Faster Than Sound: Bevis M. Griffin Teaches Austin Youth the Evolution of the Blues

School of Rock students play two events this weekend, and Stubb's sells to C3 and Live Nation


(l-r) School of Rock GM Huntley Hornback, franchise owner Bob Durham, Bevis M. Griffin, and Alex Vallejo (Photo by Adrienne Lake)

Known as a glam rock innovator of Seventies Austin origins, Bevis M. Griffin still keeps up.

In the wake of 2020 protests over racial justice, Griffin took note of Jackie Venson dropping off the Blues on the Green lineup, inspiring discussion about inequitable opportunities for artists of color. Also observing debate within the Austin Music Commission over city funding for Black artistry, Griffin sought a way to "take it out of a bureaucratic scope and move it into a grassroots direction."

"I want School of Rock to create youthful musicians who have the proper bedrock foundation for creativity," says Griffin. "I know music is a binding force and, if you can get a generation of kids on the right wavelength predicated on respect for Black culture, then that's going to evaporate a lot of that anxiety in our community."

Drawing on his own early years in the Austin music scene performing with acts like Franklin's Mast and the Skyscrapers, Griffin launches a collaborative program with the Round Rock and Southpark Meadows School of Rock franchises. The initiative, called "The Deep Roots of Rock & Blues," teaches young students about integral African American cultural contributions to the evolution of rock & roll.

"It seemed odd to me that they would be offering up music like 'Seven Nation Army' by the White Stripes," says Griffin. "By the same token, these kids don't have a clue who Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf is. They don't have any connection to what I call the authentic Black inspiration that brought Jack White into focus."

After practicing songs by foundational blues artists like Robert Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the house band at School of Rock Round Rock opens for celebrated Austin singer- songwriter Ruthie Foster, Sat., Feb. 19, at Cedar Park's Haute Spot. The next night, the entire student body at School of Rock Southpark Meadows, ages 6 to adult, performs at Antone's. Alongside other class categories like movie songs and punk, the "Evolution of Blues" class headlines with surprise guests.

"When I walk into the rehearsal room and see the youngsters churning away on 'Sweet Home Chicago' or 'Crosscut Saw,' I understand that they're basically focused on getting through this song without a mistake," says Griffin. "But over time, it'll get to a point where they're playing this music emotionally. Blues is predicated on emotion, on feeling. That's why it'll never die."

The effort debuts Griffin's youth educational curriculum as Deux Voix Apex Solutions LLC, developed with his sister Stephanie Negriff. Griffin works with School of Rock Director of Operations Alex Vallejo, also known as drummer of Austin act Vallejo. The two hope to expand Griffin's curriculum at other School of Rock franchises.

"Everybody's learned blues songs, really digging deep into the rock & roll songbook," says Vallejo. "It's a great way to enrich their musical palette, and they're having so much fun with it. Not just this month, this is something we want to always be part of School of Rock education."

Griffin and Vallejo connected through the Austin Music Foundation, where Vallejo serves on the board. Last year for Black History Month, the foundation published a series of essays on Griffin including one in which influential Black cultural critic Greg Tate wrote: "In retrospect, [Griffin] may have been the most provocative challenge to the hierarchy and status quo of rock imaging at the time." Tate, who passed in Dec. 2021, worked alongside Griffin and bands like Living Color and Bad Brains as part of New York City's Black Rock Coalition.

To learn more about Griffin's Texas roots, check out Chronicle writer Tim Stegall's 2020 piece "The Glam Punks of 70s Austin Get Up to Their Gypsy Tricks."

C3 Presents and Live Nation Purchase Stubb’s

C3 Presents and Live Nation have purchased Red River Cultural District music venue Stubb's. As announced in a short press release Tuesday morning, the sale includes the full block between Eighth and Ninth streets, which encompasses the BBQ restaurant and Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater. The press release also announced that C3 and Live Nation "will immediately begin improvements to the venue and surrounding land, all while maintaining the beloved Stubb's experience."

Stubb's General Manager Ryan Garrett, a 22-year veteran at the venue, declined to comment to the Chronicle. C3 principal Charles Attal has been involved in Stubb's since it opened in 1996 and was part of the partnership that sold the business and property to the concert promotions company he co-founded, which became part of Live Nation in a 2014 deal. The press release included the following quote from C3 Presents Promoter Amy Corbin, noting the new owners' decades booking the major venue.

"The C3 team has handled booking for the past 26 years, and most of the dedicated staff have been working there for most of their careers. It's part of our DNA as Austinites, and we intend to carry on the outstanding legacy and experience fans have come to know and love over the years. We are really excited to get to work on upgrading the current space to enhance the overall experience for both artists and fans."

Crosstalk

Britt Daniel spoke with Chronicle writer Austin Powell last week, just ahead of the release of Spoon's 10th album Lucifer on the Sofa on Matador Records. On the recent 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction nominees, sans Spoon, Daniel said: "If Iron Maiden hasn't made it in yet, I'm not surprised we haven't been nominated. I think we oughta, but I don't know the odds." To hear the bandleader shout-out Matt's El Rancho and more, find the full interview on our Daily Music blog.

Mohawk hosted the "Rally for Our Future" last Sunday to get out the vote for congressional candidate Greg Casar, following a stop at San Antonio music venue Paper Tiger. In addition to star speaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, musical stylings were provided by Austin's Selena tribute band Bidi Bidi Banda and Banda 512, including members of Austin FC supporters' section band La Murga de Austin. AOC posted a video dancing to "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" with the caption: "Ted Cruz could never."

Old Settler's Music Festival announced its full lineup last Tuesday, adding Tejano accordionist Flaco Jiménez to perform with Los Texmaniacs. Austin talents like Brownout's Latin funk, Sir Woman's smooth soul, and Brennen Leigh's folk songwriting join the 35th anniversary lineup, taking place April 21-24 in Tilmon, about an hour south of Austin. Single-day tickets are on sale now, including previously announced headliners Del McCoury Band, Railroad Earth, Galactic, and Leftover Salmon.

SXSW announced new musicmaking keynote speakers Lizzo and Beck Tuesday morning, with wristbands also now on sale for Austin residents. Wristbands for music (March 14-19) cost $169, while wristbands for film (March 11-21) run $120. All participants in the in-person event will be required to provide proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test "in order to collect and maintain their credentials." The festival also recommends that all credentialed participants use the CLEAR App Health Pass for easy entry.

The Blind Café Experience, an interactive experience entirely in the dark, returns to Austin, Feb. 17-19 at the American Legion Charles Johnson House. In 100% darkness, each night includes a "social impact discussion" with blind ambassadors, as well as a community dinner and listening experience – particularly music by Richie Flores and Rosh & the Blind Cafe Orchestra. $85 tickets are on sale now at theblindcafe.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Bevis M. Griffin, School of Rock, Alex Vallejo, Ruthie Foster, Stubb's, C3 Presents, Charles Attal, Live Nation, Amy Corbin, Blind Cafe

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