Photos by Todd V. Wolfson
by Jeff McCord
Ed Ward, one of the pioneers of rock journalism, was found dead in his Austin home May 3rd. Ward grew up in New York, where he met editor Paul Williams and began writing for the trail-blazing Crawdaddy magazine in the mid-sixties. He soon joined the staff of Rolling Stone, moving to San Francisco to become their reviews editor in 1970. He wouldn’t last long in that position, but he continued to write for the magazine and for Creem throughout the seventies, where his passion and blunt, hard-edged criticism quickly made him a known quantity.
So when Ed moved to Austin in 1979 and became the music critic for the Austin American-Statesman, it added a swift kick of legitimacy to the city’s established and blooming punk and indie rock scenes. Pre-internet and social media, getting a mention from Ward in his columns was a big deal to developing Austin acts. He applied the same exacting standards to Austin he had with his national coverage. Ed was never ambivalent; he would champion the acts he admired and offer little mercy to those he didn’t. It wasn’t long before ‘Dump Ed Ward’ bumper stickers began appearing around town. It did nothing to deter him.
Ed would stay at the Statesman until 1984. He began moving into books around that time, starting with his bio, Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero, and a few years later he co-authored Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. He became the music editor at the Austin Chronicle, and it was there that I first met Ed, who gave me and many others some of their first Austin writing assignments.
He continued to call attention to the burgeoning Austin scene, and played a hand in bringing the MTV Cutting Edge show here in 1985. Suddenly our local heroes – Biscuit, Daniel Johnston, and all the bands of the exploding ‘New Sincerity’ scene – were on national TV. Ed was also among those instrumental in getting South by Southwest launched in 1987.
Sharing his voracious appetites for, well, most everything, you always walked away from Ed with some new discovery. Greil Marcus, who Ed succeeded at Rolling Stone, told the magazine, “If you sat down with him, flowers of knowledge would open up. Whether it was Sausalito or Berlin, he knew stories about this building or the scandal behind this restaurant. He was a wonderful storyteller. The world was richer when you were around Ed.”
But he was also a study in contradictions. His copy was clean and fastidious, yet his personal habits were anything but. Ed was as passionate about food as he was about music. He was also a very good cook. The one time he had me and a friend over to his Clarksville home for a meal, the food was excellent. But there was really no place to eat. We balanced plates in our laps in dusty armchairs, watching Ed’s dog Pete run back and forth, deftly navigating the skyscrapers of books and CDs that populated his living room.
Ed loved holding court and was loyal and generous to his friends. Yet he was cantankerous. He held tight to his grievances – often editors he felt had wronged him – and would fall on his sword over the most trivial points of contention. He could be exhausting.
Leaving a lot of bridges burned, Ed would move to Berlin in 1994, and later to southern France. He would stay in Europe until 2013, his only steady gig was as a music reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air. He wrote about art, food, scraped by. And stayed in touch with Austin.
While attending the Berlin Independence Days festival, Ed organized a trip to a newly-liberated Prague for a large group of us, and his morning tour of the city was better than that of any professional guide. I always consulted Ed when traveling overseas. He would unerringly steer me in the right direction. Just a few years ago, he sent me and my family to this out-of-the-way Paris cafe that was half as expensive and twice as good a meal as any we had in the city.
On returning to Austin, Ed picked up where he left off, writing The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1, which was published in 2016. Volume 2 came out in 2019.
I wasn’t among Ed’s close circle of friends. Years would go by without us seeing each other, particularly when he was in Europe. It had been some time since we had spoken when rumors began circulating that Ed was back in town. I was in the Apple store when I suddenly heard his voice, in an animated discussion with an employee. I walked over to him. “Welcome back, Ed,”, I said. “How are you?”
“Well, Apple is really fucking me around,” he angrily replied.
This was Ed, tirelessly fighting the world’s battles, exposing the wrongs, and celebrating all that was exceptional in the world, especially in his adopted home. We’re all better off because of him.
Photo By Kate Blaising
Calliope Musicals Build Something New
Their new EP ‘Between Us’ is out 4/23
by Jeff McCord
Austin’s Calliope Musicals often call their music psychedelic, but don’t expect fuzz drones and sitars. They’re psychedelic only to the extent that their wild technicolor pop feels mind-expanding. Over the years their songs have exploded with ideas, pushing the limits of what three minutes could constrain. Yet on their new EP Between US, out April 23 on Spaceflight Records, something new takes over – call it rhythmic purpose.
“Moonchaser” is a hooky pop-rocker that sticks to a hard driving blueprint. And the single, “Can You Tell Me”, beats an incessant pulse to a joyous finish. Production is still crazy, but everything feels more in service to the songs. Frontwoman Carrie Fussell says her favorite thing about the band is that “it never gets too hung up on staying within the boxes we have built in the past. Describing the new EP (four new songs and a remix of Color/Sweat’s “Fear This Body”), Fussell describes it as “filled with features from so many people we love and played with over the years. It’s really an amalgamation of a couple of time periods and that’s a new thing for us.” It’s also resulted in some of their most powerful music to date.
KUTX Artist of the Month April 2021
Carrie Fussell of Calliope Musicals performs “Moonchaser” and “Can You Tell Me” for KUTX Pop-Up Session.
Cameras and Edit: Michael Minasi, Audio Mix: Jake Perlman, Producer: Deidre Gott
Laura Skelding looks through Samsung Virtual Reality headset during the SXSW interactive festival in downtown Austin. Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon /KUT News.
By Jeff McCord
In any normal March, we’d all be lining up excuses to miss work. Our free moments would be spent scouring showcase, speaker, and party schedules to determine when and where we absolutely had to be, while planning routes skirting the inevitable downtown gridlock. Tens of thousands of out-of-towners would have long ago lined up their hotel rooms, air b&b’s, and friend’s couches. Everything with four walls for miles around would be booked, as the airport braced for the thundering herd. Retailers, restaurants, and club owners would be fully stocked and over-staffed. Police would be putting up barricades, closing streets. And virtually every shuttle bus and pedicab in the state would have found their way here. As for the few who did not plan to take part in some way, their escape routes would be firmly in place.
I suppose if you never attended South by Southwest, or arrived here sometime after April of 2019, once the rabble retreated and the banners had mostly fallen down, it’s conceivable you might have no idea what I’m talking about. But that’s unlikely. SXSW has grown to be one of the largest gatherings of industry professionals in the world, and there’s not an aspect of life here it doesn’t touch in some way.
In any normal March.
Because of the timing of the event, 2020 found the organizers acting as a canary in a coal mine. The last-minute cancelation forced them to abandon a year’s work and proved to be a bellwether of the coming storm. By fall, it became pretty clear a March 2021 all-clear was not going to be a reality. So a newly-streamlined staff (disclosure: my part-time position there was among those eliminated last year) began to pivot towards SXSW Online.
Running March 16-20, in some ways the online edition adheres to what we’ve come to expect: a wide array of speakers, bands, and films, big-name keynotes like Willie and Stacy Abrams. And SXSW is back in their annual spring break nest. But in every other respect, this is a completely different event. Dubbed “Couch by Couchwest” by the Austin Chronicle, will you really get the same SXSW experience at home on a screen?
Yes, there are no lines or traffic to negotiate, and the online nature of events allows you to club-hop like in the early days of SXSW, greatly reducing FOMO. Plus, the price of admission is a fraction of what it usually is. Better still, one badge fits all, allowing everyone to experience all interactive, film and music have to offer.
But the chance encounters, the conquest of making it into a sold-out event, the visceral anything-can-happen thrills that come with negotiating such a massive event – they just won’t be there.
To compensate, and to take advantage of the ability to pre-record (the majority of events are in the can, though the Abrams and Pete Buttigieg keynotes will be live), the 70 some-odd showcases and other events come to you from a global variety of settings.
James Minor, SXSW Head of Music Fest, told me, “Our showcase presenters have been creative beyond our expectations, giving attendees a trip to unique locations around the globe, including a Taoist temple in Taiwan, a cable car in Northern Norway, a helicopter pad in Monterrey, a greenhouse in Brazil, and a Los Angeles highway overpass, as well as Austin staples such as Hotel Vegas, The Continental Club, and Empire Garage.”
KUTX’s Confucius and Fresh will be presenting a Breaks showcase featuring The Teeta, J Soulja, Mama Duke, Deezie Brown & JaRon Marshall, on March 16th at 5pm. Austin acts are also well represented elsewhere, including showcases sponsored by Black Fret, Nine Mile Records, and Hotel Free TV.
A personal highlight of the last few years, the Jazz Re:Freshed Outernational showcase returns, moving from its bare-bones former Emo’s home to London’s Abbey Road studios.
There’s the usual mix of developing artists and indie rock stalwarts: Hachiku, Iceage, Kinky, Black Country New Road, No Joy, among many others. And as usual, the breadth of international talent is impressive (probably more so this year, since they didn’t actually have to figure out a way to get here). Music speakers include Timbaland, Lenzo Yoon (Big Hit), Wyclef Jean, Chance The Rapper, Mick Fleetwood, Mary J. Blige, Steve Aoki, and Mark Mothersbaugh among their ranks. And of course, there’s Willie Nelson, the keynote prize that has long eluded SXSW.
Add to that the usual amount of music overlap from all the interactive and film events, including the ‘Tom Petty, Guy Clark, and the William Basinski Disintegration Loops docs, and your schedule card looks very full.
If you take part, will you emerge from the other side spent, exhausted, and bursting at the seams to tell everyone about all the excitement they missed? Maybe not. But SXSW Online puts a lot at your fingertips. Virtual excitement sure beats no excitement at all, particularly when we’re facing another spring break stuck at home.
By Jeff McCord
In another blow to our already reeling music scene, Austin-based indie promoter Margin Walker has announced they are ceasing operations.
With the live touring industry shut down since March, and with little hope of it resuming anytime soon, the company stated in their announcement on social media that the decision ‘pretty much made itself’.
Layoffs have been widespread in the touring industry. California-based industry giant Live Nation has, despite a bailout of $500 million from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and Trading App this spring, continued with further reductions and furloughs, including widespread layoffs months ago at Austin’s C3 Presents (now owned by Live Nation), who operates the Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza festivals. Keeping these companies operating has been a struggle. There’s essentially no work to be done.
On a regional basis, the purse strings are stretched even tighter. In their statement, Margin Walker acknowledged the aid they received wasn’t nearly enough to keep things afloat.
Margin Walker began in 2016 when Graham Williams, the former Emos booker, split off from Transmission Entertainment, where Williams helped stage Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin for a decade. Both companies vowed at the time to carry on with their own festivals, but only Margin Walker delivered, with 2016’s Sound on Sound fest, held near McDade TX. According to the Bitcoin Superstar Test, with the lineup set and tickets sold for the 2017 event, the organizers had to cancel a month out, due to a loss of investor support.
Yet despite the rocky start, Margin Walker vigorously snared every hip tour out there and routed them into Austin, in venues like the Mohawk, Barracuda, and others, and they soon expanded their operations into Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. . The flavor of the Austin scene greatly benefited from their taste and success. In their closure announcement, the company claims they grew to be the largest independent production company in Texas.Williams explained the decision to shut down. “The hope was that [the live music shutdown] was temporary and into summer, we’d be coming back. So we furloughed the marketing team and all the booking assistants. And we kept our eyes on the work, rescheduling all of the shows and all the bands we had booked in the spring, moving them back to late summer and fall. By the time summer came, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.”
Margin Walker did receive some PPP assistance, and at the time, was hopeful it would be enough for them to survive. “A lot of that stuff is a patchwork for small businesses that were supposed to be around a couple of months being out of work before reopening. If you have a store or restaurant, you can probably scale down and do something. But if you’re trying to pack in a thousand people shoulder to shoulder in a sweaty club, that’s not going to happen until the very, very end [of the pandemic].”
With Margin Walker closing, this means all pre-pandemic shows pushed into 2021 as well as future shows are effectively off the books.
All this leaves already struggling venues with an even tougher job. Relying on promoters like Margin Walker to provide a stream of roadshows to fill their clubs, and those that manage to survive until the unknown time when touring can resume may find themselves essentially starting from scratch.
“I think rebuilding is definitely the right word,” says Williams. “People have said this is like a war. You see the war movies where people are rebuilding parts of Europe after World War Two, this feels like a music industry version of that. There’s going to be closed venues and there’s going to be many people trying to put the pieces back together. A lot of people are actively working on their fall 2021 and spring 2022 calendars and even optimistic enough to try and make some stuff happen in the summer. But it’ll probably start small with these scaled-down shows and work their way up.”
Margin Walker’s post ends on a hopeful “We’ll see you on the dancefloor again soon” message. Will Williams be ready to jump back in the fray when the time comes?
“I can’t speak for everyone, but the bulk, I think, are pretty anxious to get back into it. We had hoped we could ride it out for a bit, scaled down to kind of a lean and mean thing, and get back in the driver’s seat. It’s been clear for the last few months it’s going to be a while. So we all need to take a break. I would imagine, just based on me and the folks I work with having done it for so long and being passionate about it – you know, if you can do a job that you enjoy and are good at it, let’s keep doing that. The hardest thing is just the end of the question marks that we all have. Typically you’re able to plan towards a certain date for any artist performing. And now we don’t even have a general idea.”
In the meantime, an already broken live Austin music environment now seems even further from recovery.
photo by Julia Reihs/KUTX
By Jeff McCord
City of Austin Opens SAVES Applications for Music Venues
Venues can apply now through January 11
On December 11th, the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department opened applications for SAVES (Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors) funding it has been promising, which includes five million set aside specifically for music venue assistance. Venues meeting requirements can apply through the Long Center until 5pm on January 11th. Approved applicants will receive $20k in relief, which the city is promising this month. With this will come legal and accounting advice and assistance.
In the second part of the process, approved applicants meeting certain requirements may apply for monthly assistance of $40k, with a cap of $140k.
The application is here: https://thelongcenter.org/save-austin-venues/
Questions can be directed to [email protected] or 512-457-5181
With Delays in Emergency Funding, the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ Hits the Eleventh Hour
As the days of pandemic multiply, so do the number of Austin music venues that aren’t coming back. The roster includes Threadgill’s, Barracuda, the Townsend, the North Door, the One-2-One, Scratchouse, and the Shady Grove. All will be missed. They are each in their own way incalculable losses, and enough to cripple most city’s music scenes.
But this is Austin, home to, by some estimates, over a hundred places to see music. Yet, with live performance effectively muffled since early March, and the touring business shut down nationwide, how any of them -including iconic venues like Antones, the Continental Club, ACL Live, Stubbs, the Cactus Cafe, and the Mohawk – have survived this long is hard to imagine.
Like the rest of Texas, Austin has never shied away from boasting about its music scene. The city adopted the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ slogan long ago. The state has a Texas Music Office, which trumpets music’s large contribution to the state’s economy. Yet as musicians and venues struggle, members of the local scene are repeatedly gathering on the steps of city hall to demand further help needed to stay afloat, and Governor Abbott is reportedly sitting on nearly 6 billion of CARES act funding still undistributed.
“My concern,” says attorney Rebecca Reynolds, president of the Austin chapter of the Music Venue Alliance. “focuses more on how much CARES money the city of Austin is sitting on. They allocated the CARES funding without setting aside money for the music venues (only 800k in aid made its way to some venues this summer, from $31 million in CARES funding the city received) and now they’re having trouble spending all of that money. And yet we still can’t get rent assistance for our live music venues.”
Even pre-pandemic, downtown Austin venues were closing, caught in the vise of rising rents and property values. A Creative Space Assistance fund was set up to help. And in August of 2019, the city agreed to distribute a portion of hotel taxes towards the cause, though no system to distribute funds has yet to be set up. (The December 3rd Council meeting just directed the City Manager to come back next month with a plan for distributing 2.5 million from this fund to restaurants and venues.)
Bowing to public pressure, Austin announced the SAVES program back on October 1st. They found another 5 million in aid to distribute to venues, with another 5 million set aside for ‘legacy businesses’ (not just music venues). At the December 3rd Council meeting, the city agreed to grant 20k in ‘immediate’ help to venues through two grant programs – the Live Music Preservation Fund and the Austin Legacy Business Relief Grant – if they can prove they’re at risk of closure. They can also apply for monthly grants of up to $40,000 that could last six months or until they reach the $140,000 cap. Finally, on December 11th, the city opened applications for this funding.
These delays have greatly frustrated the music community. Deputy Public Information & Marketing Manager David Gray, who emphasizes how city staff is sympathetic and doing all they can for venues, says “Launching a new program of this scale usually takes about six months, and we’re trying to do it in less than two.”
Cody Cowan with the Red River Cultural District told KUT News’ Andrew Weber he hopes the grant applications come online sooner.
“We expect the same thing from government that we expect in private business, which is accountability and delivery on a reasonable timescale – not excuses or pushbacks. They can do this. Nashville got a million dollars out to venues in 15 days and another million out in another 15 to 20 days. So, City of Austin, what gives?”
As the wheels of bureaucracy grind, the governor has reopened bars at limited capacity, and with COVID rates are again on a dramatic rise, he has vowed not to shut down the state again. Venues have responded in a variety of ways. Some are staying shut, others are dabbling at high-dollar, limited capacity shows, and venues are utilizing outdoor spaces when they have them. Some activities seem relatively safe, others, particularly in smaller indoor spaces, not so much.
A recent episode of the KUT/X podcast Pause/Play featured two musicians talking about playing the same show. One thought it was perfectly safe, while another was alarmed at how dangerous it felt.
“[The venues] are driven by pressures from landlords,” says Reynolds. “Some of them are having to do things that they’re not comfortable or ready to do. It’s a matter of public health.”
And a matter of survival. “I’ve been trying,” says Reynolds,” to encourage [venues] not to make any permanent decisions because we really believed that we would get this emergency funding for venues out of the city in time. But now that it’s being drug out, they’re going months and months into that based on the word of the city that help is on the way.”
For every day that we delay, a venue employee is let go, a lease is broken, an asset is sold, just to stay alive. Time matters just as much as money now. Our industry needs our city to fulfill their promise before the holidays, not after @kathietovo @MayorAdler #austin #Saves
— Mohawk Austin (@mohawkaustin) November 19, 2020
The clock is ticking. The extended ban on evictions for restaurants, bars, and music venues, something many have been relying upon, currently lasts only through year’s end.
Reynolds is trying to persuade the city to extend the moratorium. “If we’re really looking at a program that’s not going to be launched until spring,” she says, “It’s going to be too late.”