Despite lengthy discussion last year, Austin City Council did not allocate exclusive funding from the first federal stimulus, the CARES package, for local music venues. New COVID-19 relief from Washington incoming, Austin's music entities begin to queue up. Music Makes Austin and the Austin Music Commission submitted budget proposals to the city earlier this month.
Both request over $20 million to support Austin's music economy from the federal American Rescue Plan and General Fund. Music Makes Austin President Cody Cowan, who also leads the Red River Cultural District association, said that the MMA and AMC requests aligned coincidentally. Alongside disaster assistance, both plans also mention release of the long-discussed hotel occupancy tax-supported Live Music Fund for recovery use.
"Live music still isn't happening at the pace and in the places that it was in 2019, meaning musicians and workers are still largely unemployed," explains Cowan. "We know there will be money for small businesses and individuals coming down the pipeline from the government, so we wanted to come out swinging for support for our local music workers and venues. We're just trying to make it into 2022."
MMA falls under the umbrella of music groups supported by Keller Williams Realty founder Gary Keller, with board members from Austin Texas Musicians, Music Venue Alliance Austin, South by Southwest, and more. Their plan, totaling $22.9 million, requests "continued support for musicians, music venues, industry workers, and promoters, as well as funding for health and wellness until the spring of 2022." In the proposal, the panel of experts warn "there is a great chance that events at full capacity will not resume until spring of 2022."
"Even if we're getting vaccinations, the industry is not going to recover until well into next year," says Cowan. "All medium and large venues actually pay their bills through touring shows and festivals. The local scene is our labor of love. So even with some [local] shows reemerging, most venues and music workers still can't pay all their rent."
The plan focuses on replenishing pandemic programs administered locally, including the Live Music Venue Preservation Fund, Creative Worker Relief Fund, and Music Disaster Relief Fund. It also proposes new programs to support event safety, gig opportunities for marginalized artists, and music worker wellness in partnership with HAAM and the SIMS Foundation. Their plan packs reduction of property taxes for music venues, streamlined permitting, and data collection for a new Austin Music White Paper survey, last conducted in 2015.
Extending the recovery timeline, the Music Commission identified need for $20 million annually over two years. Without assigning dollar values, they identified priority areas of music worker wellness, youth music education, venue preservation, workforce development, and food and housing insecurity. That passed unanimously at the April 5 meeting, where the group also created a finance working body.
"It's simple, it's a number, and gets us in the discussion," summarized Commissioner Graham Reynolds. "We're always late to this party every year, it seems, when it comes around to the budget ... And if we want to discuss equity issues, funding is one of our biggest ways to do that."
Last April, when much of the world mourned forced alone time, Tyler Dozier embraced it. The local musician known as Lady Dan cooped up in her family's cabin in Alabama to write most of her debut long-player, I Am the Prophet, which emerged last week on Birmingham label Earth Libraries. Dozier's wizened, defiant voice leads the collection, luxuriating in shades of folk-pop and sweeping pedal steel.
"I don't have a lot of family in Alabama anymore, because my dad passed away and I don't have a relationship with my mom," she explains. "I go hang out with my grandma, who just turned 99, but I can't stick around for too long because of the traumatic things that happened there. It can be a little difficult on my head space."
Dozier created the album's intense orchestral arrangements in Nashville, inspired by acts like Weyes Blood and Faye Webster. The singer connected with producer Jeremy Clark when he mixed her 2019 EP Songs for the Soulless. She largely launched Lady Dan after moving to Austin in 2018, ushered by a job relocation and personal catharsis.
"I moved up to Birmingham after my dad had passed away, and I didn't go back to ministry school because I was so depressed," she says. "Every day, I would remember things I had been told and then a light bulb would go off, like, 'Huh, I think they were lying to me.' Being so caught up in the religious culture, I didn't have my own moral compass and had to build my own when I stepped away."
As scripture intertwines with Dozier's lyricism, religious obsequiousness remains central to her musical origins in church choirs and a touring worship band. Acoustic build "No Home" reworks a devotional song she wrote at 17 while learning guitar. "Nothing to write home about," she intones. "There's no home to write to at all/ My kingdom fell apart."
"Lady Dan is the first experience I've ever had doing things that are mine," she adds. "In a big church group, they want you to sing a song someone else wrote and certainly don't encourage creation of secular music. They think it's self-worship, which even if it is, you should still do it, because it's fun."
Denny Freeman, 76, died locally on Sunday, April 25, from cancer. Pioneering presence in the capital scene since 1970, the multi-instrumentalist helped spread Austin blues internationally alongside the Vaughan brothers and more. The Dallas-raised guitarist anchored Bob Dylan's band for five years, appearing on 2006's Modern Times and toured with Taj Mahal's Phantom Blues Band. Inducted in the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2010, Freeman choked up during his speech and later sent his champion Margaret Moser this statement: "I was a part of something very special, and important, I think, in the 1970s and 1980s here in Austin, and there isn't much left of it now. A bunch of us moved here ... We came to play blues." Read Bill Bentley's epic tribute to Freeman, on whom he wrote a Chronicle cover story in 2011 when he returned here to live.
UT's Longhorn Band will be required to play "The Eyes of Texas" this fall, or join a different band. A press release from the Butler School of Music stated the Longhorn Band's "required repertoire" will include the spirit song, which attracted protest over the past year for its racist origins. The school also announced a separate, not-yet-named university band "designed for individuals who want to perform in a marching band ... that will not play the university alma mater or fight song."
Mohawk announced plans to reopen this May, after a year of shutter. In addition to concerts, the Red River venue upgraded to accommodate "rehearsals, recordings, private events, celebrations, meetings, classes, photography and content development." The release also mentioned new opportunities for staff career development, including "increased wage minimums, salaried roles, access to health insurance, and a formal HR program."
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