Off the Record
By Austin Powell, Fri., Feb. 26, 2010
Forsaking the Song, Part 4
The future of the Cactus Cafe now boils down to two rival plans up for discussion – but not necessarily for vote – at the Texas Union board's Feb. 26 meeting. The first was drafted primarily by Student Events Center President Andrew Nash, one of only two board members who endorsed the original decision to close or "repurpose" the landmark venue at an executive session in late January. His plan calls for the creation of a new organization with a nine-student structural body to facilitate the use of the space by various UT groups. This organization would be overseen by a full-time staff adviser and have an annual promotional budget of up to $6,000 taken from the Student Events Center programming endowment, though the various fees associated with booking talent would be shouldered by the student groups using the facility. The full-time adviser, however, would be SEC Associate Director Nick Parras, not longtime manager Griff Luneburg, who, according to budget documents obtained by the Texas Observer, has been offered a temporary position (expiring September 2011) for "researching and developing daytime programming" for the Texas Union Underground. While not explicitly addressed in the recommendation, the plan would allow for "traditional Cactus Cafe programming" during the venue's normal "Gone Fishin'" schedule, primarily during the two student breaks and summer semester.
"This is only a contingency plan," stresses Nash, who received input and support from the remainder of the SEC executive cabinet. "We're not trying to take sides, but I do think it's important to have a plan on the table just in case the current plans do go through to phase out the operations inside the Cactus."
In the opposite corner, Dr. Thomas Garza, one of three faculty members appointed by UT President Bill Powers to serve on the board and the most critical opponent of the venue's closure, will present a counter proposal (via e-mail) helmed by the Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe. Their plan retains the daily operation of the Cactus Cafe through financial support from the nonprofit Friends of the Cactus Cafe, with a long-term goal of turning the venue into a profitable enterprise. More importantly, it would enhance student access to the facility through the creation of the Cactus Cafe Coordinating Committee that would oversee a new Student Initiative Program, offering paid student internships in all areas of the venue's business affairs, along with artists-in-residence programs. The SFOTCC plans to hold a rally on the West Mall prior to the board meeting on Friday.
It's worth noting, however, that there's no proxy system in place if the board is rushed to a vote (Garza and fellow faculty adviser Dr. Jerome Williams are both out on business) and that the Graduate Student Assembly, accounting for roughly one-fourth of the student population, still has no representation on the board, despite passing a resolution last week opposed to any decisions made regarding the Cactus without its direct input. Asked if he was concerned about the latter circumstance, Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. González responded, "Not greatly." González, who only posted the SEC proposal to the UT blog for the Cactus Cafe, stressed, "We have a governance structure, a group that has been asked to give guidance and help monitor and guide the Texas Union," despite the fact that, as reported last week, the decision wasn't even discussed at the Jan. 29 meeting and had no input from the board's faculty advisers.
Moreover, it's still not clear why the Cactus is being "repurposed" in the first place. University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith, who according to the Collegiate Times database received a nearly 8% pay raise last year from $128,337 to $138,603, originally cited financial issues. Yet his reported savings from the closure have fluctuated – from $50,000 to $66,000 and per biennium to annually (an open records request for the Cactus' financial records is still being processed). Even so, as Reid Nelson of FOTCC has pointed out, UT's like-minded Texas Performing Arts only covers 63% of its budget with ticket sales and state funding, relying on community support to account for the remaining revenue gap.
Unfortunately, the communal uproar about the Cactus Cafe has largely eclipsed the equally frustrating loss of UT's longstanding informal classes program. For more, see "Where's the Outcry Over Informal Classes?" News.
Guitarist Nick Curran is a rare local find, equally embraced by the old blues guard and the punk community. A former Fabulous Thunder-birds guitar-slinger, the rockabilly kingpin cut his teeth backing Ronnie Dawson before breaking solo with 2004's Doctor Velvet, which featured Jimmie Vaughan and earned him a W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist Debut. He also moonlights with local punk classicists the Flash Boys and performed four songs on HBO's True Blood in 2008. "It's all rock & roll (the Blasters say, American Music)," reflects Curran via e-mail. "I love the old school stuff from the 1950s, but I also love hearing bands in different genres from all eras." His latest scorcher with the Lowlifes, Reform School Girl, may be his finest work to date (see "Texas Platters"), but he's been forced to lay low for the next two months while undergoing treatment for cancer of the tongue. The exception is a benefit in his honor at Emo's Thursday, March 4, with Lower Class Brats, Krum Bums, the Chumps, and his Flash Boys. "I may not be feeling very well," Curran concludes, "but I will be playing for sure."
Tommy Hall, the estranged 13th Floor Elevators founder and visionary (see "Where the Pyramid Meets the High," Aug. 13, 2004), suffered a heart attack on Friday, Feb. 12. He's being treated at the California Pacific Hospital in San Francisco and is expected to be released soon. Loyal local disciples the Black Angels and the Strange Attractors, meanwhile, are among the artists on board for a new Elevators tribute album being curated by Sonic Cathedral. "Sonic Boom [of Spaceman 3] recommended us," relays the Attractors' Kevin Pearce, who tackles "Reverberations" on the comp. "He seems to drop our name quite a bit ever since he stayed the night at my house after a show." Along with recording the follow-up to last year's Sleep and You Will See, the Attractors are reissuing a remastered version of the band's 2007 debut, along with some of Pearce's early home demos: "It sounds a lot better than it did when it was first released – like night and day, really."
"I can go to one place and hear all of my favorite musicians in one day," boasts Eric Clapton in the new Rolling Stone about his third Crossroads Guitar Festival at Chicago's Toyota Park in June. That's high praise for local bluesman Gary Clark Jr., who'll be making his debut at the six-string summit alongside Jimmie Vaughan and Clapton's left-hand man, Doyle Bramhall II (see "Welcome Wagon," May 25, 2001).
Originally opened by Johnny Holmes in 1945 as an icehouse named the Victory Cafe, Chitlin Circuit staple the Victory Grill (peruse "Juke Joint Blues," July 13, 2007), received an official Texas Historical Marker Feb. 20. Thanks to the renovation efforts of Eva Lindsey, the grill is once more an official South by Southwest venue.
Organist Bill Willis, who appeared on Jimmie Vaughan's solo efforts and in his Tilt-a-Whirl Band, died Feb. 9 of undisclosed causes. He was 78.
On the red carpet for the world premiere of Viva Elvis (see "Viva Las Vegas," Earache! Music blog, Feb. 24), Scott Weiland let slip that the Stone Temple Pilots are appearing at SXSW 2010. The festival has since confirmed that STP are showcasing at the Austin Music Hall on Thursday. Also on board is Motörhead, coinciding with the screening of the warts-and-all documentary Lemmy. And this just in: Moby Grape, Saturday night! Stay tuned.