Faster Than Sound: Black Fret Ball Returns to the Stage With $250K for Austin Artists

The latest on two homegrown music nonprofits looking to expand


Deezie Brown at the Black Fret Ball (Photo by Jana Birchum)

After inventive efforts to digitize throughout 2020 – like connecting artists with paid virtual happy hour gigs and taking part in South by Southwest Online – the comeback Black Fret Ball let musicians do what they do best.

Many making first appearances on the Moody Theatre stage, grant recipients went all in on two-song sets. After a big year of acclaim for debut BLK VINTAGE, BLK ODYSSY offered beautifully softened renditions backed by two string players. Accompanying James Robinson, dancer Chandra Washington donned a sparkly masked suit and flung $100 in real-deal cash into the air. Zach Person boldly tossed not one but two guitar picks to the mellow seated donors, closing with "Can't Stop Running."

Forced to scale back grants last year due to the pandemic, the nonprofit came back strong for its eighth annual bash. The evening awarded $252,000 to 20 Austin artists, meaning each received at least $12,000. Under the Black Fret model, after unlocking funds through recording, performing, and charitable involvement, the locals can use the dollars as they please.

The organization hopes to aid artists beyond Austin, beginning with Seattle and Colorado chapters.

"Just like we talked to hundreds of musicians before we launched in Austin, we wanted to get the opinion of a lot of people before we really took this national, and international," said hosting co-founder Matt Ott, referencing a task force formed with UT-Austin MBA students. "It's my goal that this will be an organization that hands out millions of dollars a year in grants, not just a few hundred thousand."

Locally, Black Fret is largely supported by its members' annual dues, starting at $750, and sponsorships. As Ott put it, the grant dollars recognize "the breadth, the depth, the diversity, and the badassery, and the fact that every single one of these bands deserves a full tank of gas." The nonprofit awarded notably more Black artists than past years, accounting for almost half of the recipients.

The 2021 class reads: American Dreamer, Clarence James, Darkbird, Deezie Brown, Eimaral Sol, Guy and Jeska Forsyth, Harry Edohoukwa, Jake Lloyd, James Robinson, Jon Muq, Jonathan Terrell, Lisa Morales, Motenko, Nané, Pat Byrne, PR Newman, Primo the Alien, BLK ODYSSY, the Reverent Few, and Zach Person.


Harry Edohoukwa at the Black Fret Ball (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Darkbird garnered the audience's biggest response with splashy Eighties synth single "Heartbeat," joining Lumineers-y songwriter Pat Byrne and theatrical rockers Nané as recipients of the member-voted jumbo $16,000 grants.

On both sides of the split stage, winners dressed the part. Harry Edohoukwa donned heeled boots and a sleek suit to match his action-movie-epic waves of hip-hop and rock, ending with "Zombies." The evening's youngest honoree, Clarence James' bucket hat matched delightfully slouchy, oozy psychedelic indie sounds. Electrically at-ease performer Deezie Brown strolled out in sunglasses and a jumpsuit emblazoned with his 5th Wheel Fairytale logo, and delivered the night's only acceptance speech:

"You guys have been a tremendous blessing for me and my family throughout this whole year. COVID almost broke us."

Donning pop superpowers, Primo the Alien declared, "For this song, I am going to shoot lasers out of my vagina," before "KWIW" (an exclusive off a sold-out vinyl release from earlier this year). The singer's rich tone played an excellent Cher in a triumphant finale of "Believe," alongside band leading Nané and Paige DeChausse of the Reverent Few. A huge group dance-along showed the night's wide-reaching impact, while Brown's keyboardist discreetly passed a joint to the roving camera operator.

Look out for that footage on YouTube, premiering this Saturday at 7pm, and support or become a member at blackfret.org.


Travis County District Attorney José Garza speaks Dec. 2 at the Green Jay (formerly Beerland). (Photo by Rachel Rascoe)

SIMS Foundation Fights Overdose Deaths at Free Dec. 16 Training

Over 240 Travis County residents lost their lives due to drug overdose in 2020, a 30% increase from 2019. According to the annual report by the Travis County Medical Examiner, this makes overdose last year's second-leading cause of accidental death.

Last Saturday, the "Safer Together" concert series brought awareness to the recent surge in overdose deaths in Austin. Across Mohawk, Empire, and the Green Jay, Blackillac brought a fog machine and Lord Friday the 13th vocalist Felix prototypically donned kneepads and a cape. The donation- driven free shows fundraised for Austin's SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health and substance use recovery services to members of the music industry and their family members.

The collaborative event supports Travis County District Attorney José Garza's recent effort to reduce overdose deaths. At the press conference last week, Garza said preliminary 2021 overdose data shows "this crisis is growing worse by the day and by the month."

"We're going to have to reevaluate our own policies, and potentially our laws," he said. "We cannot arrest and prosecute our way out of this crisis. If we are serious about reducing overdose-related deaths in our community, we must begin to treat substance abuse disorder like the public health crisis that it is."

As part of the effort, the District Attorney's Office pledged over $15,000 from its discretionary fund to SIMS. Since 2018, SIMS has provided free education for the music community, including training on how to administer life-saving naloxone (aka Narcan). The nonprofit offers "Substance Use Recovery 101 With Naloxone Training" on Dec. 16 from 2 to 4pm at Antone's.

To register, email Executive Director Patsy Dolan Bouressa at patsy@simsfoundation.org by Dec. 13. Trainings are open to anyone in the music community and their family members, and will be offered on the third Wednesday of every month.

"We were very fortunate at SIMS that we did not lose a single client to overdose death," said Bouressa of recent years. "But we did see a huge increase in the amount of relapses that were occurring among our current clients and an increase in the number of clients seeking support for substance use issues."

SIMS also plans to expand beyond Austin. In July, the nonprofit launched the "Founder's Fundraising Challenge" to drum up support for expansion into other cities – tentatively Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, then Detroit, Denver, Boulder, and Raleigh. The effort honors co-founder Don Ellison, who died in April and was the father of Austin musician Sims Ellison, whose 1995 suicide inspired creation of the organization. Contribute at simsfoundation.org/donate.

Crosstalk

California trio Haim played a surprise concert last Saturday following a preview screening of director Paul Thomas Anderson's new Licorice Pizza. Alana Haim stars in the comedy-drama, also featuring her bandmate sisters, due for release Dec. 25. Teasing a post-movie Q&A at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, the band opted for a three-song set at the in-house Highball lounge. After a funny false start to "Summer Girl," Danielle Haim joked: "It's a lot of pressure, okay? We haven't played in a long time."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

SIMS Foundation, Black Fret, American Dreamer, Clarence James, Darkbird, Deezie Brown, Eimaral Sol, Guy Forysth, Jeska Forsyth, Harry Edohoukwa, Jake Lloyd, James Robinson, Jon Muq, Jonathan Terrell, Lisa Morales, Motenko, Nané, Pat Byrne, PR Newman, Primo the Alien

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