Faster Than Sound: City of Austin Delays Venue Funding – Again

Live music venues have asked for dedicated COVID-19 relief since March, but the city says applications won’t open until next year.

Austin musician Sonya Jevette spoke at the third Come & Save It rally at City Hall on Nov. 19. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Millions of dollars remain designated, but the money to sustain Austin's live music venues never arrives. For venue owners and advocates, who have endured lip service from Council since the March cancellation of South by Southwest, the latest hit came in a recent city memo. The update announced applications for venue aid won't open until mid-to-late January.

"Venues cannot wait that long," declared Nakia Reynoso of Austin Texas Musicians during a rally last Thursday at City Hall. "[The city] moves the carrot time and time again. If they really care about the 'Live Music Capital of the World,' the way they market it in every brochure and commercial, then where is the money?"

Wearing black, music industry workers gathered to push for speedy distribution of funds under the SAVES Resolution. Passed Oct. 1, the effort promised $5 million for music venues, alongside another $5 million for eligible "legacy businesses," including venues and restaurants. The event marked the third rally for venue funding organized by Austin Texas Musicians and the Amplified Sound Coalition, groups respectively made up of musicians and event workers.

"There eventually will be a vaccine. The problem is that we need venues to play at when that happens," said local bandleader Scott Strickland. "If these venues are closed because the city didn't do its job, then the musicians are out of work. That is a huge problem."

So far, relief dollars granted to venues have been in competition with businesses citywide under the Small Business Relief and Creative Space Disaster Relief programs. At the rally, ASC co-founder Jeannette Gregor, a laid-off Mohawk bartender, read the names of cities that have managed to dole out venue-specific preservation monies. Nashville, Houston, Denver, Oklahoma City, and St. Paul made the list.

Kevin Russell, aka Shinyribs (left), and Nakia Reynoso speak at the Nov. 19 "Come and Save It" rally. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

"Why aren't we leading the country in venue funding?" she asked. "Not only did these cities see the bleak future of their event community, not only did they set aside funding for job sustainability, but they acted quickly and dispersed the funds. City management [here] has done nothing."

She also criticized requirements that venues undergo orientation and "technical assistance" programs to unlock SAVES funding. Under current plans, clubs first apply for emergency grants up to $20,000. Then they have to undergo small business training before applying for additional grants up to $40,000 per month, totaling up to $140,000 over six months.

The rules reflect Mayor Steve Adler's wishes to improve venues' long-term sustainability, quite a task considering the uncertain state of live music nationally. The mayor's office provided an urgent statement to ATM ahead of the rally, pressing the city manager "to immediately connect with targeted venues and provide a timeline and application for City support." City management must also contend with how to distribute funds equitably.

As recommended by the Austin Music Commission, entities must present a detailed equity plan in the application process. Alongside required training on systemic racism, program plans suggest residencies for "emerging artists of color," internships, and collaboration with BIPOC talent buyers. Council votes on specifics Dec. 3.

Addressing the outcry, the latest city document states: "[Economic Development Department] staff recognize the community's needs are immediate and pressing, and staff will work with the selected third-party entities to launch the program as soon as practically possible."

Rallying workers urged music fans to contact civic leaders ahead of next Thursday's meeting, hoping to roll out venue aid before the New Year. In a purple Santa suit, Shinyribs' frontman Kevin Russell wrote his naughty list on a whiteboard: City Manager Spencer Cronk, the EDD, and City Council.

"Ho, ho, ho, let the money flow!" he shouted. "There will be no more music venues. Music is leaving your city. Is that what you want for Christmas?"

Black Live Music Fund Mobilizes for Local Music Grants

Fundraising is now open for the new Black Live Music Fund, launched by Chaka Mahone within the nonprofit Austin Community Foundation. According to the donation form, funds "help build an economic, social, and cultural infrastructure that will sustain Black Austin musicians for years to come." Black Fret kicked off with a contribution of $10,000.

On Nov. 13, Mahone streamed live on his hip-hop project Riders Against the Storm's Facebook page to detail the evolution of the campaign.

"When COVID hit, people scrambled to find funds for musicians going through financial struggle," he said. "I was here for all that conversation, but I didn't hear a conversation about how hard it is to be a Black musician in Austin. If it's hard for folks the industry is set up for, what about the folks it's not set up for?"

As vice chair of the Austin Music Commission, he pitched the fund to the group in June, amidst nationwide protests over systemic racism. The idea, to utilize half of the music industry-designated Live Music Fund to support Black musicians and organizations, passed unanimously. In October, he expanded use of half of the civic stockpile generally to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) musicians and organizations in another unanimously-passed item.

Dashing prior plans, the BLMF now shifts to the private sector, with a goal of raising $50,000 in the next six months. Mahone hopes to begin distributing grants of $2,000-2,500 to music workers in the same time frame. Further goals include an online platform to showcase Black musicians in Austin and a Black-owned music venue.

Previously, Mahone raised over $60,000 for essential workers and artists of color through his organization Diversity Awareness and Wellness in Action (DAWA).


Screengrab by Rachel Rascoe

Gina Chavez net her first Latin Grammy nomination for May EP La Que Manda. Though Fito Páez took home Best Pop/Rock Album at last week's awards, the preshow featured a high-energy performance of Chavez's title track with a sixpiece group of percussionists and vocalists. Antone's celebrated the Austin native with a congratulatory marquee. Hear her nominated tracks during local nonprofit HOME's "HOME Cookin' for the Holidays" benefit livestream this Friday, as well as Dec. 4 at Bass Concert Hall Plaza.

Balmorhea, the multi-instrumental pairing of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, signed to powerhouse German label Deutsche Grammophon. The world's oldest sustained record company, now part of Universal, works with select classical composers. Until now, local imprint Western Vinyl supported the band over six exploratory full-lengths. Press release promises a follow-up to 2017's Clear Language: "In recent years, Lowe and Muller have returned to their roots, retreating to remote corners of Texas to write new music as a duo."

KMFA relocated to a new 18,000-square-foot facility in East Austin's Hatchery development, tripling the size of the classical station's longtime North Lamar home. A new 100-seat space, the Draylen Mason Music Studio, honors the 17-year-old musician and tragic victim of the 2018 Austin package bombings. A free concert of A Charlie Brown Christmas broadcasts online and doubles as an unveiling on Dec. 11 and 13.

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