Say Hello To Sidewinder & Graham Williams
It’s well known around these parts that our beloved music scene in Austin is ever changing, and though some may go into panic mode, we here at ATH understand that change is all part of the industry. With that said, I’m sure many of you have heard the sad news about the closing of prized venue Red 7 come this September. While we mourn the loss of one of our favorite venues in town, let us rejoice in the news of a new venue in the Red River District. The newly crowned Sidewinder will open in October, shortly after the closing of Red 7, and will occupy a totally revamped and remodeled space formerly known as Red Eyed Fly. With all the creative minds on the list of those involved, this is definitely something to be excited about. The Chronicle was one of the first to break the news.
With all the craziness currently going on in and around Red River (Cheer Ups rock wall, closing of Holy Mountain/Red 7, new venues, etc.) it seemed like a great time to speak with someone in the know. Step in Transmission Events founder Graham Williams. We sent Graham a few questions about his new venue and the current state of the live scene in Austin. He has a lot to say and any real music fan in town should take his thoughts into consideration. After the jump you can get his thoughts.
ATH: Hey Graham, hope everything is going well with you in the music world. We are fans of your work…. duh. So let’s start with you telling us a little bit about how the idea for the new venue Sidewinder came about. How did all you guys get together and how did the idea develop?
G: Well, we’d been fighting the good fight for the past few months on trying to get the lease re-signed at Red7 with no luck. At the same time, John Wickham (owner of Elysium and Valhalla), along with his partners, Ben and Rich, had just recently bought Red Eyed Fly. John had reached out to Transmission about working with Red Eyed Fly, as we’ve done some stuff with Elysium in the past. When we saw the writing on the wall with R7, it made sense to pick the conversation back up. We all thought Red Eyed Fly was a great space with a lot of potential and just hadn’t been used to it’s full potential and booked as well as it could have been. So it just made sense to work together and make this happen.
G: Yes, two stages. The outside stage is about the same size as the inside room at Red 7 (which is where we book about 90% of our shows, as it is), and the inside room is smaller, similar to inside The Mohawk, Beerland, or Hotel Vegas. We lose the big stage option at Red 7 (which, again, we didn’t do that many show in this space), but there are a lot of great rooms we do shows at that can do 400-500 (Mohawk, The Parish is 450, even Empire and Scoot Inn’s larger rooms have that option, as well). We’re actually really excited about the inside room. It’s a great space and as we continue to book smaller touring acts and local acts, a smaller room is easier for bands to build a following from playing. The inside room at Red 7 was always intimidating to a lot of locals, as the room was bigger than most could fill, so this will work well, we think.
ATH: First Holy Mountain, and now Red 7….do you think this will have as huge an impact on Red River as people are expecting, considering there’s now Sidewinder (in the works), Beerland is holding strong, Cheer Ups is alive and Mohawk still books some great shows…not to mention there’s that Stubbs place, Swan Dive, and Empire? I mean, let’s be honest, venues close..and not just in Austin.
G: Yeah…I think people have a doomsday mindset sometimes and I rarely do. I was born and raised here and have seen so many come and close. There are literally no venues left from when I was in high school in Austin and first going to shows (not one, other than maybe Continental Club and I never went there as a kid), yet the scene is bigger than it’s ever been. As long as the music community and the city continue to support music and small businesses, it’ll move forward still. As you said, there are number of great rooms on Red River and beyond. Some new stuff will probably pop up at some point too, and most of the venues in the area are doing fairly well, it seems. It SUCKS that R7 and Holy Mountain are going away, but I don’t think that’s the end of things or even the beginning of the end.
ATH: You’ve been around far longer than some of the venues and affairs Austin associates you with, so in all your time…what is the biggest thing affecting Austin as a whole? Is it something that can be corrected?
G: I hate to sound like a Republican or whatever, but over regulation doesn’t help. Austin is so DIY — it’s crazy and small businesses here don’t ask for handouts from the city. We just ask to be allowed to do what we do, but from dealing with sound issues to permits to TABC to zoning, all of this makes it really hard to run a business. Also, some at the top don’t realize the importance of the creative class in Austin. The reason folks and many of the large companies are moving here is the cool factor, but if you don’t support it or give it room to grow and continue, it will collapse.
ATH: A friend once told me if shows were free and bars paid out from their bar revenue, things could possibly improve (just look at free week attendance), but do you think this would, or could, actually work?
G: I mean maybe, but it’s tough. First off, few will take the risk, in case it doesn’t work and they have to then start charging and risk pissing people off that are used to it being free. Some have tried it, and it has not worked out, even recently– one example is The Lost Well on Webberville Road. That said, some venues have operated this way, and it’s worked. I believe Cheer Up Charlies is often free and pays bands from bar, but they have a solid weekend crowd all the time. Sometimes Hotel Vegas is too, but has similar situation with a solid crowd coming in on the weekend. For local only rooms, it’s easier, but you have to have a built in crowd where 50% of the crowd comes no matter what, so you have a base bar ring/audience to go off of. I love the concept, but I come from the touring band world these days and those all need covers to pay the bands enough to get them down to Austin. Bands have huge guarantees, and those venues are built around touring acts and ticketed shows. I was at Emo’s for years, and when I started it was $2 to get in ($5 for minors). It WAS free to get in for years and bands got paid out of the bar…even roadshows, but there was no competition and everyone into cool stuff went to Emo’s every night, as there weren’t a lot of options. Over time, as bands needed more money and more and more similar venues and bars opened, they had to start a small cover…$2 changed to $3 or $4…then $5 over 21 and $7-8 under 21. Then just ticketed for all big shows (usually $8-12) and $5-7 for local shows. Point is, the timing was right to do it in the early days, but even that big room had to eventually change its model to keep up. I think the right kind of room with the right audience can do it and it can work. I think it’s harder for venues that deal with mostly touring stuff, though.
ATH: In your opinion, is the scene really dying? There seem to be plenty of bands, plenty of labels, we’re just losing a few venues. You’ve been here a long time, so surely it’s par for the course (not that we’re enjoying it), no?
G: It’s not, it’s growing. Shows are bigger, more people are living here and going out, there are more bands in town, and more touring acts are coming through. There are growing pains, and it’s frustrating when the situation happens where good spaces go away. But, it does force everyone to take notice and help ensure it doesn’t happen again. I do think it’s something to watch closely and fight for and without that support from people supporting the scene (both as business owners, musicians and fans), we can slip backwards pretty quickly.
ATH: What are your expectations from the city, be it people or politicians? Where is Austin going?
G: It’s hard to say. I think the city is supposed to try and balance it’s support for all the different citizens and make a city function. When it excludes groups of people because their voice isn’t loud enough, they’re not doing their job at politicians, whose salaries we pay. Austin Music People (AMP) started because all the developers had lobbies and the music community had no voice, so it finally got one. We need more of that, but they have to meet us halfway. The city has to be willing to not only hear what people are saying, but actually ask and research. Not everyone has a lobbyist or someone to speak for them. Folks with the least resources tend to have the smallest voice and this happens over and over. I also think that in Austin — things were pretty chill for a long time — you could live here cheaply and there were cheap buildings to rent and turn into venues. That’s changed and everyone is trying to catch up on how to work with this new structure — the city included. As long as we’re vocal and organized and the city does its job and helps grow a new Austin without losing its identity, it should work. They just have to listen and we need to speak. I mean, we have never been very vocal about our yearly fight with the Parks Department, and the city to get Fun Fun Fun Fest back on the calendar each year. We’ve handled it like grown ups, and been able to make it work, but it’s been nothing but pushed back every year, which most don’t know about. This year isn’t a new issue, it’s our tenth year of it. The city hears from neighborhood associations who are wealthy and organized and telling council members in their districts that the noise and people and traffic from festivals (particularly one with hip hop and punk on the lineup) is a problem, and they’re keeping this in mind come election time. That small group of folks welds a lot of power when that’s all a politician hears at every meeting. Now, we’ve realized that we need to speak up. Transmission or FFF Fest has been pushing on our social media or emailing our support via AMP and other groups about this issue. This week there were close to 10,000 signatures for a petition to the city, and close to 1000 calls/emails to the council members and the mayor about FFF Fest and wanting to keep it in place at Auditorium Shores. Now, they’re listening and realizing that maybe there is another side to this. A vocal and large one.
A thousand thank you’s to Graham for some insightful and intelligent commentary on our live music scene here in Austin. He’s an incredibly important voice in our town and we’re proud to share his thoughts here.