Playback – 2014: Keeping the Dream Alive
Reviewing ATX music 2014
I received an unexpected windfall this week to the tune of $2,600 – the most money I've ever had. Last month, a stolen car being chased down my street by police crashed into my parked 1998 Pontiac Sunfire. Later, thieves broke into the body shop it was towed to and stole my stereo.
After investing $100 in vinyl, scratch-off tickets, and Super Burrito, I made my way to the Hole in the Wall, where my journey as a performer in Austin began years ago. So I dropped $260 in that banged up metal tip bucket. Onstage, two local greats: harmonica iconoclast Walter Daniels and garage roots guitarist John Schooley. Call it a musician's holiday bonus, but it felt more like a tithing to the scene. Thanks to Austin's music community, my dream – this unusual career of music writing – became a reality.
As 2014 ticks away, I'm struck by the notion that Austin's a city of dreams, where creativity trumps practicality always. Every venue, every festival, every business, and, most significantly, every band, represents someone's dreams. Some are big, some small, some promising, some doomed, but we're all laying it on the line to follow them. That's what makes Austin special.
Dreams die too. 2014 saw the exit of instrument retailer Music Makers, vacating its long-held South Lamar property in January to merge with Strait Music. Music venues bit the dust as well: Short-lived Westside punk club Infest ended with a landlord lockout over rent, never to reopen. Headhunters shuttered in May promising to reopen at a location that never materialized. The Legendary White Swan closed in June due to inconsistent attendance.
As dying venues nail plywood over windows, new ones throw up the open sign. Steve Wertheimer's SoCo club, C-Boy's Heart & Soul, enjoyed a strong first year that saw live music grow from weekends to a nightly staple. Downtown, March brought Sixth Street the Vulcan Gas Company, initially outraging hippies by using a historical club name, but finding success with DJs and EDM acts. The 12th and Chicon corridor came alive with soul and cocktail destination Dozen Street occupying half of Club 1808 (the other half remains in use as the Annex), and punk and metal space the Badlands setting up shop around the corner.
Despite its resident staple Blue Monday holding on at Midway Field House, the live music iteration of Antone's didn't host a single show in 2014, yet the dream of its namesake Clifford Antone remains alive. July brought news that the conglomerate of investors who purchased the historic blues brand last fall had dissolved and reformed with stronger local ties: Arlyn Studios co-owner Will Bridges, guitarist Gary Clark Jr., and Susan Antone join purchaser Spencer Wells. Expect announcement of a new location soon.
2014 realized aspirations of growth and extension among key players in Austin's concert promotions business. Fun Fun Fun Fest producers Transmission Events expanded into Dallas and partnered with the Reverberation Appreciation Society to put on Psych Fest – now called Levitation. Also booking beyond city limits, Scoremore, Austin's young hip-hop and dance music promoters, who are extending into the untapped San Antonio market by putting shows on at Backstage Live, rebranding as the Alamo City Music Hall.
Despite growing profiles of indie promoters, Austin braces for the bigwigs. News broke in October that international ticket retailing giant Live Nation was in talks to purchase local concert kingpin C3 Events, whose Lollapalooza has gone global while its homegrown ACL Fest now comfortably commands two weekends. On Friday, Dec. 19, Live Nation announced it had acquired a controlling stake in C3.
Austin maintains a ravenous appetite for music festivals, a market which saw gains and losses this year. Beloved local booker Timmy Hefner mostly shelved his crust music magnet Chaos in Tejas, while emcees rejoiced for September's Weird City, the city's first dedicated hip-hop festival. Austin's best metal event, Housecore Horror, hangs in limbo after co-founder Corey Mitchell suffered a heart attack in the parking lot of Emo's while loading out after the fest's second October run and died. A notable true crime author, Mitchell, 47, had been a member of the Austin metal community since the Eighties.
Austin's largest outdoor fests, ACL and FFF, experienced record ticket sales coupled with adversity. For the former, it was the death of 21-year-old Jessica Hunter, who fell into a coma after ingesting "molly" at ACL's first weekend. For the latter, an overloaded will-call line, stretching across the river into Downtown, generated more attention than a triumphant headlining set by Judas Priest.
No festival made more headlines than South by Southwest 2014. When 21-year-old Rashad Owens sped a Honda Civic from police through a barricade on Red River and into pedestrians, four died and 22 others were hurt. Last week, lawsuits were filed on behalf of eight victims naming SXSW, Traffic Design Consultants, and Owens as responsible parties. The tragedy prompted a review and survey by the city, looking at security, overcrowding, parking lot concerts, an excess of ancillary events, plus traffic surrounding the festival. Expect to see noticeable changes to all in March.
In fact, death showed no mercy on Austin's music community in the last 12 months. The afterlife bandstand acquired a clean-pickin' Tele man in Will Indian, guitarist for the Rhythm Rats, Nortons, James Hand, and Cornell Hurd. Indian died in January fighting a lung infection while awaiting a liver transplant. Within weeks, Austin lost historic deejay Larry Monroe, who passed unexpectedly from COPD-related breathing issues. Monroe, a master of musical connections who spun for KUT before jumping to KDRP in 2011, hosted essential programs Blue Monday and Segway City. Three days later, songwriter Steve Fromholz was killed in a hunting accident. Fromholz, who with Dan McCrimmon made up Sixties duo Frummox, was the 2007 poet laureate of Texas and had his vivid songs recorded by John Denver, Lyle Lovett, and Willie Nelson.
We're still raw from Ian McLagan's death from a stroke on Dec. 3. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist of Small Faces, Faces, and Rolling Stones fame boosted Austin's credibility with his residence for the last 20 years and, with his magnetic presence, made our little rut more velvety. Having just released his Bump Band's excellent United States LP, Mac was looking forward to a Faces reunion with Rod Stewart.
"We will be touring next year and I'm very excited," he told me in August. "I just hope and pray nothing happens between now and then because it would be great."
Few of us know when our time's up, so make sure you're living your dream. That's the Austin way.
10 Best Austin Artists of 2014
1) Ian McLagan
Legendary keyboardist exited the physical plane but left a moving swan song with United States.
2) Shakey Graves
Recruiting bandmates for national bow And the War Came, homegrown folk stomper Alejandro Rose-Garcia might never again play a small room solo without selling it out first and fast.
3) Flesh Lights
Nothing in this year's punk/power-pop domain can touch the fast rock trio's Free Yourself.
The band's first album in four years, They Want My Soul prompted a flash gig Hotel Vegas set and taking A Giant Dog on tour.
5) Kat Edmonson
Now in a New York state-of-mind, the longtime Austinite released a gorgeous LP of antique jazz and pop on major-label debut The Big Picture.
6) Dat Boy Supa
As Austin hip-hop increases in profile and vitality, Supa released the genre's best local album with blaxploitation genius Supacabra.
7) OBN III's
A drastic lineup change to the wild rock gang promoted its strongest LP, Third Time to Harm.
Grupo Fantasma ganged up with Alex Marrero to become funky doom rockers Brown Sabbath.
Continental Gallery purveyors of the coolest soul/funk/R&B in town, Andrew Trube and Anthony Farrell logged Accumulator on Ardent Music and toured relentlessly.
10) Sweet Spirit
Andrew Cashen and Sabrina Ellis' new heavy pop group formed in January and progresses still with superhuman speed.