Off the Record

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Texas Troika: (l-r) Griff Luneburg, Susan Svedeman, and Chris Lueck. Between the three staffers, they have almost 70 years invested at the Cactus Cafe.
Texas Troika: (l-r) Griff Luneburg, Susan Svedeman, and Chris Lueck. Between the three staffers, they have almost 70 years invested at the Cactus Cafe. (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Forsaking the Song, Part 2

"This was a very rash decision that was made without proper consultation from individuals and bodies that would have had something to say about it," professes Dr. Thomas Garza, one of the three faculty members appointed by UT President Bill Powers to serve on the Texas Union board, which as discussed here last week, approved plans Jan. 29 to phase out operations at the Cactus Cafe and terminate informal classes in August.

"There was no faculty representation there at all," continues Garza, who was at a conference in Indiana at the time. "I've been on this board for three years, and it's always seemed like business would go very much as prescribed, but this wasn't even on the agenda."

In what's become known as "Cactus Gate," University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith proposed the cuts to save an estimated $122,000 per biennium (not annually, as previously reported here), a move unanimously endorsed – but not voted on – by the board's six student representatives (see "'A' Is for Axed: UT Chops Cactus, Cuts Classes," News, Feb. 5). Powers backed the decision at last Tuesday's town hall meeting but was alarmed to learn of this recent revelation. "If there's an advisory board, it ought to have the full input of the group," he told the Chronicle (see "UT Budget Cuts," News).

Garza is now among the 23,000-plus aligned with the "Save the Cactus Cafe (Austin, Texas)" Facebook group, which promises to raise the necessary funds to preserve the campus landmark. The group, along with filing for status as a nonprofit called Friends of the Cactus Cafe, announced a detailed counterproposal on Saturday at Maria's Taco Xpress that included marketing initiatives to increase revenue and enhanced access to the venue for students through internships, artist residencies, and booking opportunities.

"Money is an issue, but it's not the primary issue," shifts Student Government President Liam O'Rourke, who has visited the Cactus five times in five years and only to watch his fellow students perform. "It's a student building and student space, and students should be the ones leading all efforts to program and use it. ...

"Several people have mentioned that there's space all over campus, but the Cactus is a place with rich history and students want to play there. The main change that's occurring is the change in management."

While the Cactus already hosts an open mic night and is readily available for booking by student organizations, not to mention that a new Student Events Center is already being built, the larger issue was laid out succinctly by Lyle Lovett in the Chronicle last year (see "Blood on the Tracks," Feb. 6, 2009) in celebrating longtime venue manager/booker Griff Luneburg: "Griff is the Cactus."

To suggest that the UT student body would have more success at running the venue than the Cactus' three main employees – Luneburg, bar manager Chris Lueck, and part-time staffer Susan Svedeman – with a combined 70 years invested at the venue is to ignore the fact that the Music and Entertainment Committee and the African American Culture Committee, two divisions of the Texas Union Student Events Center, spent close to $60,000 just to bring Busta Rhymes to the (mostly empty) Austin Music Hall in 2004.

Elvis (Photo by John Anderson)

"That the decision was about the impact of these institutions on the undergraduate student populations, I find that at best to be a red herring," concludes Garza. "That's not the only constituency that the Union is supposed to serve. It's also about faculty, graduate students, and yes indeed, it's about the community."

Greetings From Beerland, Texas

Dikes of Holland
Dikes of Holland (Photo by John Anderson)

Gerard Cosloy should be the head of Beerland's visitors bureau. While the Matador Records co-owner's three-night, 17-act release party for his hand-picked compilation Casual Victim Pile resembled any given weekend at the Red River roundup – thanks to the convulsive Stuffies, a barrel-scraping punk assault from the No No No Hopes, and Love Collector's blitzkrieg bop – there was one notable difference: There were people there. Lots of them. Even Waterloo Records owner John Kunz churned out a commemorative Beerland penny on Thursday as headliner Follow That Bird! scraped its nails across Sonic Youth's "100%," echoing the feedback duets of trio Kingdom of Suicide Lovers. Protected by two Stormtroopers, Elvis crossed over to the dark side on Friday with an androgynous assault of psychotic post-punk, not unlike the graveyard boogie of Dikes of Holland from the previous night – all dark hollers and reverb, with a rotating cast of vocalists that improved at every turn – eclipsed only by the monolithic grind of Woven Bones. Earlier on Friday, the Fleshlights reworked the Golden Boys' comp contribution "Older Than You" with brash, youthful abandon, but that did little to dim the Boys' definitive Saturday night choogle. Feeding off the energy of a capacity audience, Harlem capped the weekend in historic fashion with equal parts girl-group swoon, disheveled pop, and celebratory drunken swagger, the kind of performance that leaves you begging for Ambien just to come down afterward.

Energetic Disassembly

Watchtower, 1990
Watchtower, 1990

In the January issue of Decibel (Mastodon cover), Watchtower's second LP, Control and Resistance – a hypersonic display of prog-metal fission, originally released by Germany's Noise Records in 1989 – got inducted into the publication's album hall of fame. The disc was so far ahead of its time that the local quartet – bassist Doug Keyser, vocalist Alan Tecchio, drummer Rick Colaluca, and guitarist Ron Jarzombek – is just now putting the finishing touches on a follow-up, Mathematics, and there's talk of a coinciding reissue campaign. "It's been a slow but steady process," relays Keyser. "[The new album] will be along the same lines but with 20 years of natural progression." While Watchtower is gearing up for a reunion at Germany's Keep It True festival in April, don't expect any local engagements anytime soon. "Would they dare put on a Watchtower show in Austin without me on vocals?" asks original vocalist and still most visible torchbearer Jason McMaster, who left the group to join Dangerous Toys but may cameo on Mathematics. "They might, but I'm a little bummed I won't be the guy behind the microphone."

Random Play

An unfortunate postscript has emerged in the wake of Crazy Heart's success. As reported by The New York Times on Friday, Mary Keating Bruton is contesting the will of her late husband of 13 years, Stephen Bruton, who filed for divorce two months before his death in May 2009 and left the majority of his $1.2 million estate to his brother Sumter. The suit claims essentially that the Austin guitarist/songwriter was exploited as his health deteriorated by his co-music supervisor on the film and estate executor T Bone Burnett and that, due to the effects of medications and his worsening condition, he was unable to handle his business affairs. Bruton's longtime manager Ken Kushnick could not be reached for comment.

Layovers at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport are about to get even more comfortable with the addition of the Saxon Pub. "It'll be a mini replica of what we do," confirms owner Joe Ables, who hopes the outlet will be open in time for the South Austin staple's 20-year anniversary celebration in mid-April, if not sooner. The venue will be booked by airport music coordinator Nancy Coplin and should give Ray Benson's Roadhouse a run for its money.

For once, there's some good news to report from City Hall. City Council plans to approve today (Thursday, Feb. 11) the creation of a 96-hour sound amplification permit (Item 17), a compromise that will enable locals to host live music during festival season without having to become full-time venues in the process. See "City Hall Hustle," News, for the full breakdown.

Two former South by Southwest keynote speakers, the Kinks' Ray Davies and Courtney Love of Hole, are returning for showcases at SXSW 2010. Other notable new entries into the March sweepstakes include the Dixie Chicks offshoot Court Yard Hounds, Band of Horses, Voivoid, GZA, and Death.

Music news

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Cactus Cafe, Thomas Garza, Bill Powers, Andy Smith, Liam O'Rourke, Beerland, Casual Victim Pile, Watchtower, Stephen Bruton, Matador, Harlem

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