Playback: Jump on It

Eastside hip-hop summer series moves to the Expo Center; plus, musical robots with personality disorders and more music news

Charles "Nook" Byrd and his wife Breanna (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

For many, summer remains synonymous with relaxation. Not for Charles "Nook" Byrd. The rapper and promoter turns up his hustle in the dog days to stage, often against great financial and logistical odds, a weekly concert program for Austin's underserved urban youth.

Since its 1997 inception, Jump on It has occupied various Eastside parks, football fields, vacant lots, and nightclubs. There's also been long stretches where it didn't happen at all. This year, the series moves to the largest and most visible setting it's ever inhabited: Travis County Expo Center. Jump on It kicks off Wednesday, June 20, with "Hardaway" rapper Derez De'Shon and H-town fixture Trae tha Truth, then continues on hump days throughout the summer. All-ages and free before 6:30pm, it's $5 after that.

"We have big ideas on how we want to grow and the Expo Center can finally accommodate that," offers Nook's wife Breanna Byrd, who handles administration for the concert series and its associated community programming, which includes financial literacy classes and free lunches for youngsters.

The move affords Jump on It more acreage, later sound curfews, a second KAZI stage featuring old-school sounds, and better carnival rides, but it also represents a move away from the predominantly African-American central Eastside where a 16-year-old Nook launched the program.

"The older blacks were raised on the Eastside, but when they grew up and got jobs, they moved up to Pflugerville and Round Rock," points out the Eastside native, whose grandfather operated a historic black club on 11th Street called the Corner Grill. "They raised their kids totally separate from the Eastside, so when you're trying to promote something there, the adults know about it, but the teens don't."

Nook now considers the Colony Park/Lakeside neighborhood, near the Expo Center, Austin's most dense black community. This week he'll be going door-to-door in that hood, along with kids from the City's Summer Youth Program, to spread the word.

"We have to get their support for Jump on It to survive," says Nook, revealing they need 1,100 weekly attendees to remain financially solvent.

Nook's always in fundraising mode: "Pawn shops, beggin', postdated checks, throwing barbecues, grant writing, VIP tickets. We do anything you can think of to hustle and come up with the money."

Historically, Jump on It has often scraped by on minuscule margins. When it launched, co-founder Dorothy Turner – an elderly civil rights activist, who passed away in 2005 – financed the entire first season on IOUs, then stubbornly convinced the city to fund the program. Once funding became inconsistent, Nook occasionally charged $5, which felt like pulling teeth.

"Jump on It's always been synonymous with 'free,' so people think the city's paying for it and they shouldn't have to donate, but that's a misconception," explains the promoter. "My budget last year was $166,000. The city only gave us $15,000."

The summer institution's scattered 11-year history has been, at times, extraordinary, challenging, and – above all – nomadic. Around the turn of the millennium the event was drawing thousands to the Rosewood Park area on the backs of marquee acts, including Juvenile, Z-Ro, Mike Jones, and MC Ren, alongside local talent. By 2003, contention with the city over money and paperwork led to it being held in Spiro's Nightclub, then an undeveloped field on Springdale in 2004.

Frustrated with municipal bureaucracy, Nook spent the next decade focusing on one-off events, then brought Jump on It to post-gentrification 12th Street at Downs Field in 2015 to underwhelming attendance. Givens Park in 2016 saw big crowds once more, but the following year was snake bit by freak rainstorms and a new fence enclosure that diminished audiences and created tension.

"Black people and fences don't mix," states Nook bluntly.

Thus, producing Jump on It never proved easy, yet always important. Nook continues giving local teens something to look forward to during the summer, but there's also significant cultural implications associated with its perseverance. If an event centered around hip-hop – which, like the blues, is ingrained in the Eastside's DNA – can't endure, it becomes further evidence of declining black entertainment in Austin.

"We rarely have programs we feel we can champion and hold on to. They're either temporary or too good to be true," states Nook. "Jump on It is different. It's for us and it's lasted though years, but we deserve to have somewhere that's solid."

Matthew Steinke's Deliriums

For his latest project, robot-building musician Matthew Steinke found inspiration in an unlikely source: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

"The idea of having manuals for things that are often ambiguous interested me," says the Austin-based artist, who in the past has created automated versions of acoustic instruments and often uses them in live performances.

Matthew Steinke at Northern-Southern Gallery (Photo by John Anderson)

"Deliriums," showing throughout June and July at the Northern-Southern Gallery, is an art installation combining robotics, sculpture, found sounds, and music to mimic the essence of personality disorders. The presentation consists of three instrument concepts, each representing the "monster manual's" defined categories. Consider a wall of red and white circuitry that hammers drums, shakes pill-bottle maracas, and vibrates a sitar. Then there's a bugle that honks and whirls around. Finally, a large, wooden slide flute powered by a CPAP blower whistles fearfully.

All are reacting to the emotional content coming from a one-hour loop of found dialogue.

Last Saturday's bustling premiere felt like a group therapy session of dinging, droning, honking, and whistling that recontextualizes our species' emotional experiences. Northern-Southern Director Phillip Niemeyer stood in awe of Steinke's creation:

"He's created something robotic that's talking about who we are as people."

Half Notes

SXSW has officially dissolved. No, not the massive March megaconference, but the noisy, melodic punk quartet of the same name. They sign off at Beerland tonight (Thu., June 14) with a solid farewell cassette. While a correspondence from the band mentioned "dodging the ire of their litigious namesake," SXSW Festival head Roland Swenson says he was unaware of their existence, and noted there's an older band from New Mexico with the same name.

Danny Reisch bought the property in Lockhart where his Good Danny's studio took up residence two years ago (revisit "Danny Be Good," Aug. 12, 2016). The much-sought-after engineer/producer has recorded the cream of the local crop since the mid Aughts, notably Shearwater and Octopus Project, first on the Eastside, then in the small town 30 miles south of Austin. The purchase signals a long life for one of the area's essential studios.

White Denim previewed its eighth LP, August's vaguely titled Performance, with fan-pleasing single "Magazin." The song, with its sweaty horns, arena guitar, indie-soul vocals, and unpredictable changes, reminds us that the ATX quartet thrives when one song sounds like five.

Waterloo Music Fest, Austin's first dedicated jam-band festival, beefed up its String Cheese Incident-centered lineup with Leftover Salmon, Easy Star All-Stars, and a group led by bass virtuoso Oteil Burbridge. The three-day campout, Sept. 7-9 at Carson Creek Ranch, debuts the Austin Groove Project, combining Jackie Venson, Tameca Jones, Alesia Lani, the Peterson Brothers, D Madness, and John Keyz.

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Jump On It, Charles "Nook" Byrd, Breanna Byrd, Derez De'Shon, Trae the Truth, Dorothy Turner, Matthew Steinke, Northern-Southern Gallery, Danny Reisch, White Denim, Waterloo Music Festival

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