Playback: Best Austin Music Controversies of 2017
The year in quarrel
In March, South by Southwest hosted a showcase consisting entirely of musicians from the seven predominantly Muslim nations targeted in Trump's travel ban. The gesture of solidarity spoke to the conference's extensive cultural scope.
Around the same time, a Brooklyn indie-pop musician called out a passage in SXSW's invite letter that seemed to threaten artists who violated contractual terms, including playing unofficial shows, with being reported to immigration agencies. A tidal wave of anti-SXSW tweets gave way to headlines in every publication from the erudite New York Times to white nationalist domain Breitbart.
Controversy drove conversation in 2017. With hair-trigger polemic reflexes, we lob ideological grenades – constructed from current events – on social media to make statements about ourselves. Good news is dead and moderate stances exist as invitation to be kicked in the balls. Thus we look back on the year in Austin music through the stories that caused shock, outrage, and schadenfreude.
Dream Machine Dropped
In a June interview, Matthew Melton and his Bosnian wife Doris from psychedelic rock band Dream Machine ridiculed feminist musicians, praised ICE, and railed against illegal immigration – opinions we expect coming from our governor's office, not the Austin music scene. Following widespread public outcry, Dream Machine was dropped from tastemaking label Castle Face and left town.
Driftwood Music Festival attempted to usurp Old Settler's Music Fest: same dates, same genres, same location OSMF had just been booted from. OSMF sued Driftwood's organizers, two of their former staffers, and a district court judge blocked DMF from booking their event or selling tickets on the grounds that they used confidential trade secrets and hijacked their competition's 2018 location.
Music Office Shake-Up
Amid a probe into how he disciplined a former employee who filed a bogus invoice to recoup travel expenses, Don Pitts resigned from his founding post as head of the city's Music & Entertainment Division in February, citing fatigue with municipal politics. By all appearances, a protracted hiring process ended happily with the installation of Erica Shamaly, ousted marketing director at the Moody Theater and onetime aide-de-camp for Austin Psych Fest/Levitation.
Westin v. Nook
After developers skimped on soundproofing when building the Westin hotel, guests lost sleep over bass frequencies emanating from nearby bar the Nook. In January, Westin attorneys filed suit against the Sixth Street club to the tune of $1 million even though the latter largely complied to city-specified decibel regulations. Seven months later, the two parties settled out of court, with hotel operators agreeing to pay $125,000 for an overhead speaker system that shoots noise downward at the Nook.
Caroline Silences Chulita
The grand opening for swanky rooftop bar Upstairs at Caroline turned into a PR disaster after manager Michael Childress reportedly interrupted a set by Chulita Vinyl Club, an all-women-of-color DJ collective, telling them the bar didn't want Latin music. Although he later claimed to be requesting more uptempo music, the venue came off as gentrifiers silencing the cultural expression of Latina DJs from Texas.
The Stubb's With No Name
Facing the eventuality that they'll have to cede their venue name to a condiment brand, Stubb's owners filed paperwork to reserve the name "Liberty Lunch," trademark of an iconic Austin club (1975-99) that C3 Presents boss Charles Attal acquired a decade ago. Old heads took umbrage, calling it cultural appropriation, and the venue continues to float as Stubb's.
Strange Brew's Meltdown
An ominous eviction notice got slapped on Strange Brew's padlocked doors in January. Promises of a quick reopening for the popular South Austin listening room gave way to founder Scott Ward revealing that profits had been squandered on one partner's hellacious business investments leading to a half-million-dollar bankruptcy filing. Quack's 43rd Street Bakery unveiled plans to reopen the space as a coffeehouse and venue, but nothing's materialized.
City Botches Agent of Change
The music community has been rallying for Agent of Change, a policy to resolve sound disputes between developments and venues by placing the onus of adaptation on the newer party, but the Economic Development Department's anticipated proposal arrived DOA: not holding hotels accountable or demanding building standards. Making matters worse, it lumped in a poorly worded Entertainment License update that treated venues like registered sex offenders. Along with a disastrous redo, it sank with no community support – further deflating faith in the city's ability to pass venue-friendly policy.
Parish Sells on eBay
Five months after hawking the Scoot Inn to C3 Presents, entrepreneur Doug Guller dished his other club, the Parish, in December by auctioning it on eBay. Some called the move reckless by not ensuring the future of Sixth Street's live, original music oasis, but still the auction netted an impressive $376,000 from a yet unknown buyer.
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Austin Mic Exchange Grassroots hip-hop open mic cut the cord after five years.
Izzy Cox Voodoobilly chanteuse succumbed to pancreatic cancer in March.
Richard Dobson East Texas' "Hemingway of country music," whose songs were recorded by Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, and Nanci Griffith, died Saturday at age 75.
Laurie Freelove Guitarist/vocalist who broke out in the Eighties with openly queer pop trio Two Nice Girls died at 60 in January.
Friends of Sound Records South Congress vinyl bunker known for rare 45s closed in January after an 11-year run.
Joe Eddy Hines Extraordinary lead guitarist for Buick MacKane and more, died of cancer in August at 63.
Evan Johns Electrifying guitar phenom who fronted Alternative Tentacles' punkabilly trio H-Bombs left us in March at 60.
Jimmy LaFave Sweet-voiced Americana songman, 61, died of cancer in May – days after his emotional farewell concert.
Kerri Luker Unforgettable drummer from evil rockabillians Flametrick Subs passed away from cancer in August at just 47.
Bull McCabe's Red River's rugged Irish pub, a clubhouse for Austin street punk and oi! scenes, closed in August.
Margaret Moser Beloved writer, scenester, groupie, and Austin Music Awards organizer – who emboldened many with her encouragement and enthusiasm – was taken at 63 by cancer in August.
Charlie Prichard Guitarist for crucial Sixties Austin band Conqueroo passed in April at 71.
Barry "Frosty" Smith Elite drummer of national and local acclaim, 71, expired unexpectedly in April.
Sound on Sound Fest Medieval-themed indie music fest crashed and burned a month before gates when a cold-footed investor pulled out.
Frank Speller Renowned organist, who taught at UT for 44 years, left the stage in May at 78.