Playback: Barracuda on the Block

Spirit of '76: Javier Escovedo (l) and the Zeros at Barracuda on Friday. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

"I see Barracuda as a Seventies-style concert hall: a big space with big sound that makes you feel like you're at a real concert," offers Jason McNeely, leaning against the red brick exterior of his new Seventh Street venue. "It's not going to be Hotel Vegas 2. Hotel Vegas is a little, good-time rock & roll bar on the Eastside. The chemistry's different Downtown. It's really intense."

McNeely, along with his Hotel Vegas co-conspirator Brian Tweedy, Flesh Lights guitarist Max Vandever, Cliff White, and former Red 7 co-owner Johnny Sarkis, inked a five-year lease on the latter space three months ago – just as ye of little faith were signing the death certificate on the Seventh Street arm of Red River's vaunted music district.

"We decided to get involved and see what we can do on Red River," says McNeely. "Everyone promoting shows in this town isn't gonna roll over and let the music scene die. We're going to fight for it! That's what we're doing."

Barracuda gets certified with a grand opening/holiday party on Monday featuring local country badass Leo Rondeau and pre-eminent pop gang Sweet Spirit. Yet the club's doors have already swung open a half-dozen times, including last weekend's Good Vibrations Festival that hosted garage warlord Jack Oblivian, plus reunited punks Eastside Suicides and the Zeros, in addition to Nik Turner's Hawkwind earlier this week. Attendees noticed modest modifications to Red 7's feng shui: a 90-degree shift of the patio stage, bars with beautiful woodwork, bathrooms upgraded from biohazard to habitable, and an opened-up main room with a ram's head mounted over the stage.

Not that the Red 7-to-Barracuda transmogrification is complete; McNeely predicts a year until the space reaches aesthetic completion, including a front facade remodel and adding brick to the interior.

For said booker, whose youthful appearance belies his long Austin history, Barracuda represents his continued ascendancy in Austin's concert market. McNeely worked with his father on East Riverside Drive at late metal mainstay the Back Room in the Eighties. There he gleaned skills from promoter deluxe Jim Ramsey, though he preferred Club Foot's Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid crowd.

"At Hotel Vegas we miss a lot of opportunities, like touring shows and special events, because it's a little room," he says, noting Vegas' interior load card as just 149. Barracuda's total capacity is over four times that. "This allows us to do a lot of shows with Transmission Events. We've put so much on the table, financially and with our time, that we have no choice but to make it a success."

Photo by Dave Pedley

Ballin' With Black Fret

They were giving money away at the Paramount Theatre last Friday night – $150,000 to be exact. The benefactor, nonprofit Black Fret, uses a patronage model to collect money through membership dues, then doles out grants to Austin musicians receiving the most member votes. The beneficiaries – Ruby Jane, East Cameron Folkcore, Tameca Jones, Mother Falcon, Danny Malone, Gina Chavez, Casey McPherson, the Digital Wild, Migrant Kids, and Shakey Graves – each received $12,000 grants. Ten other nominees landed $4,200 endowments.

Those minor grants were upped from $3,000 to $4,200 because Shakey Graves deferred his money to the non-winners. In a similar act of generosity, Ghostland Observatory frontman Aaron Behrens donated his grant to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.

"Some members vote based on need," admitted Black Fret co-founder Colin Kendrick, "but our organization is based on artistic excellence. We're trying to focus our resources into musicians who are in a place to make a sustainable living with their career."

East Cameron Folkcore, a Billy Bragg-meets-George Orwell power folk orchestra, seemed to be stomping dangerously beyond their demographic when they howled anti-gentrification anthem "Our City" to the tuxedo-clad clad audience. Not the case. The group, which left empty-handed from last year's ball, earned enough votes to land the big check in 2015.

"We're planning to do two U.S. tours, two Europe tours, and two albums next year, so this money makes a huge difference for us," enthused Folkcore multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Blake Bernstein.

"We're trying to help Austin musicians in a really elegant way," explained Black Fret co-founder Matt Ott, serving as a lighthearted emcee for the 18-act concert, which featured a purposefully inelegant performance by squirrelly indie songwriter Danny Malone, who turned heads with a profanity-laced "Living Legends."

Nakia provided a further highlight, bringing down the house with a coruscating, Joe Cocker-esque "With a Little Help From My Friends." That stood as the evening's most popular performance until surprise guest Margaret Wright, a 73-year-old supernaturally talented pianist, gave the sold-out crowd goose bumps with her flourishing adaption of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

"We must continue to support Austin music," she said, with emphasis on "continue."

'Tis the Season

If the presence of Mariah Carey songs on the airwaves and eggnog jugs at H-E-B haven't already supercharged your Christmas cheer, try these homegrown holiday hootenannies:

Brian Kremer Roasts Chestnuts
Dec. 10, North Door
Austin's singer most resembling Bing Crosby, throwback crooner Brian Kremer hosts a holiday spectacular unveiling a Christmas original and video for "By the Time." Brennen Leigh, Noel McKay, Sarah Arenella, and more join in.

A Christmas Carol
Dec. 12, Museum of Human Achievement
Charles Dickens' novella gets abstract in this version focusing on Scrooge's haunters. Local noise rapper Blackie stars as Jacob Marley, who ushers a trio of musical ghosts: Christmas Past (Thor Harris), Christmas Present (American Sharks), and Christmas Future (Holy Wave).

Altercation's Frost Giant Ball
Dec. 12, Lost Well
Comedian JT Habersaat hosts a heavy-as-hell holiday party where Santa's big red bag dumps out street punk kings Lower Class Brats, metal warriors Blood Royale, belligerent thrashers Ass, and hard rock swamp-things Sabbath Crow.

A Full Service Christmas
Dec. 17, Stubb's
Austin's vibey rock whalers invite their cult following to a free, all-ages winter wonderland. Stocking stuffers abound: seasonal collection Full Service Saves Christmas, heavy new album Lockers, and ornaments for your "Evergreen."

Tele Novella's Snowflake
Dec. 17, Cheer Up Charlies
Tele Novella, whose dark and enchanting pop imagines Nancy Sinatra fronting the Velvet Underground, releases a vinyl 45 featuring spooky Xmas original "Christmas Spirit" and Marvin Gaye B-side cover "Purple Snowflakes."

Half Notes

Grammy nominations in: Monday's Grammy nominations included Patty Griffin's Servant of Love (Best Folk Album), Hayes Carll's Lee Ann Womack co-write "Chances Are" (Best Country Song), Asleep at the Wheel's Bob Wills tribute (Best Recording Package), and megachoir Conspirare (Best Choral Performance).

The SIMS Foundation, providers of mental health and addiction services for Austin musicians, expands its scope in 2016 to include music industry professionals – great news for sound engineers, lighting technicians, bookers, etc.

South by Southwest added five acts to the growing field of performers at their 2016 Music Festival: Ra Ra Riot, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, the Big Pink, Kevin Gates, and locals White Denim.

Double Trouble's rhythm section of Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon hit Waterloo Records on Wednesday, 5pm, to autograph copies of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble's Live at El Mocambo, recently issued on double vinyl. The recording captures the Austin blues gods in Toronto during 1983's Texas Flood tour.

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Barracuda, Black Fret, Red 7, Hotel Vegas, Jason McNeely, Patty Griffin, SIMS

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