Faster Than Sound – Summer in the City: Concerts, Protests, Relief Controversy, Potentially Less HAAM

Clubs navigate show safety, local musicians soundtrack protests, and HAAM asks for city aid.


While the Continental Club remains shuttered, artist and venue bartender Eleanor Herasimchuk of Niz Graphics painted a new mural of local soul artist Tameca Jones on the wall above the venue's roof. (Courtesy of the Continental Club)

Alongside Wednesday morning's news that Barracuda closed, summer concert calendars at a few reopened venues continue to emerge. In the past week, Far Out Lounge, Sahara Lounge, and Coconut Club joined Broken Spoke, Stubb's, Parker Jazz Club, Hanovers 2.0, Come & Take It Live, and more with varied music offerings. In response, nonprofits Austin Texas Musicians and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians released a gig safety guide, asking, "Are masks being required?" and, "Are you being paid?"

ATM Executive Director Patrick Buchta presented recommendations to the Austin Music Commission last Wednesday.

"There's a lot of question marks surrounding safety right now, so if we can have some type of official guideline, that would help our entire music community," he said.

Gov. Greg Abbott further muddled best practices in allowing bars to increase to 50% indoor capacity. Protocol still requires customers be seated when served, with at least six feet between groups. Changes preceded a record-breaking number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Texas on Monday.


Courtesy of Austin Texas Musicians

Dianne Scott of the Continental Club says new rules don't change anything for the shuttered South Congress hub, which hosts a "high-risk" staff and clientele.

"As time goes on, it becomes more difficult to remain closed and have no income; however, [owner Steve Wertheimer] made the decision to err on the side of caution," she added.

Parker Jazz Club, one of the few indoor-only venues to reopen, announced the club will continue at less than the original 25% capacity due to table spatial restraints.

"Even though we can bring it up to 50%, we're not going to," states owner Kris Kimura. "We don't want to mess around."

Promoter Lawrence Boone brought music back to the Far Out's stage last weekend. The spacious South Austin venue currently operates outdoors only, with a considerable show led by Magna Carda arriving June 20 to raise funds for Austin Justice Coalition.

"It's not an enviable position," he says of booking during a pandemic. "We're not pushing it very hard. I've just reached out to a few people to see how they feel. We might have music one night a week, two tops.

"We're just going to take it slow."

Sahara Lounge owner Eileen Bristol contacted bands over the weekend, hoping to fill nightly slots. She played bass during last Saturday's return of Africa Night on the indoor stage, where some 70 patrons gathered. Customers can order from tables indoors or on the patio via phone with Austin app OrderText.

"We definitely are not covering our expenses yet, but I think it will grow," says Bristol. "I think back to when we opened in 2011. In the first year, I ran up $100,000 in credit card debt. We're here, and we're all set, but you're like, 'Is a customer going to come in?'"


Tree G Music performing at Sunday's rally at Huston-Tillotson University (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Soundtracking Black Lives Matter Protests

Before thousands at Huston-Tillotson University, local songwriter Tree Grundy (aka Tree G Music) delivered a powerhouse rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at Sunday's protest. The song, first performed in 1900, is largely deemed the National Black Anthem. Grundy's a capella take rallied a massive crowd opposed to police violence against Black people.

Sample the Huston-Tillotson alum on elegant neo-soul EP Freckled Faced Fantasies.

Sunday's massive group marched down Seventh Street to the Texas Capitol, where Austin Music Award-winning concert photographer Ismael Quintanilla III snapped a pic Ice Cube later tweeted with "One Hood." Meanwhile, Erykah Badu, Miles Davis, and Kendrick Lamar soundtrack nightly Downtown protests. ATX Flowdown residency members alternate between the Austin Police Station and Texas Capitol daily at 7pm, with organizer Sloan Fussell emphasizing a platform for all.

Vunte Ron has participated alongside other local Black artists like Rowski, Nigel Rowe, and London the Drummer Boy.

"Open band, open mic, and it's all freestyle, unscripted – really just straight from the heart," explains the local songwriter/producer. "We've been encouraging people to come up and tell their stories. With so many rappers, singers, poets, and speakers out there, it felt like an Austin thing."

Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund Opens Amid Criticism


Courtesy of Austin Texas Musicians

Applications for the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund are due Friday, June 12, at 5pm. The city program offers $1,000 grants to local musicians, pulling from the $1.5 million designated for COVID-19 relief by the City Council. Apply online at www.atxrecovers.com.

The city contracted Grammys charitable arm MusiCares to oversee fund distribution. Two stipulations drew criticism: Applicants can't have received MusiCares' prior nationally distributed COVID-19 Relief Fund, and musicians must submit bank statements of their savings.

Erica Shamaly of the Music & Enter-tainment Division defended the requirement on Facebook: "You're eligible, unless you've more than two months' worth of your total living expenses sitting in savings for no other reason than to collect interest. This grant isn't for you, but someone you know or play with who's more vulnerable."

Nakia Reynoso, president of Austin Texas Musicians, shared feedback from his nonprofit group of local musicians: "When people in a very vulnerable state see these hoops they have to jump through, [they] don't bother to apply."

HAAM Funding Shortage

Health Alliance for Austin Musicians Executive Director Reenie Collins warned the Music Commission on June 3 of a "dire" shortage in funding at the low-cost local health resource.

"I'm boldly asking you to help us," she said. "I'm concerned about HAAM being able to continue to provide the services we do to our music community. I honestly believe that music in Austin is at stake."

Due to nearly $1 million in lost funding from COVID-19, Collins said the nonprofit may have to cut services as soon as September. That could lead to a loss of coverage for as many as 1,000 musicians of the some 2,600 currently serviced. They also anticipate rising insurance premiums next year due to the pandemic.

"Beyond the moral imperative of protecting our musicians and just keeping Austin Austin, there's also the practicality of just how much losing HAAM services would cost the Austin taxpayers and the city's health services," added Collins.


James Hand at the Ameripolitan Music Awards in 2016 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Crosstalk

Levitation, planned for Oct. 22-25, announced cancellation due to COVID-19, while UtopiaFest will go on as planned Sept. 17-19. The latter says 1,300 acres at Reveille Peak Ranch will provide "ample room" for attendees and rentable camping port-a-potties. Lineup TBA.

Black Fret Happy Hour Concerts pays musicians to play virtual gigs for major companies. Funded by $50,000 from the Stand With Austin fund, musicians receive $500 per show. Apply online with Austin Texas Musicians.

Austin Country Music legend James Hand died June 8 from heart complications. Tough, poetic, and often compared to Hank Williams, he told the Chronicle in 2006, "I've said this many times before: I don't write no songs, life writes them. I just try to remember the words."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

COVID-19, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Reenie Collins, Parkers Jazz Club, Kris Kimura, Eileen Bristol, Sahara Lounge, Tree Grundy, Tree G Music, Vunte Ron, Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund, James Hand, Levitation 2020, UtopiaFest 2020, Black Fret Happy Hour Concert

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