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The 41st spring Pecan Street Festival (PSF) takes place this Saturday and Sunday on Sixth Street (formerly known as Old Pecan Street). The twice-yearly event boasts hundreds of artisanal vendors, food stalls and a ton of local, live music on three stages. The PSF is the largest, and longest-running Texas’ music festival of it’s kind.The festival is free for all ages.
Organizers encourage attendees to leave their cars at home and take public transport, ride share, bike or carpool to the event. Capital Metro just announced extended hours from 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday during the event. Attendees are strongly encouraged to explore the live music offerings. Some of our picks include; Blushing, Lola Tried, Los Coast, Ex Romantika, The Gary, Jane Ellen Bryant and El Tule. The entire lineup and set times can be found on the PSF website.
We talked to Ryan Cano, the festival Music Director about how things have changed since he took the helm four years ago. As a music manager, booking agent and former musician for over 20 years, Cano possesses both the experience and intelligence necessary to carve out a career in the Austin music industry. He has operated music booking and management company, The Loyalty Firm for almost 15 years. That is no small feat as you’ll learn below.
365 Things: You’ve been booking Pecan Street Festival for few years now. How long has it been? How has your approach to booking the event changed from the first one until now?
Ryan: It’s been close to four adventurous years with the Pecan Street Festival! I’m not sure my process has changed too drastically since I became the Music Director & Talent Buyer here. I’d say I just fine tuned my processes as I went along. I was pretty well-served by creating and producing hundreds of smaller concerts over the years before earning this role.
I first started at the festival back in June 2014 so there was not a lot of time to book and deliver a Fall lineup. Mentally compartmentalizing my new challenge with the festival allowed me to relax and face booking the festival confidently. I told myself this is much like booking and producing 10 concerts at once except there will be a staff of people ready to assist me if I needed help. I quickly found my groove here and was able to organize and tackle my responsibilities fairly well. It shouldn’t be too surprising that my first festival at PSF was largely booked with artists I had prior experience working with in some capacity.
I manage My Education and Built By Snow and they’ve played with a lot of very talented artists over the years so there were alot of prior relationships I was able to reach out to. There was some initial first time’s bookings outside the scope of my knowledge in that first fest and I leaned on artist suggestions from other concert promoters and journalists in town who were curating or covering scenes I wasn’t as experienced in. I would then listen to the suggested music and then see the artist live and just go from there. Before I started booking my second festival at PSF, I did some professional self-evaluation, focusing heavily on filling in the gaps in my knowledge and learning more about our community’s music scenes that I felt I didn’t know intimately enough. This process really opened up my eyes to the extent that music talent surrounds all of us in Austin. It’s pretty astounding. I have a wishlist of artists I would like to have at Pecan Street Festival that could fill the next several years of lineups fairly easily.
Over the years I have definitely grown more comfortable in the Music Director & Talent Buyer role and I’ve made a few changes along the way that I felt improved the audience experience. For instance, I will only book an artist once in a calendar year so our Spring fest will look completely different than our Fall fest. I’ve learned to easily pivot from one vision to the next as well. Sometimes you start with an idea in mind of how a stage will be thematically and it turns out differently than planned due to a myriad of possible reasons. There tends to be magic moments in that phase of booking as it makes you alter your perspective and consider something you have not been focused on. I’m proud of what’s been placed on stage over the years. I feel the festival is showcasing the most diverse musical offerings of any festival of our kind. We give artists of all ages and genres a chance to showcase their talents to a curious audience that shows up in droves. We had record attendance both seasons last year and I hope we continue with that trend. This is the 41st Spring season of the Pecan Street Festival and although a lot has changed in Austin, this festival feels like a step back-in-time. This is classic Austin. I’d add that for new residents who feel overwhelmed about where to start in Austin’s music scene, the Pecan Street Festival offers a chance to explore many acts for free! Walk around and find the sounds that speak to you.
What artists are you most excited about this Spring Pecan Street Festival?
I definitely have some intrinsic happiness about how well-balanced the music is this Spring. There really is something for everyone. We have some incredible R&B, Soul & Hip Hop artists like Los Coast, Melat, Alesia Lani, Zeale and Fort Never on Saturday performing on our Neches Main Stage. We have really awesome Americana on Sunday on the Neches Main Stage from Striking Matches, The Watters, Miller Campbell, Jane Ellen Bryant and Scott Collins. We offer many styles of rock n roll from shoe-gazers like Blushing to the whip smart indie from Lola Tried or legendary punk rockers Terminal Mind. We have u18 artists RIIL Chemistry, the Austin Children’s Choir and Midnight Butterfly. Electronic and bass heavy music from Bassline Drift, Emme, NGHT HCKLRS and Glass Cannon will also perform. We have latin artists on both days across many stages and genres of sound including Cilantro Boombox, El Tule, Chulita Vinyl Club, Ex Romantika, Slowly Grace and Ley Line. Rock, Americana, Dance, Country, Folk, Punk, Funk, Singer-Songwriter, multi-lingual music are all represented. The bill is 98% local. Our stages at PSF are a reflection of the talent our community contains. These are our neighbors on stage.
You get to hear a lot of great new music. Beyond submissions to Pecan Street Festival where do you go to find new music? Why do you prefer those channels?
I have an old-school tactic that dates back to being in a band, learning my scene and who to play with when I first moved to Austin. I study the entire venue calendar in the Austin Chronicle every week. I study what bills are being curated across the city and what artists are playing where. You start to see themes emerge and you can even see an artist progressing this way. It’s pretty handy and I find myself doing this out of habit. Whether an artist was pitched to me or suggested, I spend a lot of the time discovering new artists that I am unfamiliar with using streaming services. These days, I’d rather take my initial spin of a new (to me) act through a Soundcloud or Bandcamp link. I like to make playlists of artists I need to research more in depth and Soundcloud is an especially great option for that. You can get a mini-sneak peak of a stage lineup you’re building this way. Sometimes I’ll check if an artist is on Spotify or Amazon Music and listen there too.
I’ll also watch live music performances on YouTube or preferably see the artist live. Seeing an artist play a show in Austin is a still a wonderful way to spend an evening. The number of small businesses you can support by going to a local show is impactful. I love it when I accidentally catch an act while I’m out. This is probably more of a step two for me if I’m not familiar with an artist….ultimately I am hiring a live performance for the festival so that’s my focus after listening to the music
Related question… if streaming music is the primary way music is being discovered and listened to, how does that model benefit artists? Where do you see this sector headed given the low profits for both platforms and artists thus far?
Streaming is the most efficient and often, the initial discovery option. As a consumer of music, streaming is incredibly convenient. A streamed track can follow you from your laptop to your phone to your car without much interruption. The streaming music industry is still trying to figure out what its business model is so it’s hard to put faith and trust that this new way of distributing music can support an artist any time soon. Most of these companies are simply trying to figure out how to sustain themselves and keep the lights on. I’m not sure the health of the artist community is a significant factor of these companies. I think that is largely because they don’t know where [the industry] will end up and that’s because the sector is still evolving. Using a device like Alexa to call out music you want to hear is a game changer in a lot of ways. We are shortening the timeframe between thinking of a track we’d like to hear and being able to command that thought into reality. We’re interacting with music in new ways that challenge the notion of what streaming music is. Streaming from cloud-based sources and the idea of access to music libraries versus owning your own private music library seems to be the new norm.
Ultimately to trickle down to the artists and songwriters, it will likely take government regulation to see something better than what is in place now. In my estimation, there needs to be a readjustment in how royalties are accounted for with music streams, much in the way the industry adjusted their royalties with the CD when it took over for vinyl and cassettes sales in the 80s.
In terms of how I see the sector progressing, I think we are going to see the major players push into areas that aren’t quite their core competencies to deliver a richer customer experience. For instance, there’s no reason Spotify can’t begin playing select music videos from an Artist’s album and thus increasing the capacity to do visual ads on their platform. They are largely focused on audio but I can see Spotify expanding into that user experience. In truth, the audience likes consuming music both ways: audio-only and with visual accompaniment. This is proven by YouTube remaining one of the main music discovery websites for younger audiences. Apple Music probably offers one of the more seamless digital experiences. The iPhone and iTunes work well within the Apple ecosystem.
There’s no doubt that indie artists benefit far more on the financial end from Bandcamp than almost any other platform.It might not be a fair comparison as I view Bandcamp as more of an artist’s digital/physical catalog with a streaming player and merchandise offered direct. I would like to see Bandcamp move into artist ticketing and pre-sale tickets for tours much like Music Glue.
Amazon is moving into ticketing. There’s going to be a push into ticketing with Alexa. Personally I think if Amazon made a big push into having artist pages and letting artists set up their custom digital and physical stores at their website, it might an be undeniable experience for all parties: artist, fan and Amazon. Amazon Music is interesting because they are hiding in plain sight and yet they aren’t first to most people’s minds [when they think about music] even though they have the infrastructure to support an artist’s online and physical music and merchandise easily if they desired. We’ve seen a version of this with artist direct deals Garth Brooks signed with Amazon. This program should be expanded. Much like Amazon does with authors, financially investing in musicians and offering direct and exclusive digital deals would be smart. How many great artists do you know that could use $3000 for their album? I know plenty. Instead of exclusively doing direct deals with superstars, there’s a huge market to be had working with lower-tier artists much like Bandcamp does. I think there is a way for all artists involved in the streaming world to be happy but we have yet to find that balance. Currently, there’s almost no way for an indie artist to survive within the streaming business structure.
The good news is there are ancillary ways streaming can help an artist, even if it is as simple as a guy like me researching the music of someone I end up hiring for an event. There’s indirect benefits to be had for some artists that aren’t quantified.
Last time we did an interview we talked about the state of the Austin music scene. Some things have changed for the better like one extra hour of outdoor live music in the Red River Cultural District (RRCD) during the weekend. What else has improved locally for the music industry since then? What challenges that remain are most critical in your mind?
The extra hour for RRCD venues was pretty huge in my opinion. I’m hoping this is the kickstart to garnering some real momentum (changing the music business) in Austin. An extra hour is a big deal because live music is the stickiness that keeps patrons inside a venue. An extra hour every day over the year could be the difference in a venue surviving or not. This city still has more venues and stages to play on than I can ever remember so that is ultimately a great thing for the working musician. I like that the music community has more sectors to play in other than downtown. New or mostly new music venues like The Little Darlin’ or The Electric Church are curating great music in sections of town where that experience was previously absent.
There’s still critical challenges ahead. We are the Live Music Capital of the World yet outside of live music, we don’t have a major music industry employer in town that extends beyond that realm. Recently there were rumors of Austin city leaders recruiting a BMI office here and that is absolutely the step in the right direction. I mentioned in our previous chat that I would like to see the city go after a larger music business in the way we have for Apple or Samsung in the past. The amount of income the music industry earns for the city justifies exploring further investment. It would be great to have a major music publisher or music streaming company open an office here. There’s plenty of qualified people here to work for those businesses. There’s many small business owners in Austin and the surrounding area managing music artists and putting out records. We could leverage their entrepreneurial skill sets amid a larger music companies’ missions. The city will start to lose talent if we don’t offer a way for people to expand upon their careers outside of live music. We truly need to diversify.
Affordability still feels largely unaddressed, for artists and citizens alike. My concern when we last talked was, “The developments that dampen our ability to afford living in Austin move a lot faster than our discussion on helping artists and helping affordability.” This still feel true. How many new hotel and condo developments have been propped up since we last talked?
This past weekend the only daily live music venue on Rainey Street, The Blackheart closed and has a gigantic development looming behind it. There feels like a cycle that isn’t ending here in Austin and there should be real concern and action in helping venue owners succeed. When you lease a place to start your business, the idea is you’ll be working for your customers, not your landlord. Catastrophic rent increases are all too common. Real estate speculation is leaving most of us behind, artist or not.
The City of Austin been more open to helping the music community than any other administration that I can remember. I have faith that Mayor Adler will find good solutions to our community’s challenges. To be frank, there’s an element of “promise fatigue” as it relates to the city. I think we all know government moves slow but I’m hungry for more action. I was ready for action two years ago and we’re still having the same conversations! It’s much like trying to jog our way out of quicksand. Each time we delay conversations about what to do, the processes that are already developed and in place, like real estate projects, cruise on by. We need to ensure the Austin music industry does not get left behind. We need to move faster and in sync as a community.
What are you listening to lately?
It varies wildly from day-to-day. There’s moods I’m trying to illuminate sometimes and other times I’m just merely checking out stuff and exploring. I’m still a big fan of the album format so I still love to check out the vision or statement being made by the group. I have been listening to many artists more in-depth or even for the first time lately. I’ve been wanting to expand my music knowledge about certain genres that I don’t feel I have explored enough. Lately, I have been diving into Country and Americana sounds but I still mix it up. I’ve recently gone deep with Bill Callahan, Gucci Mane, Mono, Willie Nelson and Mala Rodriguez’s respective catalogs.
What 2018 records would you recommend to our readers?
Austin’s Soul/R&B and Hip-Hop scenes are having a real moment right now. The spotlight should be much brighter on what is happening in those Austin music scenes. The music that Alesia Lani, Mélat, Los Coast, Tameca Jones, Magna Carda, Mindz of a Different Kind, Cha’keeta Banita, Abhi the Nomad, Zeale or Pat G is making right now is nothing short of amazing. Many of those artist I mentioned you can catch this weekend at the Pecan Street Fest.
Below are a few albums released in 2018 that I have had on repeat since hearing them:
A Place To Bury Strangers: Pinned (2018 Dead Oceans)
Beach House: 7 (2018 Subpop Records)
Honey and Salt: S/T (2018 Spartan Records)
J. Cole: KOD (2018 Roc Nation Records)
Melat: Move Me II: The Present (2018 S/R)
Some albums that came out last year that I still listen to quite often include:
Alesia Lani: Resilient (2017 Keyzstreet Music)
Cloud Nothings: Life Without A Sound (2017 Carpark Records)
Golden Retriever: Rotations (2017 Thrill Jockey Records)
METZ: Strange Peace (2017 Subpop Records)
My Education: Schiphol (2017 Headbump Records/Golden Antenna Records)
The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding (2017 Columbia Records)
Anyone that knows you, knows you’re a big fan of gourmet pizza. What are your favorite spots in Austin?
My favorite spots include Via 313, Bufalina, and 40 North. These places make pizza perfection consistently and it’s hard to not enjoy yourself at these restaurants. I also love a cheese slice from Stoney’s after a show. There’s many more places in the area that are great in town like Backspace, Pieous, Homeslice, Pinthouse, 600 Degrees. The pizza in Austin and the surrounding area is legit. Pizza is truly the perfect food. I’m pretty much always in the mood for a slice!
All photos by Mike Manewitz
Earlier in the week we told you LEVITATION was back from a hiatus in 2017. Last night the festival formerly known as Austin Psych Fest indeed made an impressive comeback in the first of four days of the festival, selling out Stubb’s BBQ and Barracuda then packing a handful of other venues by presenting a carefully curated roster of psych-rock, garage-punk and shoe-gaze that pleased fans at every turn. From the visuals at Dead Meadow’s sold-out Barracuda performance to the non-stop crowd-surfing at Ty Segall’s set to the neo-pysch perfection that Austin’s Holy Wave delivered at Cheer-Up Charlie’s we got treated to a smorgasbord of underground rockers that typically don’t appear on on festival bills together. For that, we have Rob Fitzpatrick and the Reverberation Appreciation Society (festival founders) to thank.
Ron Gallo opened the Stubb’s show Thursday and by all accounts turned in a worthy performance before local heroes A Giant Dog took up their positions on stage. It’s likely hometown bias, but AGD may have played the set of the evening with another energy-packed show by lead vocalist, Sabrina Ellis and her song-writing partner, Andrew Cashen (guitar) who ended up on his back crowd-surfing during the set closer, Sparks cover song, “Angst in My Pants.” The group is known for their thrashed-out send-ups of obscure hits and this one is a favorite. Not admitting to it, but we may have involuntarily shrieked when Sabrina introduced the song. The rising act signed to Merge Records open for Jack White next month at all his Texas dates including May 2 at COTA.
A heavily anticipated Parquet Courts set began a slow ramp-up the setlist that won over even dubious attendees who claimed they didn’t know or like the Brooklyn wonders who strangely appeared on the “Ellen” show last week. Their fusion of garage rock, indie rock and Americana is not only hard to pinhole into a single genre, we’ve not heard a variation on a similar theme done quite the same. Parquet Courts are one-of-a-kind. That much is certain.
Ty Segall followed with his typically loud, in-your-face guitars and a slew of songs. To say the man is prolific in terms of putting out new material would be a gross understatement. The fringe rocker averages about three new albums a year. Who does that? While we enjoyed his relentless pace, we downshifted a moment and left Stubb’s early to catch Austin via El Paso and San Marcos neo-pscych act, Holy Wave at Cheer Up Charlie’s for their album release show.
The group played in front of the outdoor stage with that rock wall adorned with a psychedelic backdrop that had more trippy visuals projected onto the screen during the stellar performance Holy Wave delivered. The six-piece were on point as you might expect a band to be that is about to embark on a multi-city international tour in support of “Adult Fear” the new record the band played in full last night. Grab a copy of that record. Trust us. It’s worth every cent and then some.
We closed out the night at Barracuda for Christian Bland and the Revelators. Bland is The Black Angels’ lead guitarist and a festival founder. After watching our favorite touring psych-rock guitarist play his own warped compositions as well as a mind-bender of Syd Barrett-era Floyd song, we headed outside for Dead Meadow.
As tired as we were, the jam-oriented D.C. outfit gave us a late second-wind between the extended, intricate jams and the eye-popping visuals projected both behind the band and on the two-story wall along the left side of the outdoor patio. The festival had transformed the Seventh Street club into a psychedelic wonderland. A place to freakout. For a minute we wished we had better drugs. Then thought better of that sentiment and safely headed home with an exhausted grin.
After the disappointment of a hiatus year in 2017 LEVITATION, the original psych rock music festival produced by members of The Black Angels returns to downtown Austin April 26-29. Reborn a multi-venue festival after disastrous weather incidents at Carson Creek Ranch in 2015 and 2016 forced festival founders Rob Fitzpatrick, Alex Maas and Christian Bland to rethink the camping festival format for the internationally popular niche music fest. The secret to the popularity of the event is simple. The organizers curate lineups they want to see much like independent Austin booking company Margin Walker helmed by Graham Williams. The two groups share that philosophy. It doesn’t hurt that both have impeccable musical taste.
This year’s lineup is appearing at venues primarily situated in the Red River Cultural District plus a few East Austin locales. As expected, the caliber of acts is solid from the bottom of the bill all the way to headliners; The Black Angels, Slowdive, Ministry and Ty Segal. Music fans won’t find a similar bill anywhere else in America. Bookers curating a lineup as unique as LEVITATION has become exceedingly rare with all the consolidation in the festival market which means you should care about this one music fans. Especially if you haven’t heard of most of the acts performing. This event is as much about music discovery as it is about booking great sounds and showing neo-psychedelic art.
Honestly the entire schedule is worth checking out. Since you’re probably not going to buy tickets to every show, we’ll highlight a few we think are worth taking a second look at. Also worth taking a look at is are the incredible official LEVITATION posters the festival commissioned from various local artists ranging from Jaime Zuverza to the festival’s own Christian Bland. Fans can purchase the designs directly from the LEVITATION poster page.
Thursday, April 26
This is going to sound counterintuitive but hear us out… Ty Segall is fun enough to watch and you should, except on Thursday (Segall performs again Friday at Barracuda) when you’d do better to hit Stubb’s BBQ early for openers A Giant Dog (Austin) and Parquet Courts (Brooklyn). Both are known for exceeding expectations live as we can attest. songwriting partners, Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen have consistently made impressive garage punk recordings with their band A Giant Dog but it’s their astounding live performances that have gotten them the kind of attention deserving of an act this talented. Parquet Courts are similar in the way their recordings hint at the greatness you’ll see when you catch them on stage. Their mix of rock, punk with a dash of Americana is hard to classify. Let’s just agree they make good music. After seeing the band perform at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona a few years ago we went from casual fan to avid.
After Parquet Courts finish, head down the street to Beerland for a noise bomb trifecta of Suspirians, Blushing and Ringo Deathstarr. All three are Austin-based. All three are really fun to watch perform. Besides there’s no better way to kick off LEVITATION than at the seediest, punkest bar on Red River.
Friday, April 27
We’re truly torn on Friday given all the great shows listed on the LEVITATION schedule but one stands out to us for a few reasons. L.A. Witch, DIIV and Ariel Pink at Empire Garage presents a number of positives. This performance is presented by Desert Daze, a sister festival in California. L.A. Witch were truly great the last time we caught this all-girl act when they come through town. Their Hotel Vegas set was something special. We’ve been keeping track of the West Coast upstarts led by Sade Sanchez. They’re riding the wave of great female-led acts into an exciting year. DIIV might be the most suspect recommendation of this lineup as lead vocalist, Zachary Smith must have been really high during his LEVITATION Fest set a few years ago. The performance was good, but not what was advertised. He kept repeating the same lame stage banter. Perhaps he was nervous? That said we’re looking forward to a “make-up show” of sorts. Headliner, Ariel Pink put on a visually explosive performance when we saw the LA artist also known as Ariel Rosenberg at Mohawk in 2016. We missed seeing the band’s gig at The ‘Hawk last year thus the group’s appearance in this preview.
Saturday, April, 28
The conundrum that is Saturday’s lineup choices is one we wouldn’t put on any devoted psych-rock fan. There’s just too much good music happening on Red River. A clone (or two) would be nice. Assuming you don’t have a clone either, we made some hard decisions for you. Get out early Saturday for The Rotten Mangoes set at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Known for great cocktails, this the perfect place to catch one of our favorite local acts deliver a sonically pleasing psychedelic experience while you sip a quality libation at happy hour. We recommend the Golden Ticket with kombucha, whiskey, ginger and lavender. After you can hang around for South Americans, Boogarins or try door number two…
Head across the street to Stubb’s for Alex Maas’ latest project, Mien. Comprised of Maas and members of the Horrors and The Earlies, the experimental psych rock group takes different approach to similarly dark material of The Black Angels. Electronic horrorscape act SURVIVE perform following Mien. The group gained notoriety by writing the theme song to hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.” Headliner, Slowdive is an example of the type of act the festival founders loved as young music fans (the band formed in England in 1989) and booked for the festival when it became apparent the group had been relaunched via a new Twitter account after band members changed musical direction in 1995.
Side note: If you’d rather dance your ass off late Saturday evening, head to Empire Control Room and Garage for Austin’s answer to LCD Soundsystem, The Octopus Project. DJ Dan Deacon will take it home after Octopus Project.
Sunday, April 27
Our recommendation for Sunday might seem obvious. Go see The Black Angels at Stubb’s BBQ. But don’t just go to see the legendary neo-psych pioneers headline the last night of their festival. Don’t get us wrong. It’s going to be amazing. Particularly with visuals from the Mustacio Light Show enhancing your viewing pleasure. But get there early for Austin’s Annabelle Chairlegs who open the show. The group is one of our favorite local acts precisely because their approach to psych-rock is decidedly different than many of their contemporaries. Lead vocalist Lindsay Mackin puts a decidedly pop spin on the songs while guitarist Matt Schweinberg melts faces with his solos. We’re eagerly anticipating their upcoming new album.
San Francisco sister act to TBA, Brian Jonestown Massacre is no stranger to the festival having played LEVITATION twice before. Catch them just prior to The Black Angels closing set. We usually trip out on tambourine player Joel Gion’s massive sideburns and retro-chic clothing while watching bandleader Anton Newcombe shred on guitar.
Tickets to LEVITATION are available for most shows scheduled. Check the festival website for more information.
Santa Fe-based immersive art collective Meow Wolf left quite an impression yesterday at their Fractallage party when the organization made their first foray (outside their origin film release this week) into South by Southwest (SXSW). The group spent most of the night Monday evening transforming Empire Control Room and Garage into a Meow Wolf satellite installation complete with visual art, immersive activities (tube dating by Tinder for example) both inside and outside the venue while a roster of exceptional DJs entertained the crowd and set the mood for a surreal (and completely satisfying) experience.
We entered the venue through the Seventh Street side gate to find a bevy of tapestries and colorful banners artfully arranged over the exposed to the air space outside the Garage where Gold Room was performing. The chill-wave sounds being produced perfectly set the mood as fans slowly bopped along to the infectious beats while warm sunlight streamed into the garage and onto the languid audience milling about Empire’s backyard.
The backyard was an entirely different story albeit, fit nicely alongside the performance space adjacent to the decorated patio that featured Tinder Tube Dating (yeah, we don’t know either) using “Experience Tubes.” The exercise pokes fun at how we connect on social media versus real life. Light blue carpeting had been laid over the ground with colorful pillows and foam-stuffed couches to create a kind of chill-out area from space is the only way we can describe it. EVERYONE was smoking pot out there.
Inside, an indoor exhibit had been set up. A man in a captain’s uniform stood near three oversized buttons inside the foyer to the Control Room. He explained (while in character) that the buttons controlled the lighted serpent affixed to the ceiling. Folks were invited to press the buttons to change the lighting sequence and music being piped into the room. Actors in costume milled about portraying sentient beings from another planet trying to suss out people and their actions while visiting the mysterious Earthlings. Costumes included LED lights that responded to the music being played. A giant, fantastic lighted “barnacle” held up the far wall of the Control room and held flowers in which touching the metal wire stamens activated the glowing lights in the display. High tables and seats along the wall allowed visitors to sit and absorb the peaceful environment Meow Wolf created.
We sat outside earlier chatting with staff who talked about working with the organization and their aggressive growth plans (which includes Austin.) Danny, a gentleman who works with sound and audio for Meow Wolf stated he’d been working for the New Mexico trendsetters since 2014 and felt blessed to be a part of something so cool. He was exceedingly kind as was each staffer who arrived in Austin with the collective as if a directive had been handed down that said Meow Wolf employees can only project happiness upon the world. Perhaps that is the credo of Meow Wolf? To project happiness. We know the perma-grin plastered on our faces while we were at Meow Wolf’s Fratallage installation was about as real as you get. Meow Wolf is pure joy.
If you haven’t been to the Austin Chronicle’s Austin Music Awards (AMAs) yet, 2018 might be the perfect year to break that streak. Organizers elected to move the date before South by Southwest (SXSW) instead of during the insanity of the festival when the local awards ceremony is usually held. Instead of battling traffic to get to ACL Live at the Moody Theater, fans can purchase tickets in advance to see guest performers Lucinda Williams, The Black Angels, John Hiatt, Alejandro Escovedo and a host of other national and local acts plus unannounced special guests. In previous years attendees have gotten to see surprise performances by Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant and Chrissie Hynde among others. The long-format awards show is a great opportunity for local music fans to get a taste of the best Austin musicians in arguably the best sounding room in town.
The awards are voted on by the public via an online form. This year, the voting process was changed to two rounds of voting instead of one, which determined the finalists. Another call was put out to the public was to vote again to determine the winners. This appears to be a better method of determining the best artists in each category. The Austin Music Awards previously announced the Townes Van Zandt Songwriting Award will be presented to singer-songwriter Joe Ely (who has been a special guest performer before) and the Margaret Moser Women in Music Award will be presented to Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse Hotels and the Trans-Pecos Festival at her El Cosmico resort in Marfa by Grammy winner Williams.
Musical Director, Charlie Sexton will head up a crack house band with Michael Ramos, John Michael Schoepf and Conrad Choucroun. Rick McNulty and Laurie Gallardo of KUTX will return to host ceremonies. Proceeds from The Austin Music Awards will benefit the SIMS Foundation which provides health care to qualifying Austin music industry professionals.
Advance tickets ($35) are available at the ACL Live website. Mezzanine and other VIP ticketing options start at $250. Those prices might seem like a bargain after the special guest is revealed. Perhaps it’ll be heir apparent to SRV, Gary Clark Jr? You’ll have to grab a ticket to find out.
Music journalists appreciate artists who consistently challenge themselves to create something that defies norms which is one reason St. Vincent, nee Annie Clark has ingratiated herself to rock critics who have frankly, been starved for innovative music from acts that intellectually stimulates the listener beyond interesting aural textures. That may sound a bit heady but St. Vincent’s performances tend to have an elevating effect on music fans of all stripes. Her work speaks for itself in its originality. It’s exceptional art. This is an artist who considers all aspect of performance carefully and the results show. Thursday’s night one of a two-night stand at ACL Live highlighted those qualities in Clark’s work and then some.
Already accepted as a guitar goddess, St. Vincent set out with her latest release, to conquer the pop world with a concept that feels genuine and real in its presentation which is hard to do in that context. Her stage production shared a similar monochrome aesthetic to Solange’s recent tour yet, she pulled it off with more style and flair than anyone else. And she did it as a solo act, without benefit of a backing band behind her to lend more variety into the show. It was stunning how well she managed the feat, opening with a brilliantly simple black curtain that was open a crack, spotlights on the performer, then progressively opened as Clark worked her way from left to right, arranging the setlist into two parts. The first set was comprised of select cuts from her discography in chronological order, underlining the visual effect of moving laterally across the stage with each new song, moving both figuratively and literally across the timeline of her career.
The context of the show, futuristic pop-rock demanded a room with the sound quality of ACL Live. St. Vincent maxed out that potential kicking off the set with “Marry Me,” the title track off her 2007 debut. The ballad highlighted Clark’s vocal range and provided a soft launch pad for an exquisite, two-hour art-rock masterpiece. Cheers of recognition came with “Cheerleader”, then “Strange Mercy.” The latter track being the piece that grabbed our attention at St. Vincent’s NPR Showcase performance at SXSW several years ago. It was as this point in the performance, the plain black curtain was completely pulled back to reveal a gigantic, multi-colored mural of a stylized representation of a woman’s face as if the artist had been commanded to create in 8-bit graphics It was apparent Clark is a force. The “Masseduction Tour” underlined that point in heavy black marker.
Not one to banter with her audiences much, Clark waited until completing the fourth song in her set before acknowledging the crowd, “There’s no place I’d rather be than right here in Texas!” reminding fans her roots are in the state, hailing from Dallas. The singer was once of member of orchestral rock collective, The Polyphonic Spree before setting out on her own trailblazing path. As the first set ended and St. Vincent left the stage for a a brief change-over and costume change, we had time to consider the fact that all the older songs got a “pop treatment” for this tour, rendering them anew and relevant to the material presented on Masseduction which was played from start to finish second set. Yet another brilliant element of the production.
Later in show, Clark made a humorous and half-hearted attempt at improvising a little song about Austin, invoking Barton Springs Pool among other notable spots in town. The moment felt authentic, unplanned and frankly it was just plain cute how she interacted with the audience. It is clear Austin holds a special place in St. Vincent’s heart. The feeling is mutual. Clark indeed holds a special place in the hearts of Austin music fans as evidenced by the posts on social media leading into, during and after the astounding solo performance St. Vincent turned in. Keeping an audience interested for 120 minutes is no easy feat with a full band, but Clark handled the task alone with artful grace, gently, then more forcefully pulling music fans along on a carefully composed art-rock odyssey.
St. Vincent left the audience with “Smoking Section” deliberately forgoing an encore for a polished finish. We left the theater satiated, mouth agape at the singular talent that is St. Vincent, realizing her album title had achieved its aim in seducing not only us, but an entire theatre of music fans. There were plenty of folks at the Moody Thursday who’d never seen St. Vincent perform before. We guarantee they’re rabid fans now. Add pop goddess to St. Vincent’s resume.
Last Saturday, local music concert series, Microsessions featured four Austin artists performing short, 20-minute sets for fans who got to sample each artist, then choose one they’d like to see more of at the conclusion of the event. The format is dubbed “Speed dating for live music” and promises five sets over two hours, often from new and upcoming local acts. Microsessions has primarily used Music Lab for their venue-space but have been exploring other options around Austin.
Austin artists Wiretree, Christina Cavazos, Grace Pettis and River Has Many Voices performed for a sold-out audience in small-format rooms with groups of around 30 people watching. Group guides led folks to their designated stages, offering complimentary drinks and information about Microsessions and the invited acts. It was evident, Microsessions founder Paul Schomer carefully curated the lineup Saturday. Each act complimented the other while offering original material in an intimate setting. House concerts were the model for Schomer and scale was the issue. Schomer downplayed his brainchild, emphasizing the simplicity of his project. But most good ideas are, in fact simple, aren’t they?
“It’s not really rocket science, but I’ve learned that you can’t just slap it together. Musicians really like it for the intimacy, the undivided attention, and audiences seem to like getting told what to do! Bands get to swap fans, which isn’t common. It’s a good way to try out new material, too,” says Schomer about his series which he’s honed over the past couple years.
A former NPR journalist, the Microsessions founder has found a tidy formula. We started the evening with the gentle River Has Many Voices playing acoustic guitar to his lyrics. Otherwise known as Matthew Payne, the singer gave a subtle performance to a rapt audience. Like many Texas songwriter’s he pledges his alligiance to the Church of Townes Van Zandt but who can blame him? Steve Earle (another Van Zandt disciple) will practically fist fight someone over his love of the revered troubadour.
We followed that performance with Wiretree‘s full-band set-up which was a great change of pace. A fair amount of music industry friends are fans of this act. Helmed by former solo artist, Josh Peroni, Wiretree’s indie rock/songwriter mashup has a similar ethos to groups like Caveman or closer to home, Okkerville River. We hate to use that word again, but after 11 years of performing Peroni and Wiretree are, indeed underrated.
Christina Cavazos followed in a cozy outdoor setting. The singer-songwriter just finished high school and capped her secondary education years by winning a admittance to the prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Music which accepted only 80 applicants this year. The reason is she’s good. Really good. And she’s really young. While some under-18 artists can appear a novelty, there’s none of that with Cavazos. She’s simply the gifted, young performer with a beautiful head of hair. It even says so in her Twitter bio.
Grace Pettis was our photographer’s favorite act of the night. This red-headed young lady has been a buzz act around Texas lately. Her website crows about the Dallas-Morning News’ glowing review, while our own shutterbug, had to restrain herself from sending dozens of shots of her pick of the night. We think she’s pretty amazing too. Check some of her songs for yourself.
The next Microsessions Austin is February 23 at Imagine Art with Sara Houser, Cari Q, David Hamburger and Ley Line. Tickets and information can be found at the Microsessions website.
When most music fans talk about the Austin scene, South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits Music Festival are what comes up usually. But there’s another, smaller music festival that has been taking place for over ten years in Austin, Free Week. Launched by Graham Williams (Margin Walker Presents) at the old Emo’s on Sixth and Red River, the event has mushroomed to most of the Red River venues Williams’ booking company works with and then some. The event runs through Sunday, Jan 7.
Aside from Mohawk, Barracuda, Stubb’s, Cheer Up Charlie’s, Elysium, The Sidewinder, Beerland, Swan Dive and Empire Control Room and Garage (all located on Red River or Seventh Street) The Sahara Lounge, Hotel Vegas, Volstead, Spiderhouse Ballroom, The Belmont, The Blackheart and more venues are also participating. You really have no excuse to miss Free Week even if school nights are out, there’s a ton of shows to see Friday and Saturday. Free Week is here.
There are more quality shows booked than we have room to recommend to you. For a more complete list of Free Week shows we like check out our author’s Do512 page. Incidentally, Do512 put together a fantastic all-female fronted band roster on Saturday. Details are below. On to our top picks listed by day beginning with tonight’s performances.
Tonight’s lineup by The Loyalty Firm and Pull String Events at Barracuda is a doozy. Hard rockers, The Well, Residual Kid and The Ghost Wolves join our favorite post rock outfit my education, The Human Circuit, Built By Snow, Chill Russell, Cartright and Honey and Salt. Acts will appear on both the indoor and outdoor stages.
Doors are at 7 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. The good news is temperatures are getting warmer today but you might feel the chill tonight so dress warm and if that doesn’t help, try the hot toddies at the outside bar. They kept us warm Monday night when we caught Semihelix to kick off Free Week.
There are a raft of great lineups Thursday. It was difficult to choose a single show to feature but Red River Cultural District and Heard Presents lineup is pretty hard to beat. The Garage roster alone with Whiskey Shivers, Sailor Poon, Booher, Poly Action would be worth braving the cold for yet, Otis the Destroyer, Megafauna, Leevees, Holy Knives, Hard Riffs and Rival Waves will all be inside the Control Room with a lot of loud guitars and energy.
Both Otis and Megafauna are perfect for fans of old school, hard charging guitar rock. Whiskey Shivers put on one of the best live shows in town. You can’t beat their energy. Sailor Poon’s Saturnalia Festival set was enough fun that we want more as soon as possible. If you make it early enough you’ll be wowed by Ray Garza’s Poly Action who kick off the festivities at 8 p.m.
8 p.m. Poly Action
9 p.m. Booher
10 p.m. Sailor Poon
11 p.m. Whiskey Shivers
9:15 p.m. Rival Waves
10:15 pm. Hard Riffs
11:15 p.m. Megafauna
12:15 p.m. Otis the Destroyer
1:15 a.m. Holy Knives
Sahara Lounge is entering the Free Week fray with a damn fine lineup Friday at 7 p.m. presented by High Brew Coffee and The Cosmic Clash. Headliner, BLXPTN might be one of Austin’s more underrated bands. The former duo of drummer and vocalist TaSzlin Muerte and guitarist, singer, and synth player Jonathan Horstmann added drummer Jeremy Kivett to the lineup recently, adding heft to an already formidable band that plays an amalgam of punk and electronic industrial with a politically-charged commentary.
We caught Como Las Movies for the first time at Mosaic Sound Collective. They have a Latin-based sound that incorporates various styles. Similar to Money Chicha (some songs feature Cumbia) but a different arrangement with a four-piece band that gels together cohesively. Some songs sound like a film soundtrack hence the moniker.
The rest of the lineup is just as solid with Major Grizz, Sometimes a Legend, Dead Recipe, Sun June and The Midnight Drive. There will be a limited supply of free High Brew Coffee available. Food truck Pakal will offer healthy Mexican specialties. Bonus: plenty of free parking.
Dead Recipe 7:15p
Sun June 8:15p
Como Las Movies 10:45p
Major Grizz 11:45p-12:30p
Sometimes a Legend 12:45a
The Midnight Drive 1:35a
Do512 put together a stellar all-female fronted band lineup at Valhalla (Red River bet. Seventh and Eighth St.) Saturday. Our shoegaze/psych rock favorites Moving Panoramas will be joined by Lowin, Go Fever and Vonne. Speaking from experience, you’ll really enjoy this show if you make it out.
Leslie Sisson of Moving Panoramas is a true talent as her appearance at the Texas State History Museum with Invincible Czars and an 80-person choir behind her demonstrated. The version of her song, Harmony that was presented left even Sisson in tears.
Lowin and Go Fever represent more great rock created by women. Sara Hauser of Lowin has long been a part of the local scene. She’s making great new music. We caught Go Fever’s Acey Monaro solo at the Project ATX 6 Gala. The Australian rocker is really fun to watch with her entire band too. We’re looking forward to this one.
Last week singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins made her first US tour stop in Austin at Antone’s Nightclub. The reinvented legendary blues club was the ideal spot for the chanteuse to umm… reinvent herself as a neo-soul singer in support of her Mowtown-esque new record, Goodnight Rhonda Lee. The first time you hear Atkins sing you know her voice is special. We thought so the first time we caught the singer sporting a moody indie-rock vibe and working out of Brooklyn (she’s from New Jersey). But seeing the woman sing in a format that features her voice was truly special. Folks walking by on Fifth Street heard her singing and impulsively purchased tickets. Yeah, her pipes are truly golden.
After an impressive two-man performance by The Midnight Stroll, a sober and genial Atkins and her Nashville-based band took the stage and presented songs from all four of her albums. She rolled out new single co-written with Chris Isaac, A Little Crazy early in the set showing off her Patsy Cline chops. The song features her velvety voice like it should. Another stand-out tune was a cover of Bowie’s Heroes. We’ve seen the song played by a number of artists since the legendary rocker’s death but none surpass the emotion lent to it by Atkins.
The old-school, early 60s vibe of title track to the new record felt like a crowd-pleaser too. A glance around the room revealed a fairly age-diverse crowd of music fans all with big smiles as she worked through the tune with a great band.
We spoke to her guitarist Stephen who mentioned the band had just gotten back to the States after a whirlwind European tour. He said he was happy to be in Austin as he’s from Texas but now works out of Nashville as producer and touring musician. He was excited about the upcoming American leg of the tour despite jet lag and fatigue. It’s that much fun to tour with Atkins according to the affable musician.
The road ahead looks rosy for Nicole Atkins. The one-time drinker has tamed her demons, gotten married, moved to Nashville and put out a fantastic new record that allows the listener to better hear the amazing talent that lay in her voice. The indie rock recordings she’s made are better than good, she wouldn’t have such a devoted fan base without putting out quality material, but the new direction has given her a fresh stage presence and vitality while Atkins shed’s her bad girl Rhonda Lee persona for a more stabile, happier future.
Atkins continues her tour in San Francisco, followed by dates in Portland and Seattle. The nearly non-stop schedule ends in South Carolina next April.