Behind the Beerland Strike

Legacy punk club and labels in limbo amid owner money issues

Red River live music venue Beerland has been closed since Tuesday. The shutter followed a press release that morning announcing the club’s sale to an unknown buyer. Social media quickly lit up with an anonymous letter from Beerland employees calling for a strike against the long-running punk headquarters.

Richard Lynn at Beerland in 2017 (Photo by John Anderson)

According to employees, following a lucrative South by Southwest, the first round of checks bounced. Nonpayment issues continued until a group of workers finally delivered a letter announcing their strike to owner Richard Lynn on Monday. Some employees were aware of his attempts to find a buyer for the club in the weeks prior to Tuesday’s press release.

“Multiple people tried to ask [Lynn], ‘Is there a plan in place?’” says Beerland employee Jordan Emmert. “There was never a clear answer. The only thing keeping it running was the love of the staff and not wanting to see the venue go out that way.”

Lynn told the Chronicle a nondisclosure clause with the buyer bars him from speaking to the media.

“[Lynn] really helped a lot of people, including me, but I think he overextended,” says Archbold. “He’s the guy with the money, but that doesn’t mean you know how to run a business.”

Max Meehan, booking manager and one of the venue’s longest employees since 2002, says he advised Lynn to sell the club in order to pay employees back, of which by his estimates there are some 30. He was also attempting to draft letters of separation for Lynn so that employees could collect unemployment benefits, which are unavailable to striking employees under Texas law.

“[Richard] kept a lot of walls up between people, so there was a lack of communication,” says Meehan. “He had philanthropic interests in terms of labels, bands, and funding records. There were a lot of other issues that affected Beerland that don’t necessarily pertain to Beerland.”

Venue workers were largely cut off from employees of Lynn’s label umbrella, including Super Secret Records, Sonic Surgery Records, and Self Sabotage Records. Label employees, who worked remotely as independent contractors, say they experienced delays on internal label payments as early as December. They also were not paid regular wages beginning in March.

Self Sabotage Records manager Ish Archbold remembers being shocked by the amount of releases planned across all Lynn’s labels for 2019. Archbold, who quit the label in May, says many albums now hang in limbo, including pressings of Little Mazarn’s Io, already delayed from an April release.

“[Lynn] really helped a lot of people, including me, but I think he overextended,” says Archbold. “He’s the guy with the money, but that doesn’t mean you know how to run a business. One poor decision after another and not following people’s advice, it’s like, ‘Then why the hell did you hire me to be your consultant?’”

Lynn took over Beerland operations in January 2018 from founders Randall and Donya Stockton, who also co-created clubs Rio Rita and King Bee. Supported by family oil money, the arts patron expanded Beerland bookings with the venue’s first official SXSW in a decade and acts like Kim Gordon’s Body/Head last September. Read our 2017 profile on Lynn here.

On Wednesday, Archbold says he informed the owner’s brother William Lynn, aka NYC DJ Will Automagic, of the strike. William paid out a portion of unpaid wages directly to employees. Head sound engineer Steve Pike, who received a portion of his back pay, also helped run Self Sabotage Records.

“[Richard] had philanthropic interests in terms of labels, bands, and funding records,” says Meehan. “There were a lot of other issues that affected Beerland that don’t necessarily pertain to Beerland.”

“From a label standpoint, there were a lot of people surrounding Richard that were leeches,” says Pike. “They tried to get as much money out of him as possible. He couldn’t recover, but the way he handled things was completely unprofessional.”

Pike says Lynn removed Beerland employees from control of the Facebook page, blocking bookers from their event platforms. Local venues and bookers rallied to reschedule many of the upcoming shows, as well as offer work to the misplaced employees. Empire Control Room hosts a benefit with Broken Gold, raffles, and barbecue on Thursday, June 6, alongside a GoFundMe campaign set up for former Beerland and label workers.

“The community has really stepped up to take care of its own, and that’s something I didn’t think existed before,” says Meehan. “That’s been the most positive aspect of this shit.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Beerland, Richard Lynn, Austin Jukebox, Max Meehan, Ish Archbold, Steve Pike, Super Secret Records, Sonic Surgery Records, Self Sabotage Records, Randall Stockton, Donya Stockton, William Lynn, DJ Will Automagic

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