Faster Than Sound: Austin Music Industry Awards Grow Into Emo’s

Berkshire Hounds back a piano-smashing good time, non-Spring Break SXSW needs more volunteers, and Bayonne brings his piano home

Cheer Up Charlies' Best Booker Trish Connelly gave a moving acceptance speech about local music industry support throughout her recent health hardships. (Photo by John Anderson)

If getting ribbed by Waterloo Records owner John Kunz is a local rite of passage, then Sunday night at the Austin Music Industry Awards, I earned the merit badge. I also won Best Music Writer.

The 37-time Best Record Store winner found my Miss America astonishment amusing, so he riffed on my thanks to Chronicle Music Editor Raoul Hernandez for trusting a 22-year-old with this weekly column. Meanwhile, Best Poster Artist winner Billie Buck poured me a plastic cup of wine in the green room.

The night kicked off with Kevin Curtin's genius entrance on Austin's most berated transportation option. My column predecessor, atop a Bird electric scooter and flanked by Riverboat Gamblers/Drakulas frontman Mike Wiebe on a Lime edition, set the mood for entertainment over an awards show. The co-hosting duo pulled off a 90-minute celebration neither stuffy nor fluffy, marking the event's first-ever occupation of local institution Emo's.

The five-year-old Austin Music Awards spin-off increased attendance by switching to surprise announcements. In previous years, winners knew ahead of time, and Curtin and Wiebe didn't get to fling discarded envelopes at the crowd.

A returning house band comprising former Berkshire Hounds duo Jim Campo (Magic Rockers of Texas) and Spencer Garland (PR Newman) with Brendan Bond and Jeff Olson carried the night with on-point cover customizations. Campo aped Kurt Cobain for Rock N Roll Rentals walk-on "Rent Me," and the Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" converted to "I would walk 4.5 miles/ And I would walk 4.5 more" for Nine Mile Records' win.

Before the off-color humor, Chronicle co-founder Louis Black ushered in the night's main sentiment on industry workers: "If you're into money, you're sadly mistaken. They're in it for the music." Best Radio Personality select Laurie Gallardo later expanded that: "To call this a job isn't fair. To call this a living ... this is truly living."

Best Austin Music Photographer pick Ismael Quintanilla distilled the good vibes of all nominees being announced onstage this year, referencing his fellow photog contenders by adding, "One hundred years from now, their work is going to be seen as Austin music history."

Afterparty performer/one-man marvel Mobley presented Best Music Festival with the concise rhetorical, "What can I say about music festivals that hasn't already been said about gentrification?" Enter two representatives from C3 Presents, grabbing the plaque for ACL Fest.

Mayor Steve Adler, introduced by host-roasting over the day's Austin Marathon gridlock, welcomed KUTX host Jody Denberg to the Austin Music Industry Hall of Fame. His colleague and longtime Chronicle contributor Jay Trachtenberg eloquently accepted for his absentee radio bud, who opted to attend Yoko Ono's 86th birthday instead.

To finish, Richard Linklater collaborator Graham Reynolds nabbed the debut accolade for Best Television/Film Composer. Emulating the award winner's past performance piece – destruction of a red piano – band member Garland enthusiastically demolished a Charlie Brown-sized instrument with a crowbar.

The smashing event perfectly capped an upbeat, essential opportunity to honor Austin's behind-the-scenes music community.

Spring Breakup

This year, breaking from long-running alignment, South by Southwest runs March 8-17, while UT spring break follows March 18-22. Austin ISD, Austin Community College, and St. Edward's also take off the same weekdays as the Longhorns. SXSW Music specifically goes March 11-17.

In addition to an assured traffic heartache, the non-overlap presents a shortage of help for the festival. Tami Richter, director of Event Staffing & Resources, says South By is "definitely going to miss some of our wonderful volunteers this year who are teachers, students, administrators, and parents."

While volunteer interest remains on par with 2018, indicated by online registration, the Fest is "slightly down" in the number of volunteers who have committed to shifts during Music week. Sign-up currently sits at around 1,800 volunteers, and Richter hopes to "make up some of the deficit" at the final volunteer call this Saturday, Feb. 23, 3-5pm.

St. Ed's freshmen Aryana Imani and Mariana Valencia lined up at the Austin Convention Center on Feb. 10, joining about 500 others who signed up for shifts that day. The first-time volunteers planned to ask professors if they can miss class for the Festival.

"Half of my teachers will probably be cool with it, and the other ones will be like, 'Not on my time,'" predicts Valencia.

Imani adds: "[Teachers] all encourage us to work and get out in Austin, and this is it. They shouldn't make it a big deal, so I'm going to try."

As a recent UT grad myself, I imagine group project PowerPoints would have definitely restricted my prerogative to get day-drunk and see Thee Oh Sees for the umpteenth time. On the career-building outlook, I fell for local music, filmed at the crack of dawn interning with KUTX Live at the Four Seasons, and eventually tried out my current gig as a Chronicle concert scribbler during the annual music week.

So, I checked in with the Tower about attendance policies for the week. UT Media Relations Director J.B. Bird shared a message the provost office sent to all faculty, advising, "If you are teaching courses that might benefit from relevant learning experiences the festival may offer, we encourage you to consider them for your students."

Beyond that, it's up to individual students and their professors. Bird says the scheduling snafu (an "unfortunate accident") occurred because UT's faculty scheduling committee was unaware of the SXSW 2019 dates, which had not been publicly announced at the time of their planning. To prevent future issues, he says SXSW team members will now serve as stakeholders in the process.

"No one could say, 'Well, for the next 20 years they'll sync up,'" Bird states. "We don't have that foresight, but I know the faculty and the university strongly value the connection to South by Southwest. It's going to be a top-of-mind consideration."

Roger Sellers (performing here as Bayonne) earlier this month at Mohawk (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Piano Man

Roger Sellers recently underwent the careful task of relocating a piano from his parents' house in Spring to his Austin home studio. The local loop magician recorded layers of new album Drastic Measures on the sentimental upright instrument, previously situated in his childhood bedroom on Bayonne Drive.

"My parents were like, 'All right, it's time,'" the artist explains. "It's kind of sad because the piano's here with me now, but I'll still always go [to Spring] when I need a bit of solitude."

Before stealing his mom and dad's street name to put out work with Mom + Pop Music, Sellers mimicked Ben Folds Five tracks on the keyboard as an early tween. "Like Thom Yorke from Radiohead, you can always hear his piano, or Sufjan Stevens has one that he uses," Sellers points out. "My piano is all over my songs like a standard, signature tone."

Experimental rock influence shows up in the producer's hypnotic, electronically founded sophomore work as Bayonne, out Feb. 22. The collection endeavors to capture "the crazy highs and the crazy lows" of extended touring over the past few years.

"Touring can feel like an escape, but lately I've been thinking about it like hauling a trailer," advises the singer. "Once it stops, all that stuff you've been running from is just gonna absolutely nail you."

Packed live dates kept the performer away from regular, non-festival headlining dates in Austin for many years. Bayonne's Feb. 15 release show sold out Mohawk indoors on album presale ticket bundles, proving sustained local interest in the former folk singer. His swap to electronica around 2014 prompted the ubiquitous sticker reminders that "Roger Sellers is not a DJ."

"When I come home, a lot of people still refer to me as Roger, and I like that," he says. "Nowhere else knows my name."

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2018 / 19 Austin Music Industry Awards, 2018 / 19 Austin Music Awards, SXSW Music 2019, Kevin Curtin, Mike Wiebe, Riverboat Gamblers, John Kunz, Waterloo Records, Berkshire Hounds, Roger Sellers, Bayonne

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