The News Gets Better
Austin's 1997 in Review
By Michael Bertin, Fri., Jan. 9, 1998
Eventually all living legends become just plain old legends. So it happened to Townes Van Zandt. On January 1, Van Zandt is found dead of a heart attack at the age of 52. The news is better for Junior Brown, Eric Johnson, Shawn Colvin, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (any news is better than "you're dead!"), all of whom earn Grammy nominations to begin the year. A good joke that will continue throughout 1997 (and by "joke" I mean "lie"): American Records says that Lucinda Williams is done recording her increasingly mythical next record. Meanwhile, Vallejo signs to TVT, the Electric Lounge hosts an unbelievably successful Prince Hoot to celebrate the release of Do Me Baby: Austin Does Prince, and 101X announces it will begin broadcasting on KNNC's frequency -- although no one notices until 101X makes the announcement. Catfish Station on Sixth Street goes the way of the Yugo. FASTBALL WATCH: Miles Zuniga & co. score a six-week slot opening for Matthew Sweet.
Two Austin artists become radio staples: Jon Blondell and Stephen Bruton. Not exactly the name recognition of Michael Bolton, although Blondell is sporting a similar hair, er, style. Nevertheless, he goes platinum via his trombone playing on the Sublime album, while Bruton gets in heavy rotation singing back-up for the Wallflowers. The Bad Livers release Hogs on the Highway for Sugar Hill, Willie Nelson guests on Mike Judge's new cartoon hit, King of the Hill, and Bill Hicks finally becomes a recording star. And it probably goes without saying that the most highly anticipated event of the year went down, and if any two words are synonymous with superstar it's these: Carrot Top. FASTBALL WATCH: SWAT teams swarm the band's Howard Johnson's in Baltimore looking for a burglar. Although they probably looked highly suspicious, the band was never questioned or charged with any wrongdoing.
Antone's abandons its old Shakey's Pizza locale on the drag and scrambles to set up shop in the bar formerly known as Jellyrolls (insert own dueling piano bar joke here). The reason for the haste? Something called South by Southwest, the annual five-day soiree where people from New York and L.A. come to town and go, "Gee, are you people always this nice?" (Answer: "Just so long as you leave town on day six"). The Austin Music Awards moves to swankier digs at the Music Hall, while in what can only be sheer coincidence, the fire marshals decide to pick that week to pop in on some of the more popular local music venues. Local girl Kacy Crowley wins SXSW, and for proof that things happen elsewhere in the world during March, Debra Cole of the Dudley & Bob show appears in Playboy. FASTBALL WATCH: Fastball plays SXSW. Six hundred other bands show up to help commemorate the event.
Rain forces day one of the First Annual Old Settlers Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival indoors at La Zona Rosa, but a muddy day two comes off just fine in the great outdoors. In keeping with the outdoor theme, the annual Bob Marley fests make their way to Auditorium Shores providing a bunch of white punks who know nothing about reggae with two, count 'em two, excuses to smoke dope. In keeping with the burning theme, despite a comment by David Fricke in Rolling Stone to the contrary, Waterloo Records does not burn down and instead has a celebration that just happens to coincide with its 15th anniversary. Arista Austin and Robert Earl Keen make their major label debuts with Picnic. Shawn Colvin, Kelly Willis, and Abra Moore all find out they will have the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and play with Jewel on the Lilith tour. The fabulous Keith Ferguson passes away. FASTBALL WATCH: One of the kiddies in Radish is seen sporting a Fastball tee. In the wake of the publicity bonanza, copies of Make Your Mama Proud are actually sold.
Abra Moore releases Strangest Places for Arista Austin. That's about it for May. Really, nothing happened. There wasn't even any Fastball news.
In what's billed as "The Tornado Jam," Harry Connick Jr., Tripping Daisy, the Toadies, Don Walser, Pushmonkey, Ian Moore, and Storyville all play a benefit to the tune of $94,000 for the folks up in Jarrell, which is nearly destroyed by you-know-whats. Three months after moving, Antone's holds its Grand Opening Party, and to celebrate, the U.S. Department of Justice indicts Clifford Antone on federal drug charges. On a trip to L.A., Kathy McCarty fails to earn a spot on Jeopardy, but salvages the excursion when she meets Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Local bands Sister 7, Soak, and a slew of one-hit wonders play Huge Corporation Fest (aka "Rockfest") in Dallas. And in a testament to the general stupidity of human beings, a packed house ponies up actual money to see Vanilla Ice play Bob Popular. A near riot ensues when he pulls a Sly Stone (that's a "no-show" to all you people who think Toyota wrote that "Everyday People" jingle). Onetime Austinite and founding member of the Small Faces Ronnie Lane passes away at the age of 51 after a long-term bout with MS. FASTBALL WATCH: Units sold of Make Your Mama Proud finally exceeds the number of words printed about the band in the Chronicle.
Continuing in the tradition of famous dead guys before him, Stevie Ray Vaughan releases yet another album from the grave, Live at Carnegie Hall. The Austin Music Network (AMN), meanwhile, comes face to face with its own mortality as the city Finance Department lets out word that it doesn't look like there's money in the 1998 budget for the channel. Sister 7 completes the Arista Austin trifecta with the release of This the Trip, The American Analog Set scores press in both Rolling Stone and Spin, and most people still don't know who they are. KLBJ-AM, KLBJ-FM, KAJZ, KROX, and KGSR become one big happy family in a merger deal worth $80 million. FASTBALL WATCH: USA Today calls the band's version of "This Guy's in Love With You" from Lounge-A-Palooza the "olive in the lounge revival martini." The paper also refers to them as L.A. punksters.
It's hot. With the hype generated from the previous year's Sex Pistols reunion translating into sales of about 70 advance tickets, John Lydon pulls a fairly rotten stunt as he bails on a Liberty Lunch gig and takes his money with him. The Continental Club, meanwhile, hosts its annual celebrations of Buck Owens' B-day and the King's D-day without incident. Unlike years past, neither star shows up for his shindig. Junior Brown, Dale Watson, and Don Walser all earn Country Music Association Award nominations. Javier Escovedo joins brother Alejandro in Buick MacKane as they open some dates for Son Volt and trade espresso shots with Jay Farrar. MTV announces that it thinks our town is cool enough to be exploited and will stage its Sports & Music Festival in Zilker Park. A whole generation of people that are infinitely more likely to associate the name "Kennedy" with the word "veeejay" than with "Chappaquidick" rejoice. FASTBALL WATCH: The boys in the band land a spot on the festival bill -- a 9am spot that will jeopardize the fate of the entire event when they later decide to drop it.
Lisa Tingle lands a song on Melrose Place. Not to be outdone, Kacy Crowley places one on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Abra Moore, though, thumbs her nose at both, getting song time in the flicks Excess Baggage and The Matchmaker, as well as Melrose Place, and other prime time fare such as Party of Five and Nash Bridges. Mercifully, Don Johnson is not inspired enough to revive his "singing" career. With its Sixteen Deluxe theme song and various cameos by other music scenesters (Julianna Sheffield, Tim Stegall, Dale Dudley and Bob Fonseca, etc.) MTV's Austin's Stories hits the air. National publications rave. Ken Lieck doesn't and is accused of something called "postmodern journalism." In something that has nothing to do with MTV or Austin Stories, the city Council gives AMN a half-year's money: $150,000. FASTBALL WATCH: Poe, Lemmy, and former Guns `N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum join the boys in the studio in L.A.
Proving that while there may be one born every minute, at least 42,000 of them live in Austin. That's how many locals show up to see snow in Austin in October and "rad sports." Yes, MTV's Sports & Music Festival brings with it skaters, bikers, and snowboarders as well as national bands Wu Tang Clan (partially), 311, Everclear, and the Offspring, while paying local bands like Morningwood and Pocket FishRmen absolutely nothing for the privilege of playing the same event. Of things not televised: Black Cat's Sasha Sessums gets taken to jail for non-compliance with the city sound ordinance, Spoon makes the leap from Matador to Elektra, Kris McKay moves to L.A., and Michael Corcoran gets insanely jealous when Chronicle staffers Margaret Moser and Raoul Hernandez score free first-class trips to NYC to see the Stones. D'oh! FASTBALL WATCH: Fastball plays a Dallas party with Steve and Eydie. And in a move that makes McKay look like a trendsetter and USA Today look clairvoyant, Miles Zuniga packs his bags and relocates to L.A.
On the heels of Sessums' arrest and a bevy of other complaints, the East Sixth Street Club Owners Association files suit against the city and its "extremely vague" sound ordinance. The Blue Flamingo closes it doors and someone finally notices that Hondo's had done the same a couple months earlier. Wilco, in town for two nights, drops by Pedernales to cut a few tracks, while Stevie Wonder plays the Erwin Center as part of a private Christmas party for Applied Materials. Think missing Wonder was a bummer? People out in Santa Clara, California who don't work for Applied are denied the chance to see Dylan the Elder play with Dylan the Wallflower. Cosmic justice is meted out as the company's stock takes a beating and begins tumbling shortly thereafter. FASTBALL WATCH: Bass player Tony Scalzo co-hosts Check This Action.
Rumor begins circulating that M2 has started playing Wammo's "There Is Too Much Light in this Bar." Unfortunately, no one is able to confirm as all five people who actually have the network were asleep when it aired. The consolidation of Austin airwaves into fewer hands continues as KVET is sold to a national radio conglomerate for a cool $92 million. And for the sake of full circle-ness, Austin City Limits hosts a Townes Van Zandt tribute show with Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Guy Clark all participating. FASTBALL WATCH: Advance copies of the band's All The Pain That Money Can Buy go out, guaranteeing the trio another 12 months of press in the Chronicle.