I Love You Austin, But You’re Bringing Us Down
Read it. Tell me I’m a jerkstore.
This is a topic I’ve been discussing with friends, bands and those outside the realms of Austin for quite some time, and while I’ve avoided a proposal to the masses, I just don’t want to sit behind my computer anymore, letting the problem persist. Austin, I’m sorry to say it, but our music scene is struggling.
Now, I realize this brief expose may come across as a condemnation of sorts, but I don’t want it to be a criticism, so much as a call to arms. I’ve been a part of the Austin music scene, in some manner or another, since the mid-90s (I realize this might be a few years too late); my hope is that in writing this, someone, somewhere will see the potential in Austin, thus bringing our music scene back to where we’ve claimed it to be.
Again, this is not a proposal of hate; it’s merely a dream of a man who sees the town he loves in the death throes of everything he grew to expect.
First, we must discuss the “Live Music Capital of the World” moniker. I’m sorry to say, but Austin no longer deserves such a title. Sure, my buddy gets to play Dave Matthews covers at Dizzy Rooster, but that’s not the spirit of the name. Yes, I’ve seen tons of incredible acts grace the various stages in Austin, but few of those acts actually found their sound in our fair city. We’ve lived on this title for far too long, and in doing so, we’ve grown lazy and entitled, expecting the best acts in the world to come to our town…and they do. But, in doing so, we’ve neglected our own brethren; we’ve chosen to endorse travelling acts, rather than support our own. A music community cannot exist without the support of those involved.
Now, many will say that there are several acts that have been able to rise to stardom from our town. Spoon? Well, Britt doesn’t live here anymore, and as the main songwriter, that makes that null-and-void. Okkervill River? Will spends the majority of his time in NYC, so again, we can’t stake claim to that. There are a few others that have garnered national attention, but even those acts have struggled to move beyond the confines of our city. Where have we gone wrong my friends? We’ve chosen to neglect our own, instead choosing to embrace those who come to our city. If we don’t have our own foundation, we’re going to see things fall apart.
Where have we gone wrong?
For one, bands in Austin, give or take a handful of hardworking folks, struggle to carve out an existence for themselves. Many, and I know many, work at restaurants or coffee shops, hoping to save up enough money just to record a singular song. Austinites, for the most part, don’t buy merch, from touring acts, and especially not local acts. Therefore, many acts cannot afford to exist on the cusp of popularity in Austin, treading water until eventually they have to turn to other options. As a fan of your local musician, you’ve got to buy t-shirts or LPs, or perhaps just give them $3 from your wallet. It might not go a long way, but it’s a start. And yes, I know we’re in a recession, but I just saw you buy Dewar’s on the rocks, so you can save that last drink you probably don’t need, and offer it to the band.
Another act we’ve neglected, the good times Austin can offer. I was fortunate to grow up during the hey-day of Liberty Lunch or Voodoo Lounge, but the most special times for me revolved around the ridiculous events that went down at house parties. I remember seeing Skate or Die at the Duck Pond by my house. You’ve never heard of them, nor their hit single “Hormigas en el Parque,” but members of that band went on to be part of the Sword and Octopus Project. Or house parties where Recover played, and all the local cognoscenti showed up to support them. We were alive, and so was the city. It made our local shows a gathering of friends, which brings up another sad point.
Why don’t you all go see local bands? Whether or not they’re opening for the next big thing, or they’re throwing an album release at Beerland, why aren’t you there? My biggest Austin complaint is that music lovers don’t seem to love music. You’ll go catch the biggest thing according to Pitchfork, and I’m there too, but when the opener begins, there are four people there. That opener, more often than not, is an Austin band getting their big break, and we forgot about them; we only want to see the headliner. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do the band, nor the promoter, justice. The promoter sees the band doesn’t have a draw, so they don’t book them again. Headliners see the same thing, thus they don’t want to play with that act again. Thus the Austin scene stagnates. The same 10 bands open, and no one new gets a break. I get that Uchiko has a great happy hour, but skip it, see your new favorite local band.
If you’re asking why any of this really matters, then perhaps I’m not entirely clear on the subject at hand. Austin brings in great bands, true, but we’re not lifting up our own bands to the same level of greatness. You look at cities like Brooklyn or San Francisco, and they’re band are doing extremely well. They’ve got great hype, they can tour behind that, and they can make a living. The sad truth for Austin bands is that they cannot. True, a few bands have branched out and toured on their own dollar, only to come back broke or barely above breaking even. Some bands, and this is true fact, have had to move away from Austin in order to eek out a living as musicians. This shouldn’t be the case. Our bands should be our priority. In order for the exodus to cease, we’ve got to correct a few things.
1) Buy stuff. Seems simple, right? But, bands make their livings off merch. They record with that extra two dollars you spend on pizza. It might seem silly, but next time your drunk friend begs for a beer, give it to the band instead. They’ll appreciate it a great deal more than your friend who’s going to drunk dial you at 5 in the morning.
2) Go support local acts. Seems simple, but even if you’ve never heard of the bands, go support your local venues and local bands. I suggest places like Holy Mountain, Cheer-Up Charlies, Scoot Inn, Mohawk, Beerland, Hotel Vegas or the Owl. All those place definitely want to make Austin what it should be.
3) Don’t get mad, fix it. You hate what I have to say? I’m okay with that. Go start a blog or something to become involved. Throw a house party; we’ll spread the word. Austin grew its music scene on the DIY spirit, and we’ve got to get back to that. Meet the bands and throw a show. Most bands will play for beer, as long you promise to get people to hear their music. There’s nothing wrong with that.
4) Read up on the locals. You want news on the local scene, no better place than your devoted slew of local Austin blogs: AustinTownHall, OVRLD, PopPressInternational, Ultra8201, Austin Bloggy Limits, SideOneTrackOne, RepublicofAustin. We all are friends, and our goal is to make your lives easier by helping share our insider trading info, hoping you’ll show up. We care about music, and we care about Austin. That’s our bottom line, and we hope it’s yours too.
In conclusion, this is probably not the post I intended it to be. But, I wanted to make it filled with less hate than how I occasionally admit to feeling. I’m not mad at Austin, or those who love music here, I just want better. I want better for our friends, our bands, our venues and those that want to see a great show. I want the best for you, and I want the best for me; I know we can do better.