Faster Than Sound: Austin Bands for Bernie

Bands turn out for Bernie Sanders, plus a dive into the SXSW rumor mill and an expanded lineup for the Austin Music Awards

Jane Sanders legitimizes the Austin Bands for Bernie concert Feb. 23 at Empire Garage. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Soon after emerging before a crowd of nearly 13,000 at Vic Mathias (formerly Auditorium) Shores on Sunday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders first thanked the musicians.

"Let me thank the Austin Bands for Bernie," said the Democratic presidential frontrunner. "Let me thank Molly Burch. Let me thank the Black Angels."

The local artists join a growing list of prominent acts backing Sanders at his rallies, including Bon Iver, the Strokes, and Vampire Weekend. Indie rock takeoff and SXSW headliner Soccer Mommy performed earlier that day in Houston during the Vermont statesman's Texas tour. Meanwhile, over 30 local artists aligned at Empire Control Room for two-day concert Austin Bands for Bernie.

After the rally, Sanders' wife Jane Sanders stopped by the homegrown fundraising fest, which organizers say raised over $20,000.

"Bernie is going to be the arts and culture president," she declared to an excited crowd. "We believe very strongly that arts and music are extremely important. You can't have a revolution without the artists, can you?"

Molly Burch performing at the Bernie Sanders rally on Sunday, Feb. 23. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Kicking off Sunday at the outdoor rally, following sets by Galen Ballinger and Grace Rowland of the Deer, the humbling folk protest songs of Jordan Moser found their perfect setting – local urging continued action against the Permian Highway Pipeline in Texas. Afterward, Molly Burch recalled volunteering for Sanders' 2016 campaign while sharing her "love songs for Bernie" and later attracted thousands of likes with a video of Jane Sanders perched on a ladder, happily snapping a picture of her husband onstage earlier.

"Even though my social media is mainly about music and shows, now is the time," explained Burch afterward.

On Saturday night, 12 bands gathered collegiate crowds for the Bernie Man fundraiser at Pearl Street Co-op. Helping organize as DIY outlet Mutual Friends, booker Megan Cisneros said Sanders' plan for student loan forgiveness would be life changing.

"I might have to suffer legal action, because I can't pay," she shared, "[so] I'm just going to hold out for Bernie."

Downtown, local math rock mystics Hikes kicked off with "Mahal Kita" at the Austin Bands for Bernie festival. Singer Nathan Wilkins explained he chose the track in his mother's native language of Tagalog in support of Sanders' goal to "bring power back to those seeking asylum." He also thanked local activist Ben Stuart, who organized the event. After holding an initial Austin Bands for Bernie show in November, the latter says over 100 Austin acts reached out about participating in future fundraisers.

Sunday headliners the Bright Light Social Hour capped the weekend with blistering psychedelia.

Before the set, the latter's guitarist Curtis Roush offered his take on the weekend.

"Musicians, in general, have vulnerable hearts and a lot of empathy," he shared. "Part of our craft is to be sensitive to human suffering. It's where a lot of songs come from. That a lot of musicians would support a candidate dedicated to social justice isn't a surprise to me."

Austin Music Awards Adds On

Onstage antics continue to pile up for the Austin Music Awards, coming to ACL Live on March 11. The Townes Van Zandt Award for songwriting honors Bill Carter and his wife and co-writer Ruth Ellsworth Carter, authors of classic tracks for Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Austin animator Mike Judge presents, and Charlie Sexton leads the accompanying musical set.

The Margaret Moser Award, dedicated to exceptional women in the local scene, this year recognizes influential country music producer and author Tamara Saviano, who penned Guy Clark biography Without Getting Killed or Caught and directed a documentary by the same name debuting at SXSW. Country star and Clark protégé Jack Ingram offers Saviano's onstage tribute.

So far, the AMA poster also touts Blackillac, Grupo Fantasma, Hard Proof, Big Wy's Horns, DJ Chorizo Funk, J.J. Johnson, Jon Dee Graham, Lolita Lynne, the Well, Sir Woman, Walker Lukens, Kathy McCarty, Rich Brotherton, Tameca Jones, and Harry & Emmy. Tickets on sale now.

Baby Steps to SXSW

Soccer Mommy at Fader Fort in 2018 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

With the main event looming large March 16-22, SXSW Music announcements accelerate.

Wednesday, the Fest announced free nights March 19-21 at Lady Bird Lake. Slinky German pop duo Milky Chance lead Thursday with Austin's Max Frost, plus JP Saxe and Overcoats. Friday rings in Nashville country starlet Margo Price after Soccer Mommy, Austin's Band of Heathens and fellow local Whitney Rose.

On Saturday, following iterations in NYC and L.A., the Selena for Sanctuary concert series packs tributes to the late Texas legend while highlighting initiatives to support immigrants. Superfónicos, Principe Q, and the Chris Perez Project, led by Selena's former husband, warm up. The Lehman High School Band of Kyle support a star-studded collaboration with Latin Grammy winner Carla Morrison, Gloria "Goyo" Martínez of Colombian hip-hop troupe ChocQuibTown, and Girl in a Coma singer Nina Diaz, among others.

While SXSW's largest stage remains, other festival standards slim down. Not yet announced, Fader Fort returns as a one-day event at Native Hostel with a major downsize in invitations according to multiple sources. The multi-day hype convergence spent the past two years at East Seventh event space 7co.

Waterloo Records reins in free concerts in the parking lot, instead focusing on their indoor stage. After many years lining up Austinites at the crack of dawn, local station KUTX will no longer host live broadcasts at the Four Seasons. Both beloved music institutions pack open-to-the-public programming TBA.

Following the shutter of longtime home Latitude 30, the British Music Embassy shifts to Cedar Street Courtyard. Six days of music include collaborations with DIY Magazine and BBC Music. The lineup highlights two viral 19-year-olds in bedroom pop singer- songwriter Beabadoobee and emo-influenced pop poet Arlo Parks.

Other notable venues on the official track: Beerland's second year participating, now under new ownership, as well as new Downtown dance outpost Coconut Club's first year with SXSW.


Levitation returns to the Red River Cultural District Oct. 22-25. That's two weeks earlier for the individual club show grouping, which expands ties with local promoters Margin Walker Presents, who dip back into festival waters after ceasing both Fun Fun Fun and Sound on Sound. "The expansion of things like label showcases offers limitless possibilities to have Levitation weekend become a unique moment for the city," shares Marketing & Creative Director Ian Orth via email.

Brendan "Chameleon King" Foster went missing on Feb. 5 at Hippie Hollow Park. Last Friday morning, Feb. 21, the Travis County Sheriff's Office discovered his body in the water near the park. A memorial concert to the 25-year-old musician will take place March 8 at Hanovers 2.0.

Renée Zellweger, two-time Oscar-winning actress with roots in the Austin music scene, is starting a band. The UT alumna is rumored to have begun rehearsal fronting a cast of considerably less famous local musicians. The 50-year-old stepped up vocal training for her acclaimed portrayal of Judy Garland.

Why Bonnie signed to Mississippi outlet Fat Possum Records. Austin's luxurious guitar pop group announced the news last Tuesday with the title track off their EP Voice Box, due April 10. A dreamy, pastel-drenched video directed by local artist Shelby Bohannon accompanies.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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2019-20 Austin Music Awards, SXSW Music 2020, Bernie Sanders, Jane Sanders, Austin Bands for Bernie, Brendan "Chameleon King" Foster, Renée Zellweger, Why Bonnie

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