Playback: The 2016/17 Austin Music Awards Reveal

Lyle Lovett (Photo by John Anderson)

In the war room, afternoons were spent spitballing, strategizing, scheming, and dreaming up performances for the 2016/17 Austin Music Awards. All the generals were there: Charlie Sexton – rock royalty guitarist with a Rolodex on his phone likely second only to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner; Celeste Quesada – the show's pragmatic organizer with a knack for bringing ideas to life and herding cats like …; Louis Black – the boss of big-picture brilliance; and Raoul Hernandez – ruthless rock critic armed with a notepad of ideas and lofty standards safeguarding the event.

"They're puppy dog cute," he credited one suggested band, "but not ready for the AMAs!"

It's this meeting of the minds from which springs forth Austin's equivalent to the Grammys.

Me? At best, I'm a mid-level adviser with a seat at the table – right next to the free snacks, tossing in my two cents where appropriate.

"Let's get Survive to play and have the blinking Christmas lights from Stranger Things in the background," I proposed.

Everyone thought it a good suggestion. After all, no Austin act had a bigger 2016 than the local synth quartet that soundtracked Netflix's smash hit and released an LP on Relapse. Alas, they said nyet.

One holy grail guest, Neil Young, isn't making the trip to Texas this South by Southwest, and George Strait already put in his March appearance last year at Ray Benson's GSD&M birthday bash. Organizing such a community event with a small budget isn't the biblical "ask and ye shall receive." Rather, it's a dog-eared yellow legal pad inked with scratches, circles, and too many question marks.

The method's madness, but the goal remains to create something special, memorable. In this year's case, that means an extravaganza representing both the moment and 35 years of history, appealing to old-schoolers and youth alike, and ultimately yanking artists out of their comfort zones for unique performances. In other words, an Austin showcase both for locals and global tourists. When the lineup's ready for press, the reaction better be, "Damn. That turned out good."

We nabbed some of the best Texans ever to emerge from the Lone Star State for a Moody Theater blowout Sunday, March 12. Masterful panhandle poet Terry Allen, who recently put on a mind-blowing performance at the Paramount Theatre, receives a new accolade honoring excellence in song: the Townes Van Zandt Award. He and at least one guest (Joe Ely) slot in after a Texas songwriters lineup featuring Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, the former duetting with the vintage vocal ecstasy of Kat Edmonson.

Terry Allen (Photo by Gary Miller)

That latter jazz sprite exited locally recently, which left no question that Sabrina Ellis is the greatest frontwoman in Austin today. The Sweet Spirit/A Giant Dog singer makes her AMA debut collaborating with Brownout and Grupo Fantasma. That latter Grammy-winning, Prince-backing Latin funk mothership leads a set also showcasing diva-in-the-making Jai Malano, whose vocal prowess promises to bring the house down. Other surprises include hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, who's on our docket of award presenters, which also includes Margin Walker mastermind Graham Williams, local media titan Andy Langer, and air waves all-star Jody Denberg.

As usual, we're proud to organize a gathering of Austin female talent – especially given the auspicious start to 2017. Our Femmes for SIMS set arrives built around Americana gospel inspirations the Trishas, featuring adversity angel Savannah Welch, and stacked by country queen Kelly Willis, Heartless Bastards powerhouse Erika Wennerstrom, local Thievery Corporation enchantress LouLou, who performs around town in Night Glitter, former Go-Go's bassist Kathy Valentine's blooming gal rockers the Bluebonnets, and finally a showdown between two of Austin's most flammable guitarists: Carolyn Wonderland and Jackie Venson.

That's all we can currently confirm for the show, hosted once again by KUTX firecrackers Laurie Gallardo and Rick McNulty. Of course, it would be totally out of character for the AMAs if there weren't some surprises in store. Snag tickets now at They will sell out.

Half Notes

C3 Presents diversifies its entertainment empire with a record label. C3 Records has already signed one act – raspy-voiced youth Welles – and have contracts in the works with two other acts also managed by the Austin-based company, which sold a controlling stake to Live Nation in 2014. C3 Management Division President Matt Shay, a 15-year label veteran who worked A&R and marketing for Stone Gossard's Loosegroove Records and RCA Music Group, heads up the venture, which will utilize C3's existing radio staff, digital team, and creative department. He considers C3 Records another resource that artists working with the company can take advantage of. "It could be for major artists who need a label, developing artists that we're taking on as management clients, or anything in between," posits Shay.

Don Pitts shocked Austin's music community Tuesday by resigning as program manager for the city's Music & Entertainment Division, a position he's held since the office's formation in 2010. "I realize it is time for me to not work within a bureaucracy any longer," he wrote in his resignation letter. Pitts had been on administrative leave for a month while being investigated for what a high-placed civic source confirmed to "Playback" was whether he violated city procedure in the way he disciplined a former music office employee back in 2014 after he discovered wrongdoing on her part. That source was optimistic he'd be reinstated, but Pitts didn't stick around to wait for a judgment. He plans to continue music advocacy in the private sector.

Mammoth Grinder signed to mega metal label Relapse Records. The Austin crust/death trio (formerly a quartet), fronted by mega-talented multi-instrumentalist Chris Ulsh (Power Trip, Impalers, Hatred Surge), proffers fourth LP Cosmic Crypt in the late fall.

Scoot Inn and the Parish are once again working with C3 Presents for booking, confirms GM Mikey Wheeler. Both venues' calendars of ticketed shows have been unusually barren since last fall when parent company ATX Brands ceased working with outside promoters, such as C3, to utilize Nashville-based Madison Entertainment and in-house booker Austen Bailey, who soon left the company to book the Mohawk.

Thor Harris' Twitter account was temporarily suspended late last week after he posted a video about how to correctly punch a Nazi. "Don't do it. Peaceful protest is better," the charismatic percussionist – known for his work with Swans, Shearwater, Adam Torres, and (coincidently) Nazi Gold – advised, then offered three tips: hold your wrist straight, keep your elbow loose, and punch through the face. The clip was met with applause and controversy, including someone flagging his Twitter profile for featuring hand-drawn penis art, which caused his short-lived suspension.

Speaking of Nazis: An anti-racist group protested outside Grizzly Hall on Monday, raging against an appearance by black metal band Marduk. Protest organizers charged the Swedish group with having white supremacist ties and profiting off Nazi imagery, igniting an online debate about whether the group's frequently employed German World War II symbolism is ideological or artistic. Any specific pro-Nazi affiliation regarding Marduk remains significantly less clear than that of one current White House adviser. Despite calls for a boycott, the concert was well-attended.

Willie Nelson scored his 15th Grammy statuette last Sunday with a Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album win for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin. Meanwhile, Paula Nelson publically quashed rumors of her dad's recent illness being severe, posting: "He's fine and at this very moment recording a new album." In other Grammy news, Wimberley native Sarah Jarosz stacked two wins: Best American Roots Performance for "House of Mercy" and Best Folk Album for Undercurrent. Gary Clark Jr. collaborated in prime time with Stax man William Bell on "Born Under a Bad Sign," featuring horns recorded by Austin's Hard Proof.

JMBLYA, ScoreMore Shows' single-day festival, moves to Circuit of the Americas after easily selling out the Austin American-Statesman's 10,000-capacity parking lot last spring. Migos and Gucci Mane were also added to the May 6 event, already featuring Grammy magnet Chance the Rapper, Steve Aoki, and Lil Uzi Vert. Cue "Bad and Boujee."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Playback
Playback: You Can’t Press Pause on Life
Playback: You Can’t Press Pause on Life
A musician’s life: laid off, livestreaming, and … giving birth?

Kevin Curtin, April 24, 2020

Playback: My Top 100 Austin Records of 2018
Playback: My Top 100 Austin Records of 2018
Kevin Curtin picks his favorite local sounds of the year

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 21, 2018

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle