Having a Riot: The Chaotic and Beautiful Birth of the Austin Music Awards

Nick Barbaro and Susan Moffat, 1990 (Photos by Martha Grenon)

I'm not an "Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" kind of guy. I'm a "That glass is a piece of shit, who bought that glass, it can't even hold water!" kind of guy. I'm a hysteric.

The sharpest upward momentum of our learning curve came the next year, for the 1984-85 show on March 6 at the Austin Opera House. Some major acts verbally committed to play, but, Austin being Austin, each had a favored band that it also wanted on the bill. These acts were lesser draws, but we counted on the big names to draw folks to the show. Then all the bigger names dropped out, so it ended up a musically strong show – just one without enough firepower to attract a large audience.

Louis Black, Margaret Moser, and Alex Napier, 1987

It is important to understand here that during the first decade of the Chronicle, [Publisher] Nick Barbaro never seemed to really worry, while I was worried sick about everything all the time.

Advance sales had been sparse, and walk-up sales were very slow as the show kicked off that evening. In truly typical Nick Barbaro style, he would come up to me as I was fretting myself into an early grave to make one solemn announcement or another, kicking off with, "If we sell another 175 tickets, the Chronicle won't have to go out of business." This was followed by, "If we sell another 150 tickets, the Chronicle won't have to go out of business," and so on all evening.

Usually this was done in increments of 25, but if my actually visible sweating lessened, Barbaro was willing to share with me where we stood after as few as five sales. There is no way to remember how many we actually sold, but whatever the number, the Chronicle survived. – Louis Black, March 19, 2010


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