Faster Than Sound – Beerland & Beyond: The Year in Music News
Squeezing out the decade’s end in local music headlines
The morning of May 28, Beerland owner Richard Lynn announced the sale of the 18-year-old punk club to an unnamed buyer in a press release. An opposing post from venue employees then exploded online, declaring a strike due to unpaid wages since March. The ensuing gamut of gossip and solidarity kicked off local music's defining 2019 uproar.
Beerland proved our perfect storm. The situation intersected millennial interest in labor organization and widespread anxiety over Red River venue closures. Employees of the venue and Lynn's Super Secret record label attributed Beerland's messy demise to overspending on big headliners, too many album releases, and philanthropic efforts.
While the galvanized community raised some $18,000 to pay back workers, the Red River hub remained shuttered. After a summer of uncertainty, Stubb's General Manager Ryan Garrett confirmed takeover of the lease in October. Via new local music website Noises and Signals, the Red River Cultural District advocate later expressed plans to keep the club's name and prompted backlash from original workers.
The newly renovated lounge will include antique chandeliers, tin ceiling panels, and only 100 nights of music annually. Essentially, the model developed by Garrett and partners will sneak in music around more profitable availability as an event space. Though still closed, a recent Free Week poster listed the venue.
Meanwhile, Lynn continues to haunt tweets and comment threads on the subject.
Black Pumas Break Out
The Black Pumas' supersonic rise launched with a residency at C-Boy's Heart & Soul circa February 2018 for a $5 entry. Riding high off sleek soul single "Black Moon Rising," frontman Eric Burton and Grammy-winning guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada nabbed the Austin Music Awards' coveted Best New Band a year later. Last month, following three sold-out evenings at Mohawk in August, they landed a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. The not-yet-2-year-old group stands alongside household names Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, and Lizzo.
In that wake, the Los Angeles Times called them the "most mysterious new artist nominee." On The New York Times' Popcast, veteran critic Jon Pareles aptly analyzed: "It's a studio rat guitarist who found a busker on the street who could sing like Al Green. ... They were considered the stars of South by Southwest, which happens to be in Austin."
During Thanksgiving football, a Bank of America commercial used "Colors," which Burton told the Chronicle he penned a decade ago while learning guitar. The breakout band recently donated their $20,000 grant from Black Fret back to the local organization, bumping up other winners' bundles.
Historic City Funding for Music
In an unprecedented effort by advocates to turn out the music vote, the defeat of Proposition B in November's election primed city bureaucracy to eventually churn out an estimated $3 million annually to support commercial music. This stands as the first-ever source of ongoing public funding for the industry. The Austin Music Commission is gathering community feedback as to how the monies should be used and are hopefully wrapping up the separate task of divvying up a $12 million bond package for "creative space acquisition and improvements," approved last November.
Also for the first time, the city's Creative Space Assistance Program awarded grants to for-profit art spaces, including various music venues. In early 2019, nonprofit Music Venue Alliance Austin made their initial foray into the statehouse with the Texas Music Incubator Program, branded as a savior for statewide honky-tonks via rebates on mixed beverage taxes. After passing in the House, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick blocked it.
Venue Births & Deaths
Enacting the most surefire method of venue sustainability, Empire Control Room owner Stephen Sternschein and partners purchased their longtime location in August. Last year's fan antics facilitated the celebratory occasion. After the Chronicle reported purchase plans by Austin real estate magnate Nate Paul, community members posted his cell number online, pushing him to pull out.
New to the venue map, the Far Out Lounge began booking in South Austin under the curatorial efforts of Lawrence Boone (aka Covert Curiosity). Dreamt up by Cheer Up Charlies alums Brian Almaraz and Cole Evans, the Coconut Club opened its rooftop dance space last weekend at 310 Colorado, formerly Moonfire Lounge. Fitting into time-honored counterculture at Elysium, Tuesday dance party Cut Up! added a queer residency to Red River.
On the closing end: Following alleged sexual misconduct by Spider House co-owner John Dorgan, owner Conrad Bejarano boldly announced in February that long-running Spider House Ballroom would no longer house live music, converting to an arcade bar. They've since continued regular comedy and just a few music shows. Storied rehearsal space Music Lab's Oltorf location shut down in May, consolidating to Saint Elmo Road. In November, Eastside songwriter's bar Hard Luck Lounge shut down after five years, citing rent increases.
523 Thompson Rides Again
Catching heavy and electronic sounds displaced by Beerland's shutter and Kinda Tropical's early 2019 hiatus, DIY space 523 Thompson hosted experimental bookings near the airport. After 14 months on Thompson Lane, including a show collab with Vans, core duo Patrick Lehman and Andrew Malesky vacated the space last week to avoid city fines for anonymous complaints.
They've signed a two-year lease on a similar warehouse at 937 Reinli. The first relocated show lands Friday, Dec. 20, with like-minded abrasives Street Sects, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, and Glassing.
Circuit of the Americas' major concert locale, previously called Austin360 Amphitheater, will henceforth be known as the Germania Insurance Amphitheater in a seven-year naming rights deal. Probably safe to stick with "COTA," but maybe "The Germ" will catch on?
Also this month, the forthcoming replacement for the Frank Erwin Center finally got its own unexciting title: the Moody Center. Planned for a parking lot south of the Mike A. Myers Stadium, the basketball arena/Live Nation concert space is so-called for the Galveston-based Moody Foundation.
Undoubtedly due for some Lyft confusion, Downtown's ACL Live at the Moody Theater looks to be acquired by Ryman Hospitality Properties, owners of Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, who plan to buy the entire Block 21 development, including the W Austin Hotel.
Top 10 Austin
1) Hovvdy, Heavy Lifter (Double Double Whammy)
2) Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (Drag City)
3) Lou Rebecca, Restless (Holodeck)
4) Christelle Bofale, Swim Team (Father/Daughter)
5) Dallas Acid, The Spiral Arm(All Saints)
6) Jordan Moser, Long Night (Keeled Scales)
7) Being Dead, Fame Money Death by Drive By (Austin Town Hall)
8) Mike Melinoe, Clajidu
9) Daphne Tunes, Volume 2 (Uncool)
10) Eimaral Sol, Sol Soliloquies