Stratus Properties Acquires Transmission Events
Graham Williams starts new booking business: Margin Walker Presents
By Kevin Curtin,
9:23PM, Mon. May 16, 2016
Austin’s largest independent concert promotions company, Transmission Events, has been sold to minority investor Stratus Properties, who now own 100% of Transmission and Fun Fun Fun Fest. Meanwhile, Transmission co-founder and booker Graham Williams has launched his own booking company: Margin Walker Presents.
Transmission’s longtime principals, Williams and James Moody, now have no involvement with Stratus/Transmission.
“Stratus Properties, the real estate company who built the W Hotel, now owns Transmission and Fun Fun Fun Fest,” confirmed Williams by phone on Monday evening, after the Chronicle had been tracking the story over the weekend. “Me and Moody left, and I’m basically still doing what we’ve been doing, but they own that name.
“Whether or not they’re going to do Fun Fun Fun Fest, I don’t know. I can’t speak for them.”
Williams confirmed the deal was completed in the last week. The nature of the sale is that, along with the company and festival brand names, Stratus acquired Transmission’s event production and sponsorship divisions. Event production remains a valuable asset for concert-affiliated businesses. South by Southwest has an event production arm that stages local festivals including the Austin Reggae Festival and Texas Tribune Festival. Austin’s pre-eminent promotions empire, C3 Presents – partnered with Live Nation – continues putting on festivals on multiple continents, their domestic outreach notable for working with the Obama administration on inauguration celebrations and the White House Easter Egg Roll.
“We did not make any money off of it,” Williams offered about the sale.
Why? Were there debts that needed to be settled?
“Well sort of,” replied Williams. “I don’t really want to get into that side of it, because that’s their business at this point, but we were the sweat equity and the people who spent eight years building this brand and running it. They were the investor.”
I would’ve thought that Fun Fun Fun Fest was your baby and you wouldn’t let it go.
“You would think,” replied Williams flatly.
Williams is among the most influential talent scouts the Texas state capital has ever produced. Both he and Charles Attal of C3 Presents were born and raised locally. Williams came to prominence filling the calendar of Emo’s during the club’s Red River heyday of the Nineties and early millennium before joining forces with Mohawk owner James Moody and various other Red River stakeholders in 2007 to launch a new booking and event-production venture.
Throughout its nine years in business, Transmission has grown into one of the most successful live music enterprises in town, booking over 700 shows annually. In 2013, Transmission entered a strategic partnership with Stratus Properties, a publicly traded real estate development company based in Austin that owns Block 21, which includes the W Hotel and Moody Theater. The deal gave Transmission increased access to one of Austin’s best venues, ACL Live, and financial backing for their featured event, the Fun Fun Fun music festival, which celebrated its 10th year last November.
When asked which party prompted the sale of Transmission, his team or Stratus, Williams said it was somewhere in the middle.
“I think they’ve been wanting to focus less on live music and less on show booking, and more on private events, corporate events, and production work,” Williams said. “When two partners at the same company don’t see eye-to-eye on that kind of stuff, it’s not a harsh thing. We didn’t have a fist fight on the way out. We shook hands.
“We just had different visions for what we wanted to do and, for us, that’s live music and to continue to book shows in clubs in Texas. I don’t really think that’s what the Stratus folks were focusing on.”
A representative for Stratus Properties, speaking off the record on Sunday, confirmed the deal and their company’s desire to move out of the booking business.
Williams new booking/marketing company, Margin Walker Presents – named after the title track of Fugazi’s classic 1989 EP – will essentially do exactly what Transmission has been doing. It will still be booking Mohawk, Sidewinder, and various other clubs in Austin, plus Paper Tiger in San Antonio, and various rooms in Dallas. Margin Walker’s staff pulls from Transmission’s booking and marketing side, employing Rosa Madriz, Dan Holloway, Kris Youmans, and Ryan Henry as talent buyers, and Ian Orth, Kayla Dockery, Chris “Guch” Sakaguchi, and Bianca Flores on the marketing side.
With the changeover, Bobby Garza, a politically savvy former chief of staff for onetime Council Member Mike Martinez who has handled day-to-day operations at Transmission as general manager since 2013, will manage the Stratus-owned Transmission business.
“Nobody is losing their job,” Garza said of the changeover at 8pm on Monday. “Everybody that remains on the event side of the business is still going to be working for Transmission.”
According to sources intimately involved with the changeover, multiple existing employees on the sponsorship and event side of Transmission have refused job offers at the new company. Garza declined to comment.
When asked what aspects of Transmission’s business Stratus wants to grow, Garza replied: “Everything that’s left. Graham is essentially spinning off the booking in terms of club shows, but everything else from a production and festival world is what we want to grow. We want to grow the business in the events space – whatever that looks like.”
Garza says they’ll make an announcement regarding the fate of Fun Fun Fun Fest in June. According to him, Transmission is still interested in working with Williams in a booking capacity. For his part, when asked if he plans to continue to put occasional shows into the Moody Theater, Williams was hopeful.
“I would imagine so,” he said. “The relationship at this moment is that we’re going to continue to do what we do and they’re going to attempt to do something new or continue down a path that we sort of started. I think they like that we bring them a lot of shows and we really like the room, so I don’t see why that would change. It’s a great space.”
Williams says that now that he’s not involved with Fun Fun Fun Fest, he’s planning to start a new festival.
“I would imagine it would be very similar to Fun Fun Fun, but it wouldn’t be called Fun Fun Fun,” he cracked.
Asked for his personal reflections on the juncture he finds himself at, with the brand he spent nine years developing now out of his control and a new business to launch, Williams said he’s content.
“It’s a whole new phase. Being able to start something new and have something that’s all my own is exciting,” he enthused. “Again, nothing against Stratus, or Transmission, but at some point we had to be able to move on to something new in order to do what we’ve always loved and continue to create.
“In the end, it’s just names. I was at Emo’s for a long time and there was a mindset that, ‘This building, these bricks will continue on forever, and it’s so important.’ And granted, it was and I had personal connection to it, but I had to leave at some point,” he continues. “That venue was super important to a lot of us, but the world didn’t end. Shows kept happening, the scene grew, shows got bigger, festivals continued to grow and kept getting bigger. So I think that’s a good example.
“It sucks when things doesn’t continue forward the way we’re used to, but at the same time it opens up a lot of doors to do a lot of great things. I think we have a lot of great stuff on the horizon.”