Dancing About Architecture

Jazzin' (But Not for Blue Jeans)

Music clubs come and go, right? For every Electric Lounge that burns out, there's a new venue plugged in -- or at least that's the theory. The question remains, however, whether each replacement is a little farther off from the manufacturer's specifications. In other words, are the new clubs opening in Austin really what we know as "Austin clubs"? Two weeks ago the Chronicle got an exclusive peek at Spiros, the new uptown-style nightclub down among the crack dealers on Red River that screams New York from its perch between Emo's and the Atomic Cafe. An enormous, three-story, four-bar, 8,000-square-foot club with its own built-in fish tank and state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, Spiros was compared to the Cotton Club on our "Calendar" page -- and rightly so -- but that was before last week's opening gala featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The exclusive soiree last Thursday revealed the new nightclub to be less a live music venue than a high-end cigar and cognac joint that owner Spiros Karamelegos freely admits is looking to cater to Austin's nouveau mover 'n' shaker set; the club's real attraction is said to be the private VIP room on the third story -- you know, for the type of folks whose greatest embarassment in life is that they were in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. Karamelegos also owns the empty space next door and says he plans on opening a restaurant there. Spiros World Headquarters, anyone? Not unless you trade those T's and shorts for ties and spats.

Then again, having paid Paul Mercer Ellington (Duke's only grandson) and his 15-piece orchestra a five-figure fee, this doesn't mean Spiros isn't serious about music. Already the club has featured local talent on weekdays with the Brannen Temple Group and Miss Lavelle White, but it's names like Nancy Wilson, B.B. King, Chuck Mangione, and one-time Ellington alumnus Clark Terry that will pique some local interest among those who complain Austin doesn't see much high-end jazz talent. Frances Jones, the club's booker, confirms that Spiros is talking with all these acts, while noting that the orginally scheduled follow-up act to the Ellington Orchestra was Tito Puente, who was instead, it turns out, nabbed by Mark Collins at the Mercury. Seems Collins would also like to see some of that high-end jazz talent coming to town, so he's doing his best to establish Austin as a major jazz festival market along the lines of Monterey or Newport. For his inaugural year he's done a pretty good job, booking jazz greats Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff with the Roy Hargrove Quintet and Jimmy McGriff at Antone's June 5, and Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Roy Hargrove with Jack McDuff (the old switcheroo!), and the Earl Harvin Trio at the Backyard June 6. If that's not enough big names for ya, did I mention that Pam Hart's "Women in Jazz" series is bringing Dianne Reeves to the Paramount June 4?

And it doesn't stop there. Seems Collins' "Austin Music Fest" will be helping local jazz percussionist Hartt Sterns, who's opening his own enormous venue and will be importing even more big-name jazz and world talent. His One World Theatre, a 300-seat music/multi-art space housed in an Italian Villa-style palace out on Bee Caves (if the Backyard is a song away from downtown Austin, this place is a mere ABC Pest Control commercial away), has McCoy Tyner and Arturo Sandoval for its opening season, which was to kick off June 5 with Sergio Mendes playing the opening fundraising gala at $250 a pop, and Eddie Palmieri that same night, seeing as he would have been just down the road at Tim O'Connor's Backyard, but the event was canceled this week as Sterns reports that the venue will not meet its initial deadline to open. Sterns says O'Connor has been out to look at the still-under-construction One World, reserving a date to get married there in the very near future. The three-story, 11,000-square-foot One World Theatre is ambitious, to say the least. Since it's built on 81/2 acres, Sterns says he hopes to open a restaurant, art gallery, and office space on the property, an open air stage already under construction off to the side of the theatre. Like Spiros, it sports state-of-the-art sound equipment and is wired fiber optically for television and Internet broadcast. He admits that at 300 seats, ticket prices will tend to the $50 range, but says that he's already had interest from AT&T in their becoming a sponsor to offset high ticket costs.

What does this all mean? Plenty. For one, Austin's current economic boom clearly has promoters believing the money is here for big-name acts and high-ticket prices, and thus looking for venues in which to hold their shows. This weekend's Antone's Blues Festival, for instance -- featuring John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Jimmie Vaughan among others (see "Music Listings") -- is using the City's midtown, outdoor Waterloo Park, which one South by Southwest insider terms "Austin's great, lost midsize venue," meaning it holds approximately 14,000 people, which is much bigger than the Music Hall but smaller than the Frank Erwin Center. Seeing as the once-mighty Southpark Meadows has been fairly quiet this season -- confirming only Lilith Fair -- this could be just what Austin is looking for, seeing as Pace has been re-routing all the big-name touring acts to San Antonio's Retama Park (the Vans Warped Tour, Ozzfest, R.E.M/Wilco). Of course, there's some irony in the fact that San Antonio is having its own blues festival this weekend, with the Fabulous Thunderbirds on Saturday and Jeff Healey featured Sunday (he's here at Antone's on Saturday) -- both at S.A.'s theme park, Fiesta Texas.

Things aren't completely hopeless for those of us who don't understand syncopation or know how to tie a cravat. Luckily, there's the new Red Eyed Fly, just a few street numbers south of Spiros, which to the untrained eye might seem to be the Electric Lounge Mark II, but make no mistake, there are distinctly un-Austin elements to this seemingly innocuous room as well. Take the clean restrooms and the owners' business savvy, for instance. Neither of those elements seems to fit in with the image of a local alternative/punk club, but somehow, the owners of the Fly manage to pull it off. Co-owner John Meyer says that he and his partner Lance Free even did a feasability study before rolling up their sleeves and plunging into the Red River entertainment district. The idea was to open a place where acts from punk to alternapop could play, yet where folks would feel comfortable hanging out. Citing the Riverwalk that's planned for the future and calling the area "up and coming," Meyer says he hasn't been actively seeking out bands left high and dry by the Electric Lounge's absence ("We haven't had to -- we've had plenty of bands find us"), but the Fly does now house that club's poetry slam and several acts who previously played the Lounge. And that's a good thing; for most of the folks in those bands, the valet parking at Spiros would pretty much wipe out the evening's entertainment budget.


AMN From the Ashes (Again)

When it finally came down to it, the City Council's decision last Thursday to advance the Austin Music Network next year's budget of $200,000 made barely a blip on the radar -- it was pretty much wham, bam, give 'em the cash, ma'am! That's not to say that the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the vote didn't have their share of dramatic moments. The previous week's Austin Music Commission meeting had unveiled a contigency plan in case the city didn't approve the advance, resulting in angry claims from current AMN management that the implied no-confidence element of the plan (running archive tapes from the AMN library until a new management plan could be effected) had caused the channel to lose a lucrative contract with a major beer company.

The sometimes outright hostile mood of previous meetings was replaced on Thursday with one of cordiality, however. Apparently, it has sunk in at last that the pipe dreams of Melchior, the council, and everyone else who was lulled into overconfidence in the chambers during previous visits realized that: a) There's no miracle solution that will suddenly make the Music Network a subsidy-free project; and b) nevertheless, it's an endeavor worth continuing despite some cost to the taxpayers. "It's clear that you've built up a tremendous amount of goodwill, and you've got a lot of very good friends," said Council Member Bill Spelman, responding to Melchior's declaration that there was a groundswell of support among the music community for the struggling AMN. "Now you just have to make the difficult decision that all politicians have to make," said Spelman. "How do we turn all these good friends into cash?"

How indeed? Daryl Slusher suggested that the key to AMN's success would be "more fundraising and financial support from the music community," with Melchior recently announcing plans for benefits for the station at local clubs. He also tells me that a spot on AMN generally costs around $25, not including your original production costs. A little simple math says that at that price, the station needs to sell less than one-fifth of its available commercial time to reach its monthly budget of $75,000. That's still around 3,000 half-minute slots to fill, but at a price that even a medium-level band could afford, which makes being in the black at least seem like a possibility.


Among My Souvenirs

Another lineup change for 8 1/2 Souvenirs? Yep, drummer Adam Berlin says he's been "fired very unceremoniously," explaining that guitarist Olivier Giraud pulled a surprise "coup" on him after more than five years of playing with the band. Further, Berlin says he has hired a lawyer to seek a settlement in what he sees as his unfair dismissal. ESP Management, which handles the Souvs, say they have no comment on that situation and are not sure whom the band has chosen as a replacement, though a friend of the group identifies their latest acquisition as sometime Glover Gill Trio player Rob Kidd. Souvs management also declined to address rumors that the band will be re-releasing their debut album for an unprecedented fourth time, with new drum tracks added, under the title Happy Kick.

The Souvenirs have survived losing members before, including former keyboardist Gill, who left last year to concentrate on his other band, Tosca, and sadly, Gill was just dealt some losses of his own, as his home was burglarized Friday night/Saturday morning. His accordion, bird watching binoculars, eightball cane, and the gearshift knob from his lavender Malibu were stolen, while cash, stereo, and a pile of CDs remained untouched. A representative for costumed crimefighter Batman told the Chronicle that the thefts were almost certainly clues to a larger, more insidious crime.


Hey, Cupid!

Dawson's Creek scripter/Cupid creator Rob Thomas tells me his old band Hey Zeus will be playing a reunion show at Cafe on the Square in San Marcos on Saturday with fellow period piece group Second Glance opening. Zeus also plans to record a new song with John Croslin for a best-of compilation CD, he adds. Thomas netted an $8 million contract in the wake of Cupid's reign as the lowest-rated show on ABC, so you'd think he might hire some bass player with a smaller income (Mike Judge, perhaps?) to fill in on four-string while he sits back in the audience drinking absinthe from ladies' shoes. Such is not the case, so any and all of you with fond memories of these two bands from Austin's late-New Sincerity era may want to take the trip to San Marcos for the gig.


Mixed Notes

Jake Andrews is celebrating his new Time to Burn CD at Waterloo Records Friday, 5pm, and at Antone's that night, before heading out with George Thorogood and then doing 15 dates with Chris Isaak this summer. NBC also used the title tune "Time to Burn" on a recent NBA game...

Those poor Stretford bastards can't win. With that new album finally out, the band hasn't even been able to play since SXSW while waiting for their sax player to recover from minor surgery. They finally have a gig at the Red Eyed Fly next Wednesday. Meanwhile, former Stretford trumpeter Bill Jefferies shows off his new comic book The Mini Store and his new band Blefuscu at FringeWare this Saturday...
--Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser

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