Off the Record

Music News

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine: Seaholm at present (inset pictures) and future
Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine: Seaholm at present (inset pictures) and future (Inserts by John Anderson)

Flick of the Switch

The Black Angels proved that their Austin Psych Fest could be the All Tomorrow's Parties of the South, a three-day, artist-curated rock & roll drone that proved as singular of mindset as the towering, historic confines of the Seaholm Power Plant where it took place two weeks ago.

Constructed of cast concrete in two phases in 1950 and 1955 and retired four decades later, the art deco-style former municipality was deemed ready for public reuse in January 2006, after a nine-year, $13 million remediation process. Since then, the city-owned facility has become a popular event destination for everything from last November's Hot Rod Revolution to the recent Fusebox Festival.

"It may not be the greatest sound in the world for most music," says prolific local composer and Fusebox performer Graham Reynolds, "but the environment trumps and every event is memorable."

"The inside of it is like an old European cathedral or a Roman Baths," furthers choreographer Sally Jacques, whose site-specific dance company, Blue Lapis Light, hosted Illumination there in October 2007, the first and by far the most legally challenging event in the space. "The sunlight that comes in there and the way that it radiates across the space is just magnificent."

Since licensees must bring in their own power generator and toilets, among other necessities outlined in the Temporary Use Agreement, Seaholm carries a price tag of only $750 per day, a lease rate determined by the operating expenses of the facility over the previous two-year fiscal period. In March the city awarded a contract for South by Southwest to Sixth Street bar leader Bob Woody over SXSW/C3 Presents – a sealed bidding process that ultimately allowed for Vevo's closing bash with Kanye West and Jay-Z.

While the fire marshal completes a walk-through of the facility on the day of each event to issue the necessary Temporary Change of Use Permit, Seaholm still imposes safety concerns, with low guard rails and the sort of flooring/visibility issues inherent in such warehouselike spaces. For such reasons, the city requires hefty insurance and the necessary personnel from promoters to secure the area.

Both of those issues are rather moot points now. According to Gloria Aguilera of the Contract and Land Management Department, Seaholm will close at the end of the month for a series of site-intensive infrastructure projects, including the installation of wastewater lines on Cesar Chavez, which will take 18-24 months.

Those improvements will coincide with the redevelopment efforts of Seaholm Power LLC, a development consortium led by Southwest Strategies Group of Austin, whose Master Development Agreement with the city was approved by council in April 2008. The 7.8-acre site overhaul will include a 160-room boutique hotel, condos, an abundance of mixed-use space for retail and restaurants, plus two spaces on the south lawn and in the plaza for outdoor events. The renovation is scheduled to break ground next year and will last an estimated 24-28 months.

"One of the things that struck me about the building is that it's versatile and has a very broad appeal that can encompass even very formal events," says John C. Rosato, a managing partner at Southwest Strategies Group. "We hope to continue that in the future."

West Texas Waltz

Erika Wennerstrom lights up Hotel San José
Erika Wennerstrom lights up Hotel San José (Photo by John Anderson)

Liz Lambert admits she's no singer, so the local entrepreneur elected instead to "mouth the words loudly" in the all-star chorus line – Amy Cook, Shawn Colvin, Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom, and Friday Night Lights' Dana Wheeler – performing Patty Griffin's stunning "Mary" last Friday in the parking lot of the Hotel San José. It proved an only-in-Austin moment in which local musicians rallied on short notice for a deserving cause with memorable results, in this case raising $35,000 for wildfire relief. "I've spent quite a lot of time in West Texas over the last years," noted Wennerstrom early, a sentiment mirrored in the wide-open contemplation and rapture of "The Arrow Killed the Beast." David Garza and Cook swapped themed songs in a manner that beckoned for a collaborative EP, while Griffin, on a break from Robert Plant's Band of Joy, went solo and acoustic on Western swing standard "Right or Wrong." Colvin ultimately took the cake, transitioning from Crowded House to an acoustic rendition of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," by request, that would've turned Cee Lo Green's head on The Voice.

Up All Night

Off the Record

Senior Music writer Margaret Moser presented keynote speaker Sir Bob Geldof with a Groupies' Choice Award at South by Southwest, a custom-made accolade spurred by their arousing conversation for the Chronicle (see "The Secret Club," March 18). The award has taken on a life of its own, with the Live Aid dignitary telling the UK's The Telegraph, "I'd like to thank the countless Texan women who have helped me to arrive at the pinnacle of my professional life." Geldof also exchanged some jabs via text message with Bono, who reportedly responded, "I never knew there was an elderly category for that particular award." Moser's in talks with groupie queen Pamela Des Barres about presenting another award next year as part of a fundraiser showcase.

Random Play

Austin Bat Cave, a local nonprofit that helps at-risk youth develop their creative writing skills and navigate the college application process, hosted a songwriting workshop recently for Anderson High School's Advancement Via Individual Determination program. The individual results from that session were recorded by the likes of Ghostland Observatory's Aaron Behrens, Ringo Deathstarr, and Leatherbag for a benefit compilation. Mohawk hosts a release party on Friday, May 13, featuring most of the other local contributors, including Crooks, Sunset, and Focus Group, among others.

Fresh off Spin magazine championing Will Sheff as "Dylan for the Facebook generation," Okkervil River takes "Rider" to The Late Show With David Letterman Friday, May 13, in support of the album, I Am Very Far, reviewed here.

Local contenders Nakia and Tje Austin battle it out on the Tuesday, May 17, installment of NBC's The Voice. Meanwhile, recent transplant Rebecca Loebe, whose rendition of "Come As You Are" from the show cracked the iTunes Store Top 10 Alternative Songs chart for the week of April 29, hits the Cactus Cafe on Thursday, May 19.

Capital Metro has climbed on board as the presenting sponsor of the Chronicle's free music series, Paper Cuts. The RSVP link will soon close for the inaugural edition with Foot Patrol on Thursday, May 26: For details and exclusive giveaway opportunities, follow @OTRAustin on Twitter.

Fashion isn't normally associated with Los Lonely Boys, but Saturday's Stubb's headliner recently designed a signature shoe collection for Stacy Adams, with 10% of the band's proceeds being donated to the Padres Contra El Cancer campaign. Scope the new kicks in the video for the single "Fly Away" in this week's "Wednesday Rewind":

Music news

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Seaholm Power Plant, Don Wasler, Groupies' Choice Award, Bob Geldof, Mark Rubin, Liz Lambert, Southwest Strategies Group, Amy Cook, David Garza, Erika Wennerstrom, Austin Bat Cave, Los Lonely Boys

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