Playback: The Mayor's Plan to Save Austin Music
Mayor Steve Adler addresses the elephant in the club, Susan Antone honored, and Henry Gonzalez goes to the head of the Austin poster artist altar
By Kevin Curtin, Fri., March 4, 2016
Even with South by Southwest landing the biggest headliner ever on Wednesday – the Obamas – Austin music still has problems, and Steve Adler's here to help. The mayor appeared on the balcony of City Hall last Friday morning, trumpeting a resolution to stimulate local music industry growth, sustain concert venues, and keep Austin musicians from moving to Detroit – or wherever the next burgeoning artist colony is.
"We will not long be the live music capital of the world if we lose musicians – if we lose music venues," Adler warned.
Overlooking the obvious irony of preaching that from the ground near where once stood Liberty Lunch, it was a moving speech that diagnosed us with an "affordability crisis" and called for creative solutions to make Austin "a city where the local music industry thrives and expands. A city where artists and musicians can afford to create."
Adler's Austin Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution offers 20-plus music-specific objectives. The proposals range from minor gestures like adding a gratuity line for musicians on bar receipts to major philosophical shifts like writing the "Agent of Change" principle into city code, which would protect existing venues from complaints related to new developments. The resolution also addresses the desperate need for a streamlining of venue permits and licenses: one fee, one process.
Also among the mayor's music-boosting concepts: the creation of "hubs," where various industry resources and services exist under one roof, encouraging collaboration. On Friday, instead of staying dedicated to city-sponsored efforts, Adler publicly endorsed a private sector project, Mosaic Sound Collective, calling it "a model for the kind of things this resolution could achieve."
Mosaic visionary Dan Redman – father to two-thirds of Residual Kid – tells "Playback" he's just secured property for his hub, three acres of land in East Austin near the MLK/183 intersection, complete with a 25,000-square-foot campus-style building. Work begins on the property in April, and he expects it to be up and running by July.
"We have to own our own dirt for our concept to work," says Redman of the business, a community center for bands and industry professionals that features rehearsal rooms, office space, vinyl pressing, a tech incubator, and music trade classes for its members. "Our goal from the very beginning was doing it privately so it's not something the community has to subsidize."
Back at City Hall, Adler's resolution calls for City Manager Marc Ott to review the varied stimulus concepts, assess their feasibility, and return to the City Council Economic Opportunity Committee within 90 days for a plan of action. During that period, city staff is expected to solicit public input through focus groups and town hall meetings. None of that addresses what some might term the elephant in the club.
"There's not one mention of tax incentives, rebates, or vouchers – nothing about the almighty dollar – and that's what the city has the power to do," notes Vulcan Gas Company co-owner Marc Piatkowski. "I'd like to see them create financial incentives for music business owners that align with the various goals stated in the resolution."
To others, it's a good first step. Austin Music People (AMP) Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan, who's been instrumental in the push to get music-friendly laws on the books, contends that policy geared toward helping clubs – fixing the permitting process, venue preservation, and Agent of Change – means prosperity extended to the musicians.
"The better venues are doing, the more they can compensate musicians," theorizes Houlihan. "It's a virtuous cycle."
This mayoral music fix comes days after the publication of AMP's economic impact study, reporting Austin lost 1,200 music industry jobs in a four-year period – a figure that left a few community leaders scratching their heads. Did we have 1,200 jobs to lose? Houlihan explains that it counts anyone generating income because of the music industry.
"This town is pretty good at producing studies. This is not another study," said Mayor Adler, stressing it was time for action. "The ideas in this resolution are a result of the studies and of listening to the people in the music and art sectors."
Henry Gonzalez 1951-2016
Henry Gonzalez might have died in November 1975 outside the Armadillo World Headquarters. The stocky young employee had bounced a belligerent patron from the 'Dillo who then swore to return and kill him. Late that night, the stranger reappeared with a gun – ready, aim, fire – but the bullet missed Gonzalez and swiftly ended the life of his friend and fellow poster artist Ken Featherston.
Gonzalez lived another 41 years, until Monday when he died of cancer after a two-year bout of illness. He was 65 and had dedicated his life to Austin's music and art culture as a muralist, poster artist, and jack-of-all-trades in the concert production world – including stage manager of the Austin Opera House.
"I've been a hired gun for pretty much all the big shows since the early Seventies," Gonzalez told the Chronicle last May. "My forte was stage – setting up the frontlines, all the equipment, lighting, special effects."
Gonzalez worked Stevie Ray Vaughan's final tour. After the six-string superstar perished in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin, Henry was tasked with driving his friend's gear back to Austin.
"I was driving the van with Stevie's guitar across the country and on every radio station they were playing his music. I couldn't stop crying," Gonzalez once confided.
Gonzalez came to Austin from South Texas with his sweetheart Leea Mechling, and both became essential characters in the Armadillo crew. 'Dillo owner Eddie Wilson called him the "backbone of the Armadillo Art Squad," and Uranium Savages frontman and painting peer Kerry Awn cited his friend's geniality.
"Henry was our scene's 'Mexican.' I mean that in the highest form of praise I can muster," wrote Awn. "He did the 'shit' work – the labor, the behind-the-scenes work that most would never do. He got in there and got his hands dirty and his clothes splattered with paint and his body cut and bruised from physical labor. He was there to serve in his quiet, humble, happy-go-lucky attitude."
Gonzalez's final gig was gatekeeper of Austin history at the South Austin Popular Culture Center on South Lamar, where in addition to drawing armadillos and guarding the existential secrets of sacred number "709," his duties included maintaining a vast altar to Austin's departed musicians and artists.
No one deserves placement on that wall more than Henry Gonzalez.
Stay Gold received an unexpected remodel Friday morning when a stolen truck backed through their front wall in an attempt to steal the ATM outside. Smashed to smithereens, the cash machine remained bolted down and didn't cough up any greenbacks before the truck got stuck and the robbers fled. A new cinderblock wall was built by 6pm and the venue opened for business as scheduled. Owner Nathan Hill pointed out there's an eight-foot-tall, glowing, blinking ATM next door held to a tree by only a chain. "Fuckin' overachievers," he sighed.
White Denim plays Hole in the Wall for the first time ever tonight (Thursday), concluding their month of small local club shows in preceding their seventh studio album Stiff on March 25. Come hungry for opening act Pie Fi Pizza DJs, a novel business concept from White Denim bassist Steve Terebecki and Lucas Anderson, singer for proto-White Denim group Parque Touch, that spins records while cooking delicious pizzas in a portable oven – available for birthdays, company picnics, and bat mitzvahs.
Susan Antone was named as the recipient of the first-ever Margaret Moser Award on Tuesday. "There were no other names even mentioned," Chronicle founder Louis Black said of the obvious choice to honor the matron of Austin's Home of the Blues. The award recognizes women in our music community who make lasting contributions to Austin culture. Antone will accept the honor at the Austin Music Awards, Wed., March 16, at the Hilton Grand Ballroom, which will also feature a special Antone's tribute set led by Jimmie Vaughan.