Faster Than Sound: Islands in the (Live)stream
Crossing over from 3D to the pixelated world of livestreams
Can tiny telethons, grand reunions, and great new singles drive the moment's concert alternative?
Last Wednesday, I participated in my largest Zoom call of quarantine yet – organized by a friend who's usually good at getting everyone together in real life. All the little torsos in a grid reminded me of a comic strip. When the call ended, a few drinks in, my partner and I blinked at each other woozily – thrust back into the 3D world from our new pixelated socializing.
The happy, distant feeling continued as I followed a long weekend's worth of local livestreams. With major concerts and touring possibly out of the picture for the rest of the year – at least by NYC and L.A. mayors' estimates – the medium has emerged as a last hope for musicians. Not that the format's yet proved particularly profitable for indie artists.
My four-day dive into the abyss revealed a current currency of community and just plain something to do, for both artists and onlookers. I suspect enthusiasm may dwindle in the long summer to come, but for now, we've hit peak livestream. While we're here, I'm glad to get out my notebook and take notes again.
The Telethon: TC Superstar's Tip Your Bartenders
A variety show last Thursday evening delivered as close as you can get to a night at Cheer Up Charlies over Instagram Live. Performer Santiago Dietche (aka Daphne Tunes) said he felt like he was loitering by the venue's water cooler, and "Best of Austin"-winning bartender Kathee Lozano commented that he's welcome to anytime. She had just wrapped up her own segment mixing a cocktail over split screen with hosts Connor McCampbell and LB Flett of pop troupe TC Superstar.
Owners Maggie Lea and Tamara Hoover cheered along too, and later shared that the band raised some $1,000 for the venue staff. The tiny telethon kicked off the group's "Tip Your Bartenders" series, moving on to Hotel Vegas this Saturday, 8pm, with Sabrina Ellis and Emily Whetstone. I'd tune in again just to see Flett and Emily DiFranco do choreographed dance moves in different households, like digital performance art.
Mise-en-Place: Ley Line's Single Release
Brightly patterned jumpsuits and plugged-in instruments on the Far Out Lounge's psychedelically decorated stage lent weight to Ley Line's celebration of single "Slow Down." Of all my streamy weekend viewings, Friday's release party at the South Congress venue – just the band and sound engineers – felt the most like a real gig. The group's blend of upright bass, ukulele, talking drum, and more sounded super solid traveling from the outlet's mixing board through Facebook Live to my speakers.
The Grand Reunion: Out of Our Gourds
I tuned in early to Saturday's encyclopedic Gourds tribute stream and found Jaimee Harris singing in heart-shaped sunglasses. I picked up a pizza at Home Slice, watched an entire movie, and checked back in to find over 1,000 Gourdheads still going strong. The five-hour, 30-act event came hosted by superfan Ray Yurkewycz, who estimates a whopping 3,000 fans watched live throughout the nostalgic evening.
The proceedings came closest to a Gourds reunion when Claude Bernard hosted former bandmates Max Johnston, Kevin Russell, and Jimmy Smith on a second screen perched atop his piano – creating a Zoom within a Zoom. Chaos briefly erupted as they tried to start "Pickles" over a laggy connection, re-creating why they broke up in 2013. Later, Shinyribs lead Russell's solo ramblings delivered the raw honesty of a bar-closing performance.
"I want to send all love to the Gourds, especially Jimmy," he added. "I know we're estranged, and I hadn't talked to Jimmy since the last show. If you're watching, I'm still here, man. I love you."
Christelle Bofale @ BRB Fest
Christelle Bofale's cat couldn't quite make it through the entirety of "Miles," the local artist's striking new song.
"Lyle, get down from there!" she chastised on Sunday night of Do512 and Cap Metro's BRB Fest.
The week of streams pushed fundraising efforts for local venues over Facebook Live, alongside Venmos for the artists. I highly recommend the new music video accompanying "Miles" for some eye-catching Hill Country bliss, featuring frolicking by fellow area musicians Ukeme, Vonne, Pothos, and Kendra Sells of BluMoon.
$2.5 Million for Artist Emergency Relief
City Council created two sources of funding for creatives hit by COVID-19, totaling $2.5 million in relief. The Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund, carried over from the April 9 Council meeting, routes $1.5 million in musician grants from the city's emergency reserve – ditching prior plans to borrow from the long-fought Live Music Fund (LMF). Separately, $1 million in grants for artists pulls from the existing Creative Space Assistance Program (CSAP).
Council Member Kathie Tovo began work on a music-specific relief fund following suggestions from the Austin Music Commission. At Council's working group session, city employees recommended emergency reserves be used instead of the LMF, citing more flexible legal rules for the former. On April 13, the Music Commission's LMF Working Group also voted against tapping their precious fund for disaster relief.
The new plan eases concern among advocates and Mayor Steve Adler, who argue the LMF should be protected for long-term music sustainability projects.
"[Musicians are] one of the groups that's hardest hit," added Adler. "We have to help this group survive, but we need to maintain the planned investments to make sure that the infrastructure exists as we come out of this. It's critically important that the fund – that was created with the 2% [of hotel occupancy taxes] – is preserved, because it's going to be critically needed."
City staff will explore partnering with a nonprofit to determine eligibility for grants, and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) came up in conversation. At the Council meeting, Tovo pushed for fund distribution within three weeks. Her resolution also included plans to create a city portal for livestreams by local artists.
The separate resolution, supported by CM Ann Kitchen, uses the CSAP to provide grants to individual local artists unable to pay rent due to income loss from COVID-19. The program initially began to help arts nonprofits facing displacement. Kitchen's resolution allows staff to dish out money from the program no later than June 15.
Music Cities Together, a survey aimed at entertainment industry workers impacted by COVID-19, has teamed with local organizations including HAAM, SIMS, and the Austin Music Foundation to get the word out. Results will be available to national policymakers and local advocates alike.
Electric Lady Bird, the Austin Public Library's online streaming service, opens up submissions May 1-30. The wholesome program offers a payout of $200 on LPs and $100 on EPs. Bibliophiles selected by last year's panel of judges include Little Mazarn, Trouble in the Streets, and Sun June.
The National Independent Venue Association rounded up over 800 music venues to push for congressional aid. The new coalition includes a strong standing of 23 local promoters and venues, including Antone's, Mohawk, and the White Horse. Managing partner at Empire Control Room Stephen Sternschein serves on the board.