Dancing About Architecture
All news: noise ordinance gripes, AMN budget crunch, Sound Exchange faces rent shortfalls, Williamson County refuses to give up on an amphitheatre, Clifford Antone back on the streets, and the first SXSW 03 confirmees. Plus, three music deaths.
Making Noise (Joyful or Otherwise)
Between the noise ordinance, the Austin Music Network, the Sixth Street loading/unloading issue, and countless looks at how to improve Downtown, things were moving fast and furious toward long-sought solutions to the problems of Austin's music community. Then came the actual meetings, and all forward movement ground to a standstill. Downtown area APD Commander Harold Piatt didn't even appear at the Austin Music Commission meeting where the loading problem was to be addressed, though other APD officers did, and many on the commission say they're expecting a solution soon. Others warn that the issue of consistency will be a bitch to overcome, saying that, for instance, the proposal of issuing commercial parking credentials to working musicians won't work with touring bands who may only get to town a few hours before their scheduled performances. Meanwhile, the public hearing last week where the City Council (finally) addressed the proposed new noise ordinance was similarly anticlimactic, with little new ground covered and no vote planned until January. There is, however, the small matter of Flamingo Cantina owner/Music Commissioner Angela Gillen, one person who has become very vocal on the matter and who most definitely is not in agreement with the rosy picture of the ordinance that Stubb's Charles Attal has painted of late. For starters, she doesn't like the way the ordinance will affect venues outside the official entertainment districts, like Mother Egan's and Opal Divine's. "You wouldn't want someone saying you could only make money between this time and that time, would you?" she queries. Gillen is also wary of the "standard operating procedures" that direct the APD on how the ordinance will be enforced and where to measure sound levels. What people don't realize, she says, is that if the ordinance is passed come January, the city's corresponding new S.O.P. won't come out until afterward, an arrangement Gillen says, is "not acceptable." Some good did come of the hearing, according to Gillen, despite sparse attendance; the majority of people who signed up to speak were against the ordinance. "That says a lot about what Austin thinks of it."
Commission With a Mission
With the above-mentioned issues flying left and right, the Austin Music Commission's main focus remains on straightening out the latest mess involving the Austin Music Network, says Chairman Kevin Connor. With so much going on at the Dec. 5 City Council meeting, everyone expected the AMN contract renewal to go through like butter -- until Will Wynn pulled the item for discussion. Besides pointing out that the Music Commission had not yet reviewed the contract, Wynn also called to attention that the city's contract with KTMP states that the city has "editorial control, ownership, and all rights to direct the editorial policies and technical standards" of AMN. "How that control is [to be] exercised," warns Connor, "is still not clear." On another sore point, AMN's expense to taxpayers, Connor deferred to the words of Council Member Jackie Goodman, who clarified at the meeting that only one-third of AMN's $600,000-plus annual expenses come from the general fund, an amount Goodman calls "pretty small potatoes compared with some of the incentives that we try to put together with other components of our economic base." In other words, says Connor, "[AMN's] not putting 12 cops out of work or whatever." Currently, as a result of Wynn's inquiry, the commission has begun reviewing the contract and its performance measures and will report back to the City Council by mid-January, when the temporary funding the city granted AMN expires. Connor says he hopes these procedures will make AMN "more responsive to the interests of the music community and viewers" but isn't overly concerned about the approaching deadline. "I honestly think that we have the votes" to assure the Austin Music Network stays on the air through 2003, he says.
It's a Real Drag
Seems like just yesterday that the Hole in the Wall got booted off Guadalupe thanks to the increasing costs of keeping a business open in the University area, and as such, it shouldn't be surprising that at the other end of the Drag, Sound Exchange now finds itself in exactly the same situation. Manager Craig Koon says that due to slumping sales, he recently told his landlord that he wouldn't be able to continue paying the roughly $1,100-a-week rent on the property. In reply, the landlord told him OK, fine -- he'd start looking for a replacement tenant. Koon is quick to point out that the landlord isn't the villain, however. "The lease we're operating under was drawn up under the boom," he explains, and though it expires in six months, he doubts the owner's $4,300-a-month asking price will be dropping significantly at that point. Koon is convinced that Austin's real-estate magnates are convinced the current slump is going to go away any minute and that they're holding out for top dollar. When the Hole in the Wall faced the same predicament, they cut and run, but Koon assures that Sound Exchange won't shut its doors until he receives news that a tenant has been found, and a 30-day notice is tacked to the door. "It could be six days or six years" before someone ponies up the money, shrugs Koon. In the end, Koon says he's taking comfort in the immortal words of Merle Haggard as he waits for his college student customers to return from their holiday vacations. "If we make it through December," he sings, "everything will be all right."
Back On the Streets
In other changes involving music-related businesses around town, seems that NARAS is making changes in its local offices, the first being that longtime executive director Carlyne Majer will no longer be heading the Austin operation. Also, friends of the newly freed Clifford Antone will be glad to know they can visit him -- and enjoy a nice meal in the process. He's not allowed to work at his own nightclub while finishing up his incarceration at a local halfway house, so he's taken a position as greeter at popular eatery Güero's. You can welcome him back during the lunch- and dinner-rush hours. Also, you already knew that Ruta Maya coffeehouse was replaced by Halcyon, but were you aware of the coffeehouse/music venue's reopening on South Congress? Ruta Maya International Headquarters is now in place and serving live music seven days a week at 3601-D S. Congress, tastefully located behind gentlemen's club Exposé. The new Ruta promises a wide range of musical styles, from Craig Johnson of the Whale Trio's regular Wednesday 9pm-1am jazz/experimental night to Stinky del Negro and others this Friday. (Check our club listings for a full schedule.) Says one satisfied customer, "This space has great possibilities, and management seems to be open to them."
What's Up in WC's Fields?
The Williamson County amphitheatre craze of 2002 appeared ready to conclude as December winds down -- but maybe not. For much of this past year, the county seemed obsessed with building a concert venue for the Round Rock area, but last month, voters in Cedar Park rejected the city's ice rink/outdoor venue proposal. That was supposed to be good news at the Williamson County Courthouse, which had proposed its own venue about a mile east of the Cedar Park site, at the head of the Brushy Creek Regional Trail. However, angry neighbors and fiscal conservatives quickly threw a monkey wrench into that plan. In the end, the county commissioners elected last Tuesday to terminate the $1,800-a-month retainer with Direct Events' Tim O'Connor, their consultant on the project, and scale back their Brushy Creek park plans. In a statement to the commissioners, Round Rock's Mike Heilingenstein instead proposed the formation of a "county advisory committee" to look into yet another possible location for a large amphitheatre in the county. In fine bureaucratic fettle, the statement concludes, "No recommendations will be made until the county committee completes its study."