Off the Record
Forsaking the Song, Part 17
Nobody goes through an ugly divorce just to renew their vows. In the absurdist theatre known as Cactus-gate, sparked by a 5pm press release on Friday, Jan. 29, University of Texas administrators inadvertently made it clear that the "repurposing" of the campus landmark was as much – and possibly more – about forcing a changeover in management than any possible revenue shortfalls calculated by University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith. There's no other way to explain why the simplest changes like accepting credit cards or creating patronage programs weren't dutifully considered. Cactus Cafe manager of almost 30 years, Griff Luneburg wasn't blind to that particular writing on the wall.
"I really debated whether I should apply for the job or not," reflected Luneburg (see "Blood on the Tracks," Feb. 6, 2009) Monday night at the venue, taking a break from open mic night. "There was a lot of misunderstanding and misnomers, and the rhetoric just escalated to this level of weirdness. It went as far as it being said that people of color didn't feel welcome.
"I was caught in the middle, and I couldn't defend myself.
"Out of personal honor I wanted to be the one to fix that, to set that right in people's minds. I thought that I could also build a bridge to the student element while keeping the community engaged. Also, being a promoter at heart, I wanted the opportunity to have a radio station in my back pocket. I could've gone to town."
Instead, as announced here last week, KUT hired Matthew Muñoz, a former marketing director for Houston's Justice Records with no prior booking experience. Fresh from UT orientation on Monday afternoon and supervised by KUT public affairs representative Erin Geisler, Muñoz's eager enthusiasm was offset by a reverence for the past. "I still feel very blessed and humbled by the opportunity," he said. "The best I can do, and as a testament to Griff and everyone here, is to really work."
While even Luneburg acknowledged the need for "new blood," Muñoz definitely has his work cut out. He'll need to develop a sustainable business model independent of the bar operations (and its new T-shirts) and create more student opportunities. Moreover, KUT is now pressed with balancing its relationships with other local venues while actively promoting its own shows through on-air performances, which Muñoz described as "one of the main objectives."
Whatever the outcome, it's a new chapter for the Cactus. Having accepted a position as an audiovisual technician at UT's new Student Activity Center, effective Dec. 15, Luneburg is ready to turn the page.
"I'll be there to help, but the weight isn't on my shoulders anymore, and that feels pretty good," he concluded. "This process created a lot of rancor – the ageism and diversity debate, the community versus the students, the administration versus whoever – and a lot of people suffered. I always called the Cactus a little sanctuary on 40 Acres. It's a healing place. I know it saved my life probably 100 times. I hope that anybody that has any bad feelings will just cross that threshold and listen to some music."
The Mighty Rearranger
Will Taylor would like to set the record straight. "We're not a cover band," the local jazz violinist says of his ensemble, Strings Attached, which has reinterpreted most of the Beatles catalog as well as the canonized works of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Joni Mitchell, among others. "I come out of the Duke Ellington/Count Basie bandleader tradition, where we're putting our touch on standards." The House of Wills project marks the group's most ambitious undertaking to date, recasting the work of Willie Nelson with a classical sophistication indebted to the Western swing tradition of Bob Wills. Through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign and with dead-ringer vocalist Steve Carter of Stop the Truck, the group recorded a tribute album that includes a mariachi version of "A Moment Isn't Very Long" and is being mastered by longtime Neil Young producer John Hanlon. Strings Attached opens House of Wills at Central Market on Friday, Sept. 17.
Questions still linger as to the role adequate health insurance – or the lack thereof – played in the deaths of both Big Star's Alex Chilton and Vic Chesnutt. That debate hits close to home for Carolyn Schwarz, executive director of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The nonprofit has, to date, provided 2,100 local artists, most of whom earn less than $16,000 a year, with low-cost medical, dental, and mental health services through the Seton Family of Hospitals, St. David's Foundation Dental Program, and the SIMS Foundation, respectively. "We're seeing less and less musicians going to the emergency room now because they have a place to go now," says Schwarz. "The message we hear loud and clear is, 'What peace of mind.'" HAAM currently has 1,300 members, with room to expand, and recently partnered with Estes Audiology and Prevent Blindness Texas to offer additional programs for hearing and vision. Nearly half the organization's operating budget comes from Tuesday's fifth annual HAAM Benefit Day, wherein more than 200 local businesses ranging from presenting sponsor Whole Foods Market and Waterloo Records to Torchy's Tacos and Freddie's Place donate 5% of their Sept. 21 sales and/or make a cash donation to the local nonprofit. This year's marathon is bigger than ever, with a record 135 performances taking place across the city, backed by first-time underwriting sponsors C3 Presents and South by Southwest and a $10,000 matching grant from the Texas Heritage Songwriters' Association. There's also a Rock & Run rally taking place at RunTex, bookended by rising alt-rockers the Daze and Look Mexico. For the complete list of participating businesses and the music schedule, visit www.myhaam.org.
HAAM Schedule Highlights
8am: Dan Dyer, Whole Foods Market (525 N. Lamar)
11:30am: Hollywood Gossip, ThunderCloud Subs (201 E. Riverside)
1pm: Ray Wylie Hubbard, Whole Foods Market
2pm: Steve Brooks, ThunderCloud Subs (2801 S. Lamar)
4:30pm: Patricia Vonne, Romeo's (1500 Barton Springs Rd.)
6pm: Shapes Have Fangs, Antone's Records (2928 Guadalupe)
7pm: Kat Edmonson & Erin Ivey, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Youth Center (8134 Mesa)
8:30pm: Adrian & the Sickness, Headhunters (720 Red River)
9pm: Vitera, Encore Records (1745 W. Anderson)
10pm: Deadman, Saxon Pub (1320 S. Lamar)
12mid: Wisebird, Continental Club (1315 S. Congress)
Hannibal Lokumbe (see "Aural History," Feb. 12) is seeking support for Music Liberation, a humanities project he's created for three correctional facilities near Bastrop. The jazz titan is hoping to use music theory, genealogical research, and journal writing to help assist inmates in their rehabilitation. The program would also inform his forthcoming composition, "Can You Hear God Crying?." To learn more or pledge your support, visit www.bit.ly/8ZCAzO.
On the eve of a three-week national tour, Quiet Company had the majority of its gear stolen from a trailer. Anyone with information is urged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better late than never, Austin troubadour Hayes Carll earned New & Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2010 Americana Music Association Honors & Awards last week in Nashville in support of his third album and Lost Highway debut, 2008's Trouble in Mind. Onetime local wrangler Ryan Bingham took home both Song of the Year, for Crazy Heart's "The Weary Kind," and Artist of the Year, edging out Ray Wylie Hubbard and Patty Griffin, among others.