In February, Mayor Steve Adler made the dire declaration.
"We will not long be the live music capital of the world if we lose musicians – if we lose music venues," he insisted during the Friday morning press conference at City Hall, acknowledging the perilous low pay, high rent paradigm creatives face locally.
That wake-up call arrived with the presentation of Adler's Omnibus Resolution, a creative stimulus package for Austin's music and art sectors. He then directed city staff to review and return with a plan of action. On Monday, the Economic Development Department responded with the 68-page "Music & Creative Ecosystem Stabilization Recommendations."
The epic rundown, which can be read in full at ATXmusic.org, touches on everything from land use regulations and bolstering cultural tourism to increasing musicians' income through local licensing initiatives. Of the dozens of recommendations, here are three worth fighting for:
• Agent of Change Principle: Solving sound disputes between venues and residential dwellings by holding the newer party responsible for managing their impact. If a club opens in a neighborhood, the venue must insulate accordingly. If a hotel is built next to an existing venue, the hotel must soundproof their walls.
• Entertainment License: Instead of requiring up to 16 permits from seven departments, create a single point of contact to streamline approval. Greater compliance benefits venue owners and city staff.
• Live Music Venue Best Practice Guide: Establish a gold standard for venues based on compliance, safety, and superior treatment of musicians, then reward them with energy and mixed-beverage tax rebates, and extended load card hours.
Given that affordability concerns musicians and artists alike (compare "Austin Creative Alliance's Summit Report," April 15, and "We Can't Make It Here Anymore," May 27), the Omnibus Resolution places both sectors in the same boat – a unique situation since the city's Music Office exists independent of its Cultural Arts Division. The problems facing both sectors boil down to the same two things, says Austin Creative Alliance CEO John Riedie: The work doesn't pay enough, and running a space is too expensive. Worthy as they are, the report's objectives come at lengthy timelines in the face of immediate crisis.
"The community as a whole has to decide if we're going to invest in our cultural sector," offers Riedie. "The city has invested in tech and in conventions. What we want is our city to realize how important the creative culture is to our quality of life and invest heavily in that."
As urgent as the creative sector's needs are, the pace of politics requires patience and dedication.
"This is the pre-game warm-up," cautions ATX Music Office Manager Don Pitts. "The game hasn't even started. The game is how the council and the public digest these recommendations."
Furthering the sports metaphor, the Omnibus response now becomes a playbook for City Council. Whether they play it safe and run it up the gut or go deep depends on whose viewpoints are heard. There are myriad voices in that conversation: the respective music and arts commissions, Riedie's Creative Alliance, the Red River Cultural District Merchants Association, Austin Music People, and, potentially, a consortium of music venue owners.
Last Thursday, a summit of venue owners amassed, appropriately, at the Hard Luck Lounge to informally discuss relevant policy proposals with representatives from the city.
"If you've had a long, invested experience in creating the best live music venues in Austin, you should have the ability to contribute to the sausage-making process of this legislation," reasoned White Horse/Hard Luck owner Denis O'Donnell, who advocated for a legally represented coalition of nightclub owners. "If we're going to win some of these battles that challenge the ability of a venue to operate and stay afloat, it's going to be by taking on the fight together. That's the future.
"Right now, the best we can do is get everybody together for a beer."
Sound on Sound Fest, the new music festival booked by former Fun Fun Fun Fest organizer Graham Williams, unloaded its lineup Tuesday. The amalgam of pop, hip-hop, electro, punk, metal, and indie rock headlines Beach House, Explosions in the Sky, Courtney Barnett, Phantogram, Purity Ring, Run the Jewels, the Descendents, Death Grips, Big Boi, Charles Bradley, Young Thug, Mac DeMarco, and Carcass.
The most intriguing name on the poster wasn't a buzzy indie act or a reunited punk band, but rather the venue, Sherwood Forest Faire, a Renaissance festival site deep in Bastrop County complete with a castle, jousting arena, and stockades.
"A great location is almost like another headliner," offered Williams. "People go to Coachella because it's a beautiful desert surrounded by mountains and palm trees."
There's obvious risk in hosting a festival 45 minutes out of Austin, but Williams is confident locals will take the journey since several of the headliners can move upwards of 5,000 tickets locally. Combine that with the venue's nerd appeal.
"Almost everyone on this side has played some D&D and read Lord of the Rings growing up," laughs Williams.
Williams ceded his booking concern, Transmission Events, along with the FFF Fest brand to investors Stratus Properties when the camps split in May. Sources close to the deal confirm there's a noncompete clause barring Williams from operating a midfall fest in Austin proper. FFF currently hangs in limbo, with no 2016 programming announced. SOS, meanwhile, prepares to go medieval Nov. 4-6 with the same team that orchestrated FFF:
Williams is SOS's booker. Former FFF co-owner James Moody's Guerilla Suit agency handles marketing/branding. Max Gregor, FFF's production mastermind, resigned from Transmission post-acquisition and now stages SOS. Barracuda co-owner Johnny Sarkis, whose Fun House Services ran FFF's beverage sales, heads SOS as the owner/producer.
"With FFF imploding, I didn't know if my friends or I had a job anymore," Sarkis says of his decision to launch SOS Fest. "These are people I believe in, love, and want to see do well, so if I had an opportunity, I couldn't let all the work we'd done in the past be thrown away."
Sarkis adds that Williams' booking acumen ties it all together in the same fashion as FFF.
"Without him, we're not going to get bands like the Monkeywrench [Big Boys Austinite Tim Kerr meets Mudhoney's Mark Arm and Steve Turner], who are only doing two shows this year."
A bonus byproduct of SOS beginning at a distant kingdom: Music can run later since it's outside Travis County's uptight mass gathering regulations. Three-day wristbands ($169 + tax) plus VIP and camping upgrades are on sale now.
South by Southwest is now accepting artist applications for the 2017 Music Conference, March 10-17. Future buzz bands can submit through Sonicbids for $35. SXSW's PanelPicker, where users propose and vote on ideas for talks and presentations, has also launched. www.sxsw.com
Austin City Limits, still recovering from the homegrown funk explosion Grupo Fantasma threw down on Tuesday, stays busy during ACL Fest with a recently announced trio of tapings: Band of Horses (Oct. 2), Margo Price (Oct. 3), and Foals (Oct. 6).
Oh Death: The 2016 rapture of music greats continued last week with mountain musician Ralph Stanley, Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and Elvis' lead guitarist Scotty Moore. Meanwhile, Austin mourns locally stationed standouts. See the Chronicle blog for Bill Bentley's colorful tribute to ZZ Top's larger-than-life manager/producer/fourth-member Bill Ham, who died at age 79 last Monday. The following day, country outlaw Freddy Powers passed from Parkinson's at 84. Guitarist and friend to Merle Haggard, Powers also lent his crafty songwriting to Ray Charles and George Jones, and co-hosted the late Austin Music Network's Rogers & Hammerhead Show. See Doug Freeman's funny and touching Powers piece "The Good Times Ain't Over" (Aug. 22, 2008).
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