Playback: This Is Not Traditional

Tim Kerr and Jerry Hagins remain unconventional in Up Around the Sun, plus an update on World Class Capital Group

Jerry Hagins (l) ad Tim Kerr (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

"Once, we played at a string band festival and this guy came up and asked, 'Are those traditional tunes?'" recalls banjoist Jerry Hagins. "Tim replied, 'Half of it is traditional.'"

The other half of Up Around the Sun's formula, like much of the art and music that Tim Kerr creates, evades definition. The seldom-sighted instrumental duo consists of Hagins frailing old-time fiddle and square dance tunes on banjo, while Kerr plays unusual changes and chords on an open-tuned acoustic guitar. Last Friday, as the two jammed on the standard "Old Joe Clark" in the art shed behind Kerr's North Loop home, the voicings coming out of his tiny Martin six-string sounded more like a dulcimer than a guitar and his rhythms evoked Ireland rather than Appalachia.

"I'm not playing what you're supposed to play with this kind of music – not at all," proudly asserts Kerr, who played the Kerrville Folk Festival as a teen fingerpicking folkie fond of Nick Drake, John Martyn, and David Crosby before making his name in seminal DIY acts the Big Boys, Monkeywrench, and Poison 13. "What we're playing is absolutely not in the tradition, but I think it sounds really cool."

"And I'm the straight man," chuckles Hagins, known for accompanying acts including the Barn Owls, Duck Creek String Band, and Stovetop Rangers.

That contrast, Hagins' faithful foundation of American mountain music and Kerr's joyous disregard for 1-4-5 chord changes and standard tuning, results in a wonderfully meditative combo resembling ambient music.

Both musicians contend Up Around the Sun isn't a band. The project began in 2013 when Kerr asked Hagins, whom he met though Irish and old-time jams at the Rio Rita coffeehouse, to record some banjo tunes for him to study the clawhammer technique. Kerr laid guitar over the tracks and his friend Morgan Coy surprised him by offering to release them as an LP on his local Monofonus Press imprint. Since then, Up Around the Sun has played just four shows, mostly in nontraditional spaces.

As such, it borders on the remarkable that the pair play the elegant Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center on Saturday, 8pm. They're joined by Alaskan fiddler Ken Waldman, a fascinating artist who survived a plane crash, taught writing in Alaskan villages, and published volumes of poetry, including the recent Trump Sonnets, to blend together music, poetry, and storytelling in unexpected and spontaneous ways.

The show also spotlights art from Kerr, who creates colorful paintings of athletes, musicians, and civil rights heroes on skateboard decks and canvases. The unconventional approach to Saturday's proceedings echoes the multidisciplinary lens through which Kerr views creativity.

"I don't like to separate self-expression at all," says Kerr. "That's why we wanted to do this show."

Who's Your Landlord?

In the aftermath of our Aug. 3 report about local music venues ending up on the losing side of World Class Capital Group acquiring Downtown properties, the local real estate giant pulled out of a deal to purchase the land at 606 E. Seventh, where Empire Control Room is located, confirmed the club's owner Stephen Sternschein.

The property has since landed on several sale sites for $2.5 million. That's reportedly steeper than what WCCG agreed on with owners BBD Commercial. An employee of the latter reached out to "Playback" asking to be put in touch with music scene billionaire benefactor/real estate mogul Gary Keller, saying he would like to "talk to him about the club."

In related news, the WCCG-owned building at 720 Red River that housed Headhunters before sitting empty for four years has opened as the FOMO Factory, an Instagram-able art space. According to its operator, the installation will last two months. Rumor has it a coffee chain will take over the building after that.

Also following our report, Encore Records owner Chuck Lokey acknowledged that WCCG had purchased the building occupied by his record shop back in the spring. They've allowed him to continue paying the discounted lease rate set by his previous landlords due to the shop being engulfed by surrounding development. Renderings posted by WCCG on the real estate site LoopNet show a plan to develop the 809 E. Sixth building into a glass-fronted creative office space with "immediate availability," a development more alarming for Lokey if his record shop weren't already circling the proverbial drain.

A staple of Austin retail since 1984, existing on West Anderson Lane before moving to East Sixth in 2012 (revisit "Five O'Clock Land," Jan. 13, 2012), Encore Records could shutter before year's end. Lokey, who survived a heart attack in April, is down to one employee and has exhausted his credit with many of his distributors. He says the metal-centric shop saw a two-thirds decline in business when the city added parking meters to the Eastside in 2015. An obtrusive construction project next door has caused sales to further dry up.

"I rarely see my regulars anymore," admits Lokey. "Most of my business now comes from tourists."

Thus, these may be the final months of Austin's second-oldest record store and the final chapter of Lokey's lifelong saga as a music retail entrepreneur. Now's the time to pay Encore Records a visit – while you still can.

Half Notes

Ty Richards, whose track "Western Chauvinist" was pulled from the rotation on KUTX after members of far-right men's group Proud Boys demonstrated an affinity to it, appeared on the video podcast of the faction's founder Gavin McInnes, who has repeatedly denigrated Muslims, feminists, and the transgender community. The "apolitical" Austin songwriter accepted praise from a real-life Western chauvinist, who called his track "a good, classic rock kinda jam – reminds me of Dream Machine," the band that was laughed out of town after members Matthew and Doris Melton spouted anti-immigrant views.

Jonathan Terrell spent Sunday and Monday warming up crowds for Beto O'Rourke in East Texas, including the local troubadour's hometown of Longview. "Good on Beto – he went out there in straight ticket, red state territory," lauded Terrell. "All the events were packed and there were some people with their arms crossed, but he didn't flinch, even when discussing gun control. He's got such a basic humanitarian approach to equality and fair policy that I think it was approachable to the people who went to listen." Terrell is nearing completion on his third solo album and has a new Not in the Face album coming out this month.

Banned from Kerrville: Here's a never-before-published photo of Blaze Foley, subject of this week's special issue, that feeds into the infamous tale of him getting kicked out of the Kerrville Folk Festival then sneaking back in dressed as a woman. He's holding a tube of mascara, and those are tinfoil earrings. The accoutrements were supplied by our Accounting Assistant Chelsea Taylor and Office Manager Carrie Young's mother, the recently departed Phyllis Ivey, who also applied lipstick to Foley at a Kerrville campsite. Blaze biopic director Ethan Hawke and lead actor Ben Dickey appear at Waterloo Records on Sunday, noon, for conversation and a Q&A with KUTX personality and singer Elizabeth McQueen.

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Up Around the Sun, World Class Capital Group, Jerry Hagins, Tim Kerr, Big Boys, Monkeywrench, Poison 13, Ken Waldman, FOMO Factory, Encore Records, Chuck Lokey, Ty Richards, Jonathan Terrell, Blaze Foley

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