Dancing About Architecture

House of Blues breaks ground at Southpark Meadows where the old stage will be replaced, but not before Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic.

Blues in the Big House

As I reported last week, there was a press conference and groundbreaking ceremony at Southpark Meadows last Wednesday, as high muckety-mucks from the mighty House of Blues cabal converged on the empty field to discuss the future of the concert venue, which the company puchased from Abel Theriot as part of a massive deal that also netted them other amphitheatres like the Dallas Starplex. In attendance were Mayor Kirk Watson, exceedingly tall musician Ray Benson, and former owner Theriot, who said he "wouldn't have missed [the ceremony] for the world," despite having emerged from surgery only hours before. Watson called the groundbreaking "another great day in Austin, Texas," and both he and the HoB representatives in attendance emphasized that despite the obvious focus on bringing huge acts to town, the new facility would do its part to "nurture" local musicians as well. (Whether that's by letting them play at the side of the road while cars file in to the next big arena show wasn't addressed.) The "new" Meadows, due to open next May for a season of 22-27 shows, will hold 20,000 people (7,500 fixed seats, 12,500 open lawn seats) and have parking space available for more than 8,000 vehicles, while being convertible for use as a venue for "intimate" 4,000-person shows as well. HoB Concerts president Jay Marciano told the Chronicle that there would be "no comparison" between the old and new facilities, noting that in the past, in excess of 60% of large touring bills had bypassed Austin due to the lack of appropriate permanent facilities for monster arena shows. He also freely admitted that new "creature comforts" such as seat licenses and box seating will make the new $15 million facility viable in ways the nonpermanent nature of the previous Meadows setup could not provide. In other words, the limo crowd is expected to keep the new Meadows in the red. Escaping the blazing afternoon sun on his tour bus, Benson later told the Chronicle that he was sincerely happy that House of Blues had bought the amphitheatre, noting that "in a business full of scumbags, at least these guys have a conscience." He says he feels, however, that the most important thing about Austin finally getting a world-class setting for outdoor/arena shows is the the fact that "when the big acts come here to play, they'll go to the clubs and jam afterward. That's the sort of thing that really makes a music scene."

Is There a Willie in the House?

Despite his reputation, even Willie Nelson can't be everywhere at once, and though he was expected to appear at the House of Blues groundbreaking, our Grammy-hoarding pal Ray Benson showed up instead, announcing that Nelson was stuck in the studio recording a couple of songs on short notice for Clint "What do you think I'm doing? I'm making a fucking movie!" Eastwood. Benson's presence came as no surprise, given the place and time; he revealed that Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic 2000 would be held at the Meadows, with a lineup including Asleep at the Wheel, Shelby Lynne, Susan Tedeschi, Joe Ely, the Geezinslaws, Kimmie Rhodes, Cadillac Voodoo Choir, David Allen Coe, Ray Price, Leon Russell, Cory Morrow, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Bells of Joy, Billy Joe Shaver, Pat Green, Toni Price, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Fromholz, Rodney Hayden, and of course, those mysterious bumper stumpers Titty Bingo. We also know that the Picnic will be the final show to take place on the current Southpark Meadows stage before it is demolished and work begins on the new, improved model pictured here.

More Kings Leaving the Building

Adolph Hofner probably wouldn't have made it to the Willie's picnic, anyhow, but sadly, it's certain he won't appear at any future ones. Hofner, one of the great pioneers of both Western swing and Texas-Czech music passed away on Friday at the age of 83 in San Antonio, his home base from which he reigned as the "King of South Texas Swing" in the 1930s. Hofner, whose rugged good looks and velvet-smooth voice also earned him the nickname "the country [Bing] Crosby," was known for mixing the hip swing sounds of the time with the Czech music of his boyhood. Despite suffering a stroke in 1993, he still performed occasionally in area dance halls in recent years. In addition, Austin musician, author, and poet Glen Alyn was killed along with his daughter Sequoia in a car accident on the evening of June 4. Alyn's book I Say Me for a Parable, the oral autobiography of Mance Lipscomb, won an ASCAP Music Book of the Year Award and was accompanied by a companion CD, Tellin' Stories, Singin' 'bout Suppas, as well as a tape of his original blues, Texas Heat, 95 Degrees. In '98, Alyn began touring with his book, lecturing at universities on the lost art of the legendary bluesman, and performing often with his cleverly named combo the "Earnest Tub Band," a pun I occasionally stole for use in this column. Alyn is survived by his wife. You can hear some of the man's music on Around-the-Town Sounds today (Thursday) 1-3pm on KOOP 91.7FM.

Heroes and Nashvillains

Internet news service Livedaily.com reported this week that the Arista Nashville label will be folded into BMG Entertainment's RCA Label Group-Nashville on July 1, a move that puts about two dozen Arista Nashville employees out of work and leaves seven of the label's acts -- BR5-49, Lee Roy Parnell, Robert Earl Keen, BlackHawk, Jeff Black, Clint Daniels and Bering Strait -- without a label. Former Arista Nashville artists such as Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, and Pam Tillis move to the RLG roster, adds the Web site. Keen and Black have already gone through this sort of foofaraw before, having already survived the death knells of the locally based Arista/Austin label, which specialized in alternative country music and which eventually folded into Arista Nashville. There had been talk about Arista Nashville being a likely consolidation target after company president Tim DuBois, who has headed the company since its 1989 inception, announced last December that he planned to leave the company to launch a new label for Gaylord Entertainment. On an unrelated note, Steve Wilkison, former owner of defunct San Marcos label Dejadisc who had moved on to a position with Nashville-based Eminent Records, has now been promoted to president of that label, according to an announcement made by Eminent last week. As in the Arista Nashville case, Eminent's previous president (and owner) Monty Hitchcock has decided to leave the company to pursue othe interests. I suggest it's now time for locals to call in any favors Wilkison might owe you -- if you can get past the long queue of Nashville musicians who are no doubt lining up outside his door as I write this.

Mixed Notes

Okay, you know you've finally reached the point of too many Hoot Nights when Pong doesn't show up for the One Hit Wonder Hoot at the Red Eyed Fly last Friday because they thought they were agreeing to appear at the other One Hit Wonder Hoot that somebody's putting on a couple of months from now. The band didn't have time to play this one, anyway, since they're holed up in the studio putting together an album for release in August... Coulda sworn one of these guys told me nothing was up with them lately, but the LeRoi Bros. have a new album coming out on Rounder on July 11. King of the Catnap is the first U.S. release by the band (Steve Doerr, Casper Rawls, Mike Buck, and Pat Collins with guests Jimmie Vaughan, Cindy Cashdollar, Buck Owens, Pete Gordon, Ian McLagan, Toni Price, Jim Lauderdale, and Garth Hudson) since 1992... When opening for legendary Nancy Wilson (not the one from Heart) last weekend at the Paramount Theatre, Pam Hart (despite the name, also not a member of Heart!) received a note from the famed jazz singer's management requesting she not perform any songs Wilson might be doing later in the evening. Instead, Hart came up with a new original called "Don't Sing the Lady's Songs." Not to be outdone, Wilson went against her own advice and performed the title track from Hart's debut disc, May I Come In... When you see a blurb on the back of a novel crowing that "you won't be able to put this book down. Salad Days is a very inspiring read," you might expect the name following to be that of a critic, or perhaps a fellow novelist. You definitely don't expect the quote to be attributed to "Bones, vocalist for the Lower Class Brats." That's exactly what you'll see on the back cover of Charles Romalotti's latest tome, however. The Austin author's currently off on a book tour for Salad Days, which tells the tale of a hard-rocking punk outfit on the touring circuit in the exasperating Eighties. It's fiction, but some of the names and (I imagine) the incidents are real. Maybe you were even there... Local indie label Post-Parlo Records is featured in this month's Magnet magazine (with the Flaming Lips on the cover) for their upcoming 10-volume split CD series, along with the new records by Subset, Eskimo Kisses, the Olive Group, and Ann Arbor Canasta Fix. Also take note that Subset is playing an in-store at Thirty-Three Degrees Friday at 6pm for their debut full length, Overpass... There's a benefit for Hank's Roadside Cafe (771 Airport) at Hank's Roadside Cafe (duh) tonight (Thursday) featuring the Cinders Electronic Quartet with Travis Weller and the E.C.F.A. Trio... From the amount of flurry in the trade magazines, looks like Doyle Bramhall's Jellycream album is getting a full-on relaunch, no doubt inspired by his involvement in the Roger Waters tour, which hits the Alamodome next Tuesday... A longtime local cover band has managed to get a part in the new Sandra Bullock vehicle Miss Congeniality and no, it's not the Scabs, I'm talking about the Argyles. The band "socked" out a version of the Rick James hit "Super Freak" as the backdrop during a club scene shot last week in town. I'm going against conventional wisdom and picking Argyles member Paul Minor (whose new all-star band, featuring members of the Peenbeets, Sixteen Deluxe, Meat Puppets, Ginger Mackenzie Band, Darin Murphy, and the Argyles, will appear Friday at the Texas Biker Rally at the Austin Expo Center, 4-8pm) as the next superstar to emerge from Austin, since he now has the Bullock connection, and every day he looks a little more like Phil Collins... Corrections/ Annotations: Kevin Booth called to say, in his defense, that what I called superfluous cutaway shots in the Bill Hicks video Sane Man (see last week's "Video Reviews") were actually necessary to cover up Hicks' incessant nose-picking during the performance. "I didn't want people to think Bill was loaded on coke," explains Booth, "and he wasn't." Having seen Hicks perform during his coked-to-the-gills period, I can affirm this. (See this week's "Short Cuts" for more on Hicks.) Also Jeff Tartakov e-mailed to insist that I was incorrect in calling his comment two weeks ago about Pearl Jam a "snipe." Saith Tartakov, "it was a quip, not a snipe. I haven't sniped in years, dammit!" The Chronicle regrets the error.

-- Christopher Gray, Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer

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