Cactus Cafe launched a fundraiser last Friday: “Unlike many music venues in town, the Cactus operates as a non-profit. We are funded solely by ticket sales. We do not receive any revenue from the bar, nor do we receive funding from the University of Texas.” Opened on campus in 1979, the sound haven counts Carrie Rodriguez as one of its most precious assets.
Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?
Carrie Rodriguez: I’m at home with my husband Luke and our 4-year-old son, Cruz. We’re all healthy, sane most of the time, and have everything we need. THANKFULLY, Luke still has some graphic design/creative work keeping him busy and partially employed.
We’re also recording songs every other day for a live music video series we’ve launched called A Song for You. Every other waking minute of the day is spent trying to chase, educate, feed, play with, and clean up after, etc., THE KID.
AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?
CR: Up until 3/13, March was one of the busiest months, music-wise, I’ve had in a long time.
I was hired by Texas Monthly to be the musical director for a show called “Texas Music: The Untold Stories” that was to be performed March 17 at the Moody Theater. We had eight fantastic and diverse Texas musicians, including T Bone Burnett, Shawn Colvin, Charley Crockett, El Dusty, Lil Keke, etc., who were asked to write stories about their lives and were going to read them at the show. I got to put together the band that would weave music in and out of their spoken word narratives, and also accompany them as they sang or performed music within the narratives.
AKA, the coolest project ever!
First, when SXSW was canceled, Texas Monthly very wisely decided to turn the show into separate podcasts that we were going to record with each artist. Everyone involved had put so much work into it that it seemed a shame to let that all go to waste. But then things kept getting scarier, and by March 13 even gathering a small group of musicians in a recording studio seemed like a bad idea.
So they had to pull the plug on everything. The good news: Texas Monthly paid EVERYONE in full. I cannot tell you how grateful I am. What a relief for me to be able to tell the musicians I’d hired for the gig that they would still be getting a paycheck!
So, in that sense, I feel extremely fortunate.
Of course, I have plenty of canceled gigs for the next few months. But those will be rescheduled. I also had to cancel something called a “29-hour read” in NYC of my new musical ¡Americano!, which is a musicalized true life story of inspirational young DACA recipient Tony Valdovinos.
The musical had a very successful debut run at the Phoenix Theatre in February, and was poised to have a well-attended reading in New York where we’d be trying to secure a theatre for an off-Broadway production of the show for fall of 2020. I remember talking to the team in early March and debating whether or not we should cancel the reading, which was set for mid-April in New York City. Imagine.
It didn’t take long to realize we needed to cancel.
I’ve spent the last three years writing songs for this musical, and of course I hope it still has a future. But at the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone even going to the theatre in New York again – or anywhere for that matter! I know they will eventually … but when?
I think that’s the toughest thing to come to terms with. When will we all get back to doing what we do? And what will the world look like at that point?
AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person – at a show, at Central Market, at SXSW?
CR: One thing I’ve really come to appreciate from doing a semi-regular residency gig (Laboratorio) at the Cactus Cafe these last few years is the community that live music fosters. Being away from Austin and constantly on the road for so many years, I think I was sometimes out of touch with that part of it. Now I see the same faces coming back to the Cactus not only to enjoy the music, but to enjoy each other, catch up on life, and experience art together … in a shared moment, which is something that we can’t quite emulate with these livestream concerts on a computer screen.
There is something so sacred about being in the room and experiencing music together in real time. I know Austin is very aware of the value of live music for these types of reasons, and I know that many are needing it more than ever right now. Hopefully, the livestreaming and the videos are a balm that can get us through until we can get back to being in a room together.
AC: Everyone is having to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?
CR: Yes indeed. Well, number one: Now that my 4-year-old isn’t in Montessori school from 8:30am-2:30pm every day, I don’t have much free time to be devoting to music! But spending all of this extra time with my child is also a gift. I’m finding myself appreciating simple moments with him more than ever. We color. We explore nature. We do puzzles. We talk about the universe.
As for music, since performing live is out of the question for a long while to come, my husband Luke and I started the video series A Song for You. In addition to being my musical partner, Luke is also a graphic designer and videographer – which sure does come in handy!
Every other day, we record a new song in our music room. He then mixes and edits a bit, and releases it later that day. We take requests, try songs we’ve never done before, and also just sing whatever feels right for the day.
Our son Cruz is the “producer.” He gets to turn the camera on and off, yell “rolling,” and give us performance tips (which are plentiful). It’s truly a family affair. We have a donate button on the website where people can donate to the project.
I’ve been very humbled by everyone’s generosity and feedback. It’s really comforting to feel like I can still have a musical connection with people during these times.
AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?
CR: Lots of classic jazz for the apocalypse. Lately, our record player spins John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Thelonius Monk Quartet, Monk’s Dream, and Donald Byrd – A New Perspective.
We also listen to Natalia Lafourcade’s Musas album daily. It’s usually our cooking dinner music. Her voice is so soothing to all of us.
If our kid is getting squirrelly, music is always the first thing to chill him out.
Something that I’ve realized in recording songs for our video series during these past few weeks is that music seems to be the one thing that allows me to feel EVERYTHING. For better or for worse. I don’t seem to process all of my emotions until I sing a song.
I could barely get through the last one I recorded, “September Song,” a request by a fan in Wisconsin. He said it was his mother’s favorite song and since he had to cancel her 90th birthday party this month, he wanted me to sing it for her. I’ve always loved Willie [Nelson’s] version from his Stardust album, so I gave that a few listens and wrote down the lyrics.
It wasn’t until we started recording it that those lyrics hit me like a ton of bricks: “These few precious days I’ve spent with you. These precious days I’ll spend with you.”
Singing those words and that forlorn melody, I started thinking of my own grandmother sequestered in assisted living and my mother who can’t hug her grandchild right now, plus the tens of thousands who are ill and losing their loved ones or worried about the next meal. Ay. Gonna start crying again thinking about that damn song.
It sure is a good one.
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