its ambitions in year two, acquiring genre headliners Danny Brown, Jay Electronica, Freddie Gibbs, Aesop Rock, and Charles Hamilton. While 2014 functioned as a block party by utilizing multiple clubs in the Red River district, the follow-up scheduled for Sept. 18-19 was designed to unify the event at Eastside lumber factory Delta Millworks. All pre-sale tickets for those shows will be refunded through Eventbrite.

Miller, who heads Weird City’s booking of Texas acts, maintains that Austin’s hip-hop culture deserves a dedicated festival.

“You have a very competitive scene here and it deserves availability,” he says. “Just because this year might have suffered from a difference of vision or a difference of execution, that doesn’t reflect on the community that still wants to see it. I don’t want people to say, ‘Well I guess Austin just doesn’t like rap enough.’

“That’s an oversimplification.”

Both last year and this year, AMX co-promoted Weird City with Heard Entertainment, a booking concern operated by Stephen Sternschein, owner of downtown club Empire Control Room. Protextor says the two entities are ending their partnership on Weird City.

“Our amicable split with Empire was based on the fact that the festival’s not happening this year, but we’re going to do Weird City next year and we look forward to figuring it out,” confirms the MC.

Sternschein, who secured the fest’s headliners, won’t divulge any specific scheduling conflicts, but popular Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s tour dates have him in West Virginia and Massachusetts the same weekend as Weird City. Sternschein says the talent budget this year was significantly higher than last fall’s, which made pre-sales an increasingly pressing issue.

“Everything about what we’re doing was taken up a notch,” he says. “We turned it up to 11 because what we got out of it last year was that there’s a need and audience for it. I think that’s still the case and there are a number of other opportunities for people to rally around hip-hop in Austin.”

The Empire owner hopes to bring all of Weird City’s cancelled headliners back to Austin for independent club shows in the future. For a promoter, he says, canceling a show is “the worst thing in the world.”

“But ticket sales were low enough that instead of gritting and bearing it, it was a wiser financial decision to pull the plug,” says Sternschein. “There was a lot of things we could look at and say, ‘I could have this or that different,’ but the bottom line with shows is that sometimes you do everything you can and you push really hard and, for whatever reason, it doesn’t stick.

“We charged up the hill and looked back, and there wasn’t anyone there.”

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