Faster Than Sound: Austin Musicians Petition for Black Live Music Fund

Black Live Music Fund garners support, Bill Callahan previews Gold Record, and DJ Jester the Filipino Fist harassed in North Campus.

A group of leading local artists launched a petition urging Austin City Council to establish a Black Live Music Fund designated for Black musicians and local music industry. The show of support by non-Black artists includes Shakey Graves, Jim Eno of Spoon, White Denim, and Acey Monaro of Go Fever, who created the online petition. In June, Austin Music Commission Vice Chair Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone of Riders Against the Storm conceptualized a BLMF in a widely shared video.

So far, the petition's garnered almost 2,000 signatures from Austin industry heavies like Margin Walker Presents and Heard Presents. The document reads:

"We call ourselves the Live Music Capital of the World – a mantle based on a reputation built by Black musicians and venue owners – yet Black musicians are the least funded and the least represented in the local music scene ... The City's Cultural Arts division supports countless programs and initiatives aimed at white, middle, and upper class audiences, such as Austin Symphony Orchestra and the Austin Baroque Orchestra.

"Now, the City needs to make a serious investment in a significant, Black-run institution to make a first, small step towards remedying this shameful historical oversight."

The petition calls for half of the hotel occupancy tax-generated Live Music Fund, created last fall, to support the BLMF. Last Wednesday, Austin Music Commission discussion continued over fiscal sourcing. LMF monies – now significantly reduced by COVID-19 – must adhere to state statutes regarding tourism. Mahone clarified that his request for half of the LMF is based on new estimates of $1.5 million total.

"I've heard a lot of push back from people saying, 'Well, it's half of the funds,'" says Mahone. "The percentage to me isn't the thing. It's about repair. It's not like we're saying we want half of all the money that ever comes in."

Commission member Graham Reynolds, who supported the petition, expressed concerns about the precariousness of relying on HOT funds.

"I would like to see that money coming from the most stable place possible," he said. "At the same time, Chaka is right [in saying], 'Let's go after money that is actually there.' We want to do both. We want things short-term, but we're also trying to set a precedent for many years into the future. We don't [want to] look back on the pivot point where the last Black musicians left town."

A new working group will continue to develop plans for a BLMF, to be presented to the City Council, as well as other music commission efforts to address historic inequality in the Austin music economy.

Bill Callahan Song Mondays

At the start of quarantine, Austinite Bill Callahan began tweeting. The indie rock legend offered snippets like this late March entry: "Day 18: pooter caught three flies. the door is open. we live in the backyard." Last week by phone, he clarified that Pooter is his dog, and his pandemic hobby is learning lap steel guitar.

"The first month of true lockdown, me and my family and my dog were all on top of each other 24 hours a day," says the singer. "I have a 5-year-old boy, and he didn't have school. It was very severe at first. We just stayed in the house and in our yard, and I wasn't getting any work done.

"He started going to this camp with just a few kids in it, and then I was able to start working again."

Callahan's latest album also streams in bite-sized offerings. A new song from Gold Record arrives every Monday up until its Sept. 4 release on Drag City. The expedited process matches the pace of recording. After a five-year gap ahead of acclaimed 2019 album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, the singer's new release came together in just seven days at Hyde Park's Estuary Recording.

"For the most part, I think records should be banged out," adds the artist. "It was a fun experiment with Shepherd, and necessary because of the way it was recorded so piecemeal. As opposed to Gold Record, [which was cut] with a band playing in the studio all at once. I was raised in the early Smog days of, 'We can't afford to be here long, so we got to get this done.'

"That's in my blood."

The new songs land compelling vignettes. Eschewing any expectations of the title, he calls recent track "Protest Song" a "playful revenge fantasy." The narrator dreams of booting a corny television performer, singing, "I protest his protest song/ I'd vote for Satan if he said it was wrong."

"I used to watch a lot of those late-night talk shows," recalls Callahan. "I was always blown away by how awful the music that they pick is and really baffled about, 'How can anyone like this, even the person performing? Do they actually think this is good? What am I missing?'"

DJ Jester Chased by Racists in North Campus

G. Michael Pendon, aka DJ Jester the Filipino Fist, has performed around the world with MGMT, Third Eye Blind, and Of Montreal. At home in Austin, the mix master enjoys nighttime bike rides to avoid the heat. As he later tweeted, his outing of July 18 ran into a major obstacle:

"Riding my bike minding my own business tonight, two dudes in a truck called me a chink and chased me down near 30th and Speedway. This is the world we live in now."

DJ Jester the Filipino Fist (Photo by Cody Cowan)

The incident is currently under investigation by Austin police. Detective Adam Torres told the Chronicle he's in the process of reaching out to nearby apartment complexes for security footage, and that no suspects have been identified yet.

"We encourage anyone in the neighborhood who has witnessed anything like that to reach out to us," said Torres. "I'm assuming that it's college-age kids doing what those people do when they're not in school."

That night, Pendon stopped in front of the Windtree Condos on 30th Street to adjust his bike lights when a large gray truck pulled into the parking lot. What he describes as a group of Caucasian men in their early 20s berated him for wearing a bike helmet. As they continued to loop around him, the harassment heightened to homophobic and racist slurs.

"I'm nervous and flustered, so I didn't get any [footage] on my old Android phone, because I was fumbling around," explains Pendon. "The truck leaves, goes down 30th, and takes a right. So I was like, 'I'm not going to go down 30th, because it's dark, and he could easily hit me with his truck.'"

The vehicle promptly returned. One man ran at him on foot, yelling, "Git, git, get out of here," at Pendon, who quickly biked away. "He was shooing me away like I was a raccoon or something."

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Black Live Music Fund, Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone, Riders Against the Storm, Live Music Fund, Austin Music Commission, Graham Reynolds, Bill Callahan, Smog, Michael Pendon, DJ Jester the Filipino Fist

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