Monthly Archives: June 2015

Michael Passman: The Beginning of The End: Austin’s Public Face on Live Music Contradicts Reality

1. The Sonics at Red 7

Construction, club closings and controversy appear to rule nowadays in the venerable Texas music city. Above: The Sonics June 14th at Red 7. Currently negotiating around an unfeasible rent increase.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PASSMAN

It started with the closing of Liberty Lunch, then urban centralization with people wanting to live downtown and complaining about the music. Decibel meters were handed out and both sides complained. The cops show up regularly and outdoor shows get shut down. Red River became a musical district and clubs opened up and thrived despite complaints from tenants in new residential buildings. Then…

The Austin Music Census was released this month. The results showed that live music contributed 1.6 billion dollars to the economy, yet the majority of musicians make below the average wage for Austin. In the city that prides itself as The Live Music Capital of The World, those who make it that way cannot afford to live here and many are looking elsewhere. Club owners cited rising rents and noise ordinances as having major impact on their ability to operate. Conclusion? In a city that promotes itself for music, those who do it can’t afford to continue, there are fewer venues for them to do so, and those venues left are threatened with going out of business, not to mention less time in the evening for musicians to actually play.

Also in June, two live music venues were threatened with closure due to rent increases: Holy Mountain and Red 7. Holy Mountain is closing on October first and Red 7 is negotiating with its landlord. Prospective tenants have already toured the property where Holy Mountain is.

Then came Cheer Up Charlies. This small venue at 10th and Red River that hosts both national acts and unknown bands had a significant amount of their venue restricted so Hyatt Hotels can build a parking lot next to them. Plants were removed, scaffolding was put in place to remove rocks and plants from a scenic cliff surrounding half the property, and fencing was put up. The developers went from saying it would be in place two weeks to saying it would be there 18 months. Compensation was offered to the club owners that was one fourth of what they stand to lose monthly, not to mention that ongoing construction discourages people from going to a club. Hyatt worked with the city to reclassify a dumpster area as an alley, thereby requiring Cheer Up Charlies and its neighbor The Mohawk, which is the largest venue downtown that showcases indie acts to find a place to move them when there really isn’t one, as well as telling the Mohawk to remove its venue space to make way for more construction.

Below: Cheer Up Charlies and The Wall of Contention: Public space and storage area no more

2. Cheer Up Charlies Wall

3. Cheer Up Charlies Wall 2

4. Cheer Up Charlies 3

Below: This is an alley

5. This is an Alley

This last act caused uproar. People gathered in Cheer Up Charlie’s parking lot to prevent construction. It worked. The Watershed Department showed up and advised the journeyman that if they even touched the area, they were in violation. A March was planned and maybe 50 people took to the streets (pictured, below) to demonstrate and were given a thoughtful police escort to City Hall, where they declared their leaders and peacefully dispersed, walking back to Cheer Up Charlies on the sidewalk.

6. Demonstration 1

7. Demonstration 2

8. Demonstration 3

City Council reps are meeting at this very moment. Supposedly “ideas are being floated around.” As the time of this writing, construction was slated to proceed on Monday, the 29th of June, ideas were scaled back and Hyatt is more communicative. In other words, death is inevitable, but it will just be slower.

We know the causes. People come here for SXSW, SXSW gets bigger and bigger, people decide they want to move here, the tech startup boom is ongoing, the economy is healthy, and buildings get torn down and replaced by high rise condos. It happens everywhere. Many look to SXSW as partially to blame, but those who started SXSW were music fans themselves. They were in there in the beginning, way back in the Raoul’s and Club Foot days. I think had they known the consequences of their own success, they would have acted differently to keep SXSW about the independents and not the music industry/branding free for all it is today.

A quick look at music weeklies from around the country show Washington DC has 19 shows tonight, Portland has 14, Los Angeles: 96, Nashville: 46, and Chicago has 57. Tonight in Austin: 75. Gone is the myth that it’s concentrated in one area and that makes it unique. It’s not. Dirty 6th as we call it is mostly a gauntlet of college drinking bars without live music with maybe a few venues per block and six or seven blocks. Dirty 6th is more famous for drunken fails than anything else. Red River has nine clubs with live music tonight. Outside of downtown, there’s South Austin with good music venues spread out over a large area, one club near the University of Texas, Hole in The Wall and the on campus venue Cactus Café, Ginny’s and The Aristocrat on Burnet Road in North Central Austin, Hotel Vegas on East 6th, a few places on East 12th, Longbranch and Red Scoot Inns, both East Austin, Nomad, and Sahara Lounge, various other places such as Spider House, a few record stores, some cafés, coffeehouses, and restaurants. It’s already spread out.

 Below: (top) The Soulphonics at The Carousel Lounge; (bottom) Jack Oblivian at Hotel Vegas

9. The Soulphonics

10. Jack Oblivian at Hotel Vegas

Austin City Limits Music Festival remains, but that is a large event with mostly popular touring acts that many in the local music community don’t support nor perform at. That’s a big concert, not the development and musical incubation Austin is known for. Additionally, Fun Fun Fun Fest, the music festival that IS independent, is facing conflict with Auditorium Shores over needed space The Parks and Recreation Department does not want them to use, and Carson Creek, a concert area outside of Austin City Limits best known for Austin Psych Fest/Levitation, is facing complaints from one neighbor over traffic during the festival and attempts to either stop festivals from happening altogether or severely curtail its duration and times that artists can perform. Now ask yourself: Live Music Capital of The World?

Think about that for SXSW next year. Maybe the same number of clubs and many of the drinking only bars on 6th suddenly getting bands to play as the norm, but more clubs spread out over long distances, then think about how one will get to all these places. Think about how many shows one is likely to miss due to the extreme traffic congestion combined with longer distances that can’t be done on foot. And there you have it: Just another big city with a live music scene, except LA has more venues and tonight at least, those venues are often packing in a lot more bands.

Maybe Dave Grohl will save Austin by buying the properties on Red River Street.

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BLURT staff photographer and contributor Michael Passman lives and works in Austin, Texas.

 

Fred Mills: Time to Put the Battle Flag Away

Flag

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion had it right a decade ago.

The massacre in Charleston last week, in which avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof entered Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joined a prayer group, then pulled out a gun and killed nine of the attendees while spouting anti-African American racist declarations, has prompted yet another one of those so-called National Conversations About Race In America. Unsurprisingly, though, Jon Stewart had the most sober and straightforward response, eschewing his usual “Daily Show” monologue for what appeared to be a spontaneous air-clearing in which he predicted that “we still won’t do jack shit.” (Watch the video of his commentary, below.)

He’s right. That National Conversation will take a familiar arc—including the usual debate about the Confederate battle flag, which is a symbol of racism to many but is a symbol of Southern heritage to others—then be shelved until the next tragedy occurs, and that’s a tragedy itself. Regarding that flag, with which Roof proudly posed in photos as well as other items clearly emblematic to him of white supremacy, I’ve long been aware of the cultural dichotomy that exists.

Roof

I grew up in the South and I have ancestors who were staunch Confederates, probably even slaveholders; I also was raised to abhor racism in any form, even the subtlest kind, and have tried to raise my son, now 14, to be color blind. I’ll never forget the time he came home from preschool and happily announced he had a new buddy. What’s he like? I queried. When he got to the part about outlining the friend physically, he didn’t describe him as black or white; rather, he used a shade of chocolate to characterize the child’s skin tone, as matter-of-factly and innocently as I might describe someone as having blonde, red or dark brown hair.

I can only hope that we have an entire generation of children coming up similarly unconcerned with matters of ethnicity and instead judge others based on their merits as fellow human beings. I’m not naïve, though; kids are raised through the prism of their parents’ attitudes, so for every parent out there who is trying to make sure his or her child is color blind, there’s probably another parent, or even a role model that the child looks up to, who is imparting his own bigoted or racist viewpoint. In that regard I’m just as cynical as Stewart.

This morning I found myself searching for a version of Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion’s song “Gervais,” which originally appeared on 2005’s Exploration and is about the Confederate flag that stands in front of the South Carolina state house in the capitol city of Columbia. Sing Guthrie and Irion,

“Still flying the flag up on Gervais,

Was a battle flag, now we can put it away.”

Irion addressed the potentially controversial lyrics in interviews the duo did in 2005 promoting the album, calling it a song “that needed to be written.” Guthrie and Irion were right back then—and they are still right, now more than ever. Put the battle flag away, South Carolina. It’s time, once and for all, to do the right thing.

I mentioned that I grew up in the South during the ‘60s, in a small textile town located on the N.C.-S.C. border. The desegregation of schools in the South was happening at the time, a process that was protracted and painful and included a plan here in North Carolina known as Freedom of Choice that was designed to ease the transition to full desegregation by giving students the option to go to a white or a black school no matter what race they were. If memory serves, Freedom of Choice was in place while I was in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades, and although it was in theory a reasonable enough idea, in practice it meant that only a handful of black kids attended the formerly all-white schools. (I think we had about 5 or 6 blacks at my middle school while I attended.)

Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to have enlightened, progressive-minded parents, including a father who served in the state legislature and a mother who was on the local school board during the Freedom of Choice period. Her position on the board ensured that we received a few nasty, anonymous phone calls, and I remember taking one in which a male voice on the other end of the line growled, “Do you know your mama’s a nigger lover, young man?”

Two other memories stand out.

As a child, standing in the front yard one weekend afternoon, I watched a long line of Confederate flag-festooned cars and trucks driving past our house en route to the countryside. “Can we go follow the parade?” I excitedly asked my father. “That’s not the kind of parade we want to join, son,” he replied, a frown on his face, as he gave me a rudimentary explanation of what the Ku Klux Klan (or what remained of it) was all about. Eventually I would come to realize that some of the kids that I went to school with or played baseball and football with on the vacant lot a few blocks from my house were the children of  local Klansmen.

Klan

Several years later I was sitting in the doctor’s office, reading a book and waiting to get my bi-weekly allergy shot, when a familiar voice came over the tall partition dividing the waiting room: “Fred, aren’t you going to come around here and join the white folks?” Well, I routinely sat on that side of the room because it always seemed to be empty and I could read without distractions. I’d never given a single thought to the partition or why it was there. That evening at home my mother explained to me how many in our town believed that whites and blacks shouldn’t mingle—Separate but Equal customs and facilities still prevailed in places—and what previously had been a gradually-evolving awareness and understanding of racism suddenly came into sharp, uncomfortable relief.

That voice at the doctor’s office? Remember what I said above about role models? It belonged to my then-current (7th grade) homeroom teacher. I never could look at her again with the same eyes.

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Fred Mills is the Editor of BLURT.

James McMurtry: I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns

Wilson

For his latest installment of his Blurt blog “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” the Texas songwriter takes a look at US military policy and wonders if it has really changed any over the years.

BY JAMES MCMURTRY

 

I heard Maria crying

Late last night I heard the news

That Veracruz was dying 

——Warren Zevon

I was having trouble remembering the lyrics to Warren Zevon’s fine song, ”Veracruz”, so I went to the information superhighway for help. I found the lyrics and a bit of history on the subject of the song, the U.S. invasion and brief occupation of the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1914. It seems President Wilson didn’t like Presidente Huerta, and found an excuse to invade. Some US sailors had been arrested for wandering into the wrong part of Tampico. The sailors were released with an official apology, but the US Commanding Officer’s demand of a twenty one gun salute was ignored, so in went the Marines on Wilson’s orders. No doubt, there was more to it, something about a shady arms deal involving US, Russian, and German investors. This from Wikipedia:

 

After the fighting ended, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ordered that fifty-six Medals of Honor be awarded to participants in this action, the most for any single action before or since. This amount was half as many as had been awarded for the Spanish–American War, and close to half the number that would be awarded during World War I and the Korean War. A critic claimed that the excess medals were awarded by lot.[15][16] Major Smedley Butler, a recipient of one of the nine Medals of Honor awarded to Marines, later tried to return it, being incensed at this “unutterable foul perversion of Our Country’s greatest gift”[citation needed] and claiming he had done nothing heroic. The Department of the Navy told him to not only keep it, but wear it.

 The Major retired as a Major General and wrote this about his service in his book, “War is a Racket”:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

 

Given that Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root were the major beneficiaries of the Iraq invasion, an invasion now threatening the presidential prospects of Jeb Bush due to the widening acceptance of the evidence that it was conducted on the basis of falsified intelligence, can we say that anything has changed in US military policy since 1914? By the way Mr. President, why are we still at war?

Win R.E.M. “Unplugged” Albums + MTV DVD

REM

The group may have bowed out a few years ago, but here at BLURT the mighty R.E.M. will never die—proof being the contest at hand. Not long ago R.E.M. saw the release of R.E.M. Unplugged 1991 and 2001 (Rhino/Viacom) which documented the group’s two key appearances on the MTV Unplugged series, and they came out on both vinyl and CD. After that came R.E.M. By MTV, a very cool documentary about the band’s lengthy history with the video channel. According to the creators:

“Drawing exclusively on archival events, the film traces R.E.M. and MTV in real time, which makes it feel as exciting and immediate as it did when it was happening. ‘All the energy and momentum of both the band and the network come roaring through,’ writes Anthony DeCurtis in the set’s liner notes.”

Boy howdy to that. So we are giving away the two vinyl albums along with the MTV DVD (plus accompanying poster) to a very lucky reader. Here’s how you can enter the contest:

-email us at blurteditor@gmail.com

-tell us all the correct lyrics to R.E.M. classic “Gardening At Night”—just kidding! Tell us your favorite anecdote about the band; it can be a concert experience, a personal encounter, your first time hearing/seeing the group, etc. (Please note that we may decide to print one or more of the fan stories, so let us know if you object to having your name published, in which case we still might use it but will use a pseudonym.)

Deadline is June 15. The fan who get the thumbs up from our editorial committee will receive the swag in the mail not long after. This offer is limited to fans in North America. Make sure you include your snail mail with your entry.

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For more information please visit:
www.remhq.com
www.facebook.com/REMhq
https://twitter.com/remhq

R.E.M. by MTV’:
Blu-ray – http://smarturl.it/REMbyMTVBR
DVD – http://smarturl.it/REMbyMTVDVD