Enjoy this playlist of the top 100 songs that kept KUTX airwaves dancing during 2020. Riffing off Spotify Wrapped, we compiled this playlist based on chart data for the songs we added to our rotation between December 2019 and December 2020. The number of plays per song was lightly weighted based on add date to capture more recent releases that have been in heavy rotation for only a few months but still feel just as representative of our year.
The resulting playlist features over 75 different artists, covering an eclectic range of genres and sounds. Boasting a total of five songs, Khruangbin wins the title of most played artist, followed by Arlo Parks with three songs — both artists also received several shoutouts on our end-of-year staff picks list. Other artists who had multiple songs make the cut include Gorillaz, Car Seat Headrest, Tkay Maidza, Run the Jewels, Washed Out, Leon Bridges, and Delta Spirit.
Consider this playlist a sonic time capsule for a year like no other.
If you like the wide variety of music you hear on KUTX, please consider making an end-of-year donation at donate.kutx.org.
— Annie Lyons
*Note: We’ve been playing the Justice remix of “Dear April” by Frank Ocean, which isn’t currently on Spotify, so the above playlist features the acoustic version instead. Check out the remix on Soundcloud here!
Hotel Free TV creators Jordan Kovach (L) and Myf Mars (R).
Tuning in to Hotel Free TV
By Annie Lyons
Hotel Free TV promises to introduce you to your new favorite artist. Created by Myf Mars and Jordan Kovach, the new virtual platform boasts DIY mentality, glitchy retro visuals, and a funky ’70s space synth theme. The residency program collaborates with Hotel Vegas to produce hour-long YouTube episodes spotlighting Austin artists that are part concert, part late-night public access TV.
Each episode is filmed at Hotel Vegas before being streamed for free online, with the venue also holding watch parties at its currently open outdoors patio. The featured artist hosts and helps curate the lineups for that month’s shows, in addition to performing a set of their own.
Before COVID-19, Kovach and Mars worked at Barracuda and Hotel Vegas, where Mars still bartends. As the city’s music scene struggled, they wanted to create a supportive platform for local artists, while providing germ-free catharsis for audiences at home.
“[Hotel Free TV] could be its own little world and a safe place to get out of your own head for an hour and exist in this other thing,” Kovach describes.
When Sabrina Ellis approached them about a collaboration, the project kicked off with Sweet Spirit’s October residency, followed by Lord Friday the 13th for November. Other big Austin names have played Hotel Free TV shows, including Fat Tony, Jackie Venson, Jake Lloyd, Pleasure Venom, Tameca Jones, Van Mary, and Half Dream.
Hotel Free TV differentiates itself from other virtual concerts by going beyond the music for a complete music venue experience. Each month involves a new t-shirt, and they produce fanzines featuring interviews from the artists who perform.
Mars explains a lot of livestreams started only out of necessity in response to COVID-19, so it’s hard to not feel like something’s missing. “We wanted to do something that was different than just a band-aid, something that was cool in its own right,” she says.
That mentality also reflects how they film and edit each episode.
Quirky homemade commercials intersperse sets, and the hosting artists banter with all the comedic beats of an old sitcom. The most recent episode opens with an extended scene of shoes tapping on the floor and a conversation about socks. Shot on VHS cameras with eccentric editing, Hotel Free TV strives for more dynamic visuals than just a stationary tripod planted in front of a stage.
Both Kovach and Mars have a history with DIY spaces and enjoy a deep love for public access television, inspiring the playful, hand-drawn charm of the project’s graphics. Kovach details how he grew up in the ‘90s on a diet of public access shows like TV Party.
“It was a creative utopia, before the internet really got involved,” he says. “The studio with cameras where weird freaks would get in and film whatever they wanted, and beam it out into people’s homes. [The] idea was, let’s just get the weird freaks from Hotel Vegas to do the same kind of thing, and figure out how to make this and show our community to other people.”
While the live music lovers both come from creative backgrounds, Hotel Free TV prompted Kovach and Mars to learn everything from directing to lighting to marketing. The process underwent growing pains, but Kovach says it’s given them a focus during a time when it’s easy to “go dark.”
“After the first day of filming, we were so stoked to be in the room with people playing guitars, and we’d forgotten like, ‘Oh my god, this is so cathartic and really fun to just sit and hear live music,’” he says.
Now that the team has nine episodes worth of experience under their belts, they hope to make the setup more sustainable with greater compensation for the artists involved. They plan to continue the project as long as they feel a need for it.
While Hotel Free TV receives a small amount of funding from Hotel Vegas’ management, the pair has been paying out of pocket for the bulk of the operation. All donations go to the featured artists. To support their small crew and additional costs, Kovach and Mars fundraise through merch, raffle tickets, and a Patreon where a monthly subscription grants you exclusive content.
Starting this month, the creators decided to slow down from their weekly episode format in favor of more elaborate bi-weekly shows.
This week, they’re building hype for pop princess P1nkstar’s January residency with The Telethon, a livestream fundraiser starting at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17. Hosted by Lord Friday the 13th, the event spotlights a slew of guests: P1nkstar, Sabrina Ellis, Chris Stewart (Black Marble), Emily Whetstone (Van Mary), Fern Rojas (Sheverb), Reno Feldkamp (Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band), Nevil, and Blank Hellscape. Then, on Dec. 27 at 2 p.m., P1nkstar will give an artist talk on trans-futurism and collaboration.
To close out 2020, the aptly themed Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Before Christmas premieres on Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. with Blank Hellscape and Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band.
Ultimately, Kovach and Mars hope to give every artist who crosses Hotel Free TV’s virtual stage their time to shine.
Mars laughs, “I just want to make everyone look like a fucking superstar.”
Learn more about Hotel Free TV and its upcoming events here.
By Annie Lyons
Gina Chavez might be having a better 2020 than most of us. Her new all- Spanish language album La Que Manda recently earned a Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop/Rock Album.
She plans to celebrate the night with a socially distanced watch party, red carpet and all.
“I already feel like a winner,” she beams. “Especially being an independent artist, like a truly independent artist, and especially not being like a native hispanohablante and not being somebody that was born in Latin America … like it’s huge! I’m so excited. I feel so honored to have my music be recognized internationally, to be recognized by the Latin music community.”
Catch her performance of the album’s title track this afternoon during the Latin GRAMMY Premiere ceremony, where many of the awards are announced, live starting at 2 p.m. CST on Thursday, Nov. 19 on the Latin GRAMMYs Facebook page. Her award category takes place during the main ceremony in the evening at 7 p.m. CST, airing on Univision. Univision can be streamed on most devices where you watch TV; find more information on how to access it here.
Watch her ethereal performance of “Ella” with Flora & Fawna’s Lili Hickman for our Social Distancing Pop-Up series, and then scroll to the interview below to learn more about Gina and La Que Manda.
NPR LIVE SESSIONS/KUTX – Musicians: Gina Chavez, vocals, guitar; Lilli Hickman; vocals; cameras and edit: Michael Minasi; audio mix: Jake Perlman; producer: Deidre Gott
Self-described multi-ethnic, queer Catholic, Austin’s Gina Chavez sharpens her Spanish language album La Que Manda, or The Woman in Charge, with a new defiant edge and sonic exploration. Inspired in part by her observations on the road, it is a starkly feminist work detailing a woman’s journey to empowerment — both a healing catharsis and a rallying cry. Single “Ella” highlights the resilience of survivors, while “Bienmada” depicts the tender moments that flourish when you feel affirmed: “Tengo melodias para calmarte / Tengo tortillitas pa’ animarte (“I have melodies to calm you / I have tortillas to cheer you up”).
This album’s been a long time coming; some of these songs have been in her back pocket for years.
“Music is our way of telling life as it’s happening. So the whole idea of an album cycle and you know, every two years, every three years putting something out is a little weird because life is always happening.”
As the project progressed, she started to notice a common theme tying songs together.
“It wasn’t like I set out to write like a female empowerment record. That sounds really cheesy! It’s more that I think, for me, I’m in my late thirties, and I am reading things like Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, I’ve been digesting the wisdom of people like Brené Brown, I’ve started to understand. I’m like, wow, the world has told women so many lies, and that’s one thing that is consistent around the world is the experience of girls everywhere. It doesn’t matter what culture they’re in. A little girl who speaks up is a problem. A little girl who speaks up or who makes noise or doesn’t dress the way she should or says things in the wrong way is called names; is told to be quiet; is told to be pretty; pleasing.”
She reveals, “I lived what it was to come to terms with the struggles that I have. Even when I’m trying to write a song and I don’t believe in myself, that’s something that — I mean, it’s universal to humans — but it’s very particular to women. And if you’re in a studio surrounded by a bunch of men who are playing instruments and recording your album, you have to speak up for yourself in a way that is often way more difficult than a man would.”
“So, it’s just like going through life and learning those things and realizing how I swallowed this nonsense for so long. I played nice my whole life. I’ve done things to make sure that people like me and like my ideas and that I don’t turn them off or that I made sure they feel good about every interaction that we have.”
Now, she hopes La Que Manda can be a “power playlist” for other people the way it’s been for her.
“I’m really excited about this album because I’ve lived the fight, la lucha, that I’ve had to bring these songs to life. It’s really the fight to love myself. It’s really the fight to be like, I’m a badass! I am la que manda, even when I don’t believe it — especially when I don’t believe it.”
Chavez has recorded in Spanish before, like her bilingual 2014 album Up.Rooted, but La Que Manda marks her first all-Spanish language release. It’s a milestone she’s always wanted.
“I’ve always loved the Spanish language. I love this phrase in Spanish: Me llama la atención, and it’s like something that calls your attention. Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved the parts of my heritage that I said I didn’t grow up with.”
She grew up hearing wild stories from her parents who had traveled around Europe for a year and a half in the ‘70s in a VW bus. “Like true hippies,” she laughs. “I grew up around those ideas of like, there’s a bigger world out there, but then I also grew up in the exact same house in Austin that my parents still live in today.” So, she started traveling as soon as she could and learning about other cultures and languages.
Because she’s not a native speaker though, writing La Que Manda posed new challenges. “It’s hard to write a song in English, which is my native tongue, but it’s even harder when you don’t necessarily have a mastery of the language and can play with language,” she explains. “At the same time, I think that I’ve learned the value of collaborating. Like “Ella,” for instance, I think we have five songwriters on that song, and that was a new process for me.”
Chavez worked with a slew of top names for the record: 16-time Grammy winner Thom Russo (Juanes, Alejandro Sanz, Enrique Iglesias), two-time Grammy-winning engineer Fernando Lodeiro (Esperanza Spalding), Grammy award-winning musician/producer Adrian Quesada of Austin’s Black Pumas, and two-time Latin Grammy winner Linda Briceno, who made history in 2018 as the first woman ever to win Producer of the Year.
She had met Briceno a few years ago at an event, so when she started thinking about the album, Briceno naturally came to mind.
“I’ve kind of been following her career ever since I got to meet her. Of course, I was super freaked out. I had the song “Ella,” and I sent it to her, and, of course, I was thinking like, ‘Ooh, she’s not going to like it.’ But she came back, and she was like, ‘Gina, I think this is very special, I’d love to work with you. Why don’t we fly you out to New York?’”
Chavez worked with Briceno and Lodeiro. Briceno brought in a whole crew of musicians, including NYC-based Puerto Rican songwriter Andrea Corona, who also co-wrote the title track after she and Chavez hit it off.
“It was amazing to have some really badass females to pull into the mix. I think it’s unfortunate, but sometimes you have to dig a little bit, especially for producers, like Linda Briceno. They are out there, but it’s hard, you know, especially in Austin. Gosh, think about it. There’s producers everywhere, and I don’t know that I can think of one female. I’m sure there are, but it’s so frustrating that it feels so hard. I think working with somebody like Linda obviously brings not only like who she is, but her story and the talent.”
And in case you were wondering about the larger-than-life, statement leotard she’s sporting on the La Que Manda cover?
“I searched all over the internet to find that thing! ‘Cause I was like, what do you search for? Like… puffy sleeves?” She laughs. “I wanted a piece of clothing that was a little more dramatic, has some structure to it.”
“I also learned during the photo shoot for this album that I love shoulder pads. Like I’m a child of the ‘80s, and I never understood ‘80s fashion. And now it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ Because I’m also a very small person, and so it’s like when you put on an outfit that has shoulder pads on it, and you suddenly have structure and you look like you take up more space, you feel powerful.”
Taking up space. That sounds perfectly aligned with her mentality behind La Que Manda.
“When you allow yourself to really shine, what you’re doing is you’re allowing other people to shine, and that’s kind of the idea of La Que Manda. When we make ourselves small, we do nothing for the world because we’re not doing anything for ourselves.”
Photo by Ismael Quintanilla/courtesy of the artist
NPR LIVE SESSIONS/KUTX – Musicians: Gina Chavez, vocals, guitar; Lilli Hickman; vocals; cameras and edit: Michael Minasi; audio mix: Jake Perlman; producer: Deidre Gott
Queer, Catholic and unapologetically herself, Gina Chavez possesses a warm, alluring voice that compels you to sit up straight and listen. The multi-ethnic Austin native has come a long way from when she picked up a guitar for the first time during college. She’s racked up 12 Austin Music Awards, recorded a well-received NPR Tiny Desk and embarked on multiple international tours, including performances as a U.S. State Department cultural ambassador. Her bilingual Latin pop spans past genre boundaries, covering everything from acoustic folk-pop in 2007 debut Hanging Spoons to simmering R&B-soul in 2018’s Lightbeam, which soundtracks her love story with her wife.
Chavez sharpens her first all-Spanish language album La Que Manda, or The Woman in Charge, with a new defiant edge and sonic exploration. Inspired in part by her observations on the road, it is a starkly feminist work detailing a woman’s journey to empowerment — both a healing catharsis and a rallying cry. Produced by a team of award-winning artists (Thom Russo, Fernando Lodeiro, Adrian Quesada, Linda Briceno), the album has since earned a Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop/Rock Album. Standout track “Ella” seeks to highlight survivors of domestic violence. Filmed during the pandemic, the accompanying music video shows dancers reclaiming spaces in tandem with their bodies as Chavez sings: “Toda la historia callando una verdad / Hemos tenido el poder” (“All of history has been quieting a truth / We’ve had the power”). — Annie Lyons
Billy Joe Shaver performs at South By San Jose in 2013. Photo by Erika Rich/KUTX
by Jeff McCord
No one personified the stereotypical image of a Texas ‘outlaw’ country singer quite like Billy Joe Shaver. Shaver, 81, who passed away on October 28 after suffering a stroke, embodied every check box in a classic country song: a hard-scrabble small-town upbringing, a life of family and personal tragedy, a charismatic and wildly colorful storyteller who was also t-o-u-g-h as they come.
Born at the end of the Great Depression in Corsicana, Shaver was largely raised by his grandmother, his father long gone, his mother off working in Waco. He was more or less out of school by the eighth grade, helping his uncles pick cotton. By 17 he had enlisted in the Navy, and after getting out, floated from one job to another, even trying his hand as a rodeo cowboy. Four years later, a gig at a sawmill resulted in Shaver losing most of two fingers on his right hand. He taught himself to play guitar anyway.
Shaver moved to Houston in the sixties and befriended Townes Van Zandt while drinking and hanging around the Old Quarter club. That led Shaver to Nashville, but he had a tough time cracking the establishment there until Kris Kristofferson recorded Shaver’s “Good Christian Soldier” on his 1971 debut, Word spread. Shaver would meet an impressed Waylon Jennings at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, and he passed on a bunch of songs to Jennings. After weeks went by without a word, Shaver claimed he showed up at Jennings’ place and threatened to “whip his ass” if he didn’t listen to the material.
Waylon filled his 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes with Shaver’s songs, and soon other stars from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash came fishing for new hits. That same year, Shaver finally recorded his own debut album.
It didn’t sell. And despite such vivid songs (and hits for others) as “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train,” “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday),” “Ragged Old Truck,” and “You Asked Me To,” despite such songwriting legends as Willie Nelson singing his praises (he once called Shaver “the greatest living songwriter”), neither did any of his subsequent releases. When Monument, the label that released Shaver’s debut, went out of business, Shaver drove through the plate glass window of a car dealership. Nashville kept their distance from the mercurial singer.
And so it went, peer acclaim and respect, a devoted cult following, but a career constantly derailed by Shaver and his personal upheavals. He first married his wife Brenda while in his twenties. He would divorce and marry her twice more. She died of cancer in 1999. Their son, Eddy, a fiery guitarist, became Billy’s partner in the father/son duo Shaver. They co-wrote one of Shaver’s best-known tunes, the uncharacteristically upbeat “Live Forever.” But Eddy would be found dead of a heroin overdose on the last day of the year 2000. Shaver himself almost died the year before, suffering an onstage heart attack at Greune Hall.
And there was Shaver’s temperament. After his son’s death, the story goes, Willie Nelson had to talk Shaver out of trying to kill Eddy’s drug dealer. And in 2007, there was an incident that cemented his outlaw status. An argument in a bar ended up with Shaver shooting a man in the face. Despite several eyewitnesses claiming they heard Shaver ask the man “Where do you want it?” before firing his gun, in true Texas justice, Shaver was acquitted of all charges.
Despite his dark side, everyone loved the man and his bigger than life persona. One of several KUT/X interviews is the stuff of legend around here, where he described, live on air in vivid detail, his botched (and apparently, unintended) circumcision.
Shaver’s status as a country music legend only grew in the last decade. Despite never being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, numerous prestigious honors and awards came his way. His final album, 2014’s Long In The Tooth, which features the Willie Nelson duet “Hard To Be An Outlaw”, became a best seller. Shaver took it all in stride. He did what he wanted, lived a life unconcerned of the opinions of others, driven, above all, by the need to create.
The need was there at the very beginning, when at age thirty-four, on the title track of his debut album, he was already looking back.
“I’ve spent a lifetime making up my mind to be/
More than the measure of what I thought others could see/
Good luck and fast bucks are too far and too few between/
For Cadillac buyers and old five and dimers like me.”