Let your Councilmember know: protect Red River funk

Where we are as recapped by the Austin Chronicle here:

Here Come the Waterworks

Last Thursday, Jim Robertson of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department briefed City Council on the Waller Creek District Master Plan, a more than $30 million set of community enhancement initiatives tied to the Waller Creek Tunnel Project. The $127.5 million underground stormwater drainage structure is scheduled to break ground in November and will remove roughly 30 acres from the current 100-year floodplain (see “Off the Record,” May 7). Council Member Mike Martinez raised concern over “the expulsion of live music venues that are in rental spaces right now” and the expected hike in property taxes in the tax-increment financing district that includes Red River staples such as Stubb’s, Emo’s, Red 7, and Beerland. “I wish I could come to you today saying we’ve discovered the silver bullet that will allow us to preserve this great cultural asset,” Robertson responded. “I can’t report that to you.” Robertson did outline four potential strategies being considered in the city’s parallel Downtown Austin Plan, including a cultural mitigation fund and an incentives package to assist the current venues. The Austin Music Commission has recommended that council delay action, currently set for June 24, until the Waller Creek District Master Plan offers a more inclusive vision of live music in the affected area. As guest speaker and Mohawk owner James Moody stressed at the AMC meeting last Monday, “Nowhere in Austin are we louder and prouder than on Red River.”

Joah Spearman sits down with former Mayor Will Wynn

Former Austin Mayor Will Wynn & I Are Both Fearful of Threats

Earlier today, I had coffee with former Austin mayor Will Wynn to talk about Austin’s live music scene for my upcoming book Indisputable. I wanted to get some political perspective on the role live music plays in the city Austin is today and the city it will be in the future.

I’m not a journalist so I try to make these interviews as informal and painless for my subjects as possible. And I’m not on some midnight deadline either so that helps create a casual writing environment. Ninety-five percent of these interviews, whether it’s with Raphael Saadiq after his crowd-pleasing ACL Festival performance, Bloodshot Records co-founder Nan Warshaw, indie music mega-agent Tom Windish or my friends Black Joe Lewis and Austin City Limits executive producer Terry Lickona, are unrecorded.

That being said, I almost always get what I’m after. A great, bite-sized quote or two that fills up a chapter enough for me to get away with a magazine-length write-up rather than a book-length one. Case in point…

“Live music is our franchise and we have to protect it. [In Chicago] you can go to a Cubs game twice a year for $250 bucks for a family of four, but you can go to a show every month for that here,” Will pointed out. “I’m always excited about Austin’s live music scene – because we have more venues today than we did in 2000 even though people tend to focus on the ones we lost, but I’m always fearful of the threats.”

This is part of the reason why Wynn made a point to place a lot of energy and focus on supporting the live music business in Austin, including championing the efforts of the Live Music Task Force (http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/livemusictaskforce.htm).

That task force, as you may recall, brought together leaders in all sectors of Austin’s live music industry, from Charles Attal of C3 and Paul Oveisi of Momo’s to Rose Reyes of the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau to Don Pitts who recently became music program director for the City of Austin, to discuss ways in which the city could better support its namesake as “the Live Music Capitol of the World.”

A lot of people take Austin’s live music scene for granted. Hundreds of thousands have no idea what the “Creative Class” is. Tens of thousands go to fewer than two shows a year and thousands frequent the bars on West Sixth but have never stepped inside Momo’s. Every single one of us benefits though.

One of my favorite authors and premiere urban thinker Richard Florida wrote about Austin in his book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Austin ranks highly in his book because of what he calls the “3 Ts” which are technology, talent and tolerance. Everyone knows Austin is home to Dell and tons of tech-sector jobs. Those same people know about the University of Texas, many from its successful research and athletic programs. Still, Florida says that tolerance is best represented by Austin’s live music scene.

“What is the first thing you think about when you hear Austin? Most people don’t answer Dell, Trilogy or any other high-tech company. Many of them mention Austin City Limits….or perhaps South-by-Southwest Film and Music Festival. Alongside efforts to develop technology and tolerance, the region has also made considerable investments in its lifestyle and music scene—right down to the clubs and bars of Sixth Street. The city’s downtown running trail features a bronze sculpture of a famous regional figure—the late guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. When one high-tech company, Vignette, expanded into a new facility in downtown Austin, a part of its deal was to establish a $1 million fund to support the local music scene.”

Florida goes on to say that “a key aspect of the region’s development strategy is to preserve its unique cultural assets…”

I’m writing this for two reasons: 1) To key to preserving Austin’s unique cultural assets (namely the live music scene) is to take it personally and 2) To explain why that whole “buy local” mantra will mean more to Austin over the next decade than it will anywhere else in America.

On point #1 let me start by saying that seeing shows is fun. Will told me that the cities that are the most fun to live in are the ones most likely to succeed. Well, we all know that we love Austin because it’s a fun ass city. Last time I checked, shows are less than theatre tickets in New York and Lakers games in LA and you’re more likely to be close to the action and meet the talent. I’ve become friends with so many musicians just by going to shows at places like Club DeVille.

Supporting live music in the form of seeing shows at new and old places like Mohawk and Antone’s, attending festivals like ACL Festival and South by Southwest and buying CDs by working musicians like Tje Austin and Dan Dyer goes a long way to keeping the fun in Austin because music, I whole-heartedly believe, is the most fun-oriented form of popular entertainment in the world. People love sports, but sporting events are often confrontational and expensive. Hate me for saying this, but part of the reason why people tailgate and get drunk at football games because the football game itself is not enough fun on its own.

By taking Austin’s live music scene (and by extension it’s fun quotient) personally, you become an integral part in the city’s development strategy while the city tries to live up to its billing as the “best city in America for the next decade.” It doesn’t mean you have to become a spokesperson for the Convention & Visitors Bureau or spend every disposable dollar on concerts, but it does mean you can realize something very fundamental to Austin: people like this city because it’s fun, and live music is the single-biggest reason why this city is fun in the first place.

Once you’ve agreed to that, you can better understand what it means to “buy local” in Austin. The facts behind the “buy local” movement are simple: buying local is better for the environment because it involves less transportation, locally-owned businesses are more likely to donate to local charities like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians or LIVESTRONG than national chains and $25 more dollars out of every $100 spent will stay in the community. It doesn’t mean you have to shop for shoes at Sneak Attack instead of The Domain simply because I’m a local business owner and Neiman Marcus is a chain, but it should mean you know why a South Congress store like Hovercraft closing its doors is more troubling than a store like Forever 21 at the Highland Mall closing.

This all bears itself out in the live music industry in Austin better than any other. Think about it: who paid to put grass in Zilker Park? Live Nation? AEG? Nope, it was ACL Festival promoter C3 Presents. Who supports important nonprofits like the SIMS Foundation, which helps artists with addiction and mental health services, local business and community leaders who care about live music. What brings more tourism dollars to Austin than any other event? South by Southwest.

The buy local movement is usually built to support retail businesses like the one I own, but I fully believe that the only thing that will really protect retail businesses in Austin in a sustainable way is a live music scene that keeps this city fun. If this city becomes less fun to live in – like what has happened to Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Cincinnati over the years – people won’t care to spend money to look good or listen to new music because they’ll be too busy stressing about how boring their lives are. Once that happens, no number of tech jobs or UT degrees being handed out will keep people here…especially when real estate prices are climbing.

If you’re going to pay New York, Miami or Chicago rent, you might as well live in those cities if Austin is no longer as much or more fun in comparison, right? That’s why the next decade is so extremely important in Austin.

It’s about doing our part to keep legendary places like Continental open just as much as it’s about seeing talented artists like The Soldier Thread or Eagle Eye Williamson every now and again. It’s about continuing to earn the city’s designation as “the Live Music Capitol of the World” in an organic way instead of supporting a dozen mega venues with corporate sponsors like L.A. so that we can continue offering loads of weekday fun to both residents and tourists so that retail businesses, bars and restaurants continue to benefit and Austin continues to provide decent day jobs and tolerance (financially and socially) to the people willing to toil away as musicians (and other artists) in the name of creativity.

Last year, Chicago lost its bid for the 2016 Olympics even though they brought everyone from Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey to Mayor Richard Daley and President Obama to the table to show a united front. The Live Music Task Force that took place during Will Wynn’s tenure as mayor of Austin is an important step in our city’s bid to be the best in America for the next decade, but no amount of power in the boardroom makes it a sure thing. This is going to have to be a team effort with all of us fans playing an important, if not starring, role.

Lastly, I want to leave you with a word about a threat that I perceive to Austin’s ability to be a fun city. Austin’s real estate prices are rising and the city accounts for half the metro area’s total population (1.6 million). This is compared to a city like Atlanta where the city has only 10 or 15 percent of the metro area’s population; people are used to living far from downtown, which partially explains why their live music scene is tiny compared to Austin’s. Part of the reason why Austin’s live music scene is so strong is because we’re all very close together…the creative juices are flowing rather rapidly, often times sexually. But what happens if these hookups, both musically and sexually (I suspect), never happen?

People who want to make music (or anything creative) for a living are being forced to live further and further away from downtown, which greatly impacts their ability to synergize with other musicians and share creative capital. It may be too late to change the trend of the real estate market, but over the next decade – as population in Austin grows and traffic worsens – we’ll need a team effort to support a major push for public transportation and not this latent poo-poo platter being served up to us by Capitol Metro. If the musicians and artists (and eventually the most-avid fans) can’t afford to live near downtown, we should at least make it affordable for everyone to get there. The threat is that we finish this decade as America’s best city and start a new one as one of its worst with half a million more people in the city and half as many musicians (8,000) as we have today.

Parking downtown Austin

Downtown parking has been a hot topic lately.   As SXSW descends on us, I can’t think of a better time to post this map.

Map of downtown Austin parking lots

Please join us: savethecactuscafe.org

Spread the word, join the email list, contribute if can.  Go here.

Friends of the Cactus Cafe formation, press release

photo by sandy carson

Reid Nelson
Voice: 512.632.9054
Email: pr@SaveTheCactusCafe.org
Website: www.SaveTheCactusCafe.org

Non-profit, Friends of the Cactus Cafe, formed
Plan presented to preserve legendary venue

Austin, Texas, February 8, 2010Members of SaveTheCactusCafe.org filed legal documents today to create a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Friends of the Cactus Cafe, to support community and student efforts to keep the Cactus Cafe open in a manner that preserves its fundamental character in its current location, and to fund ongoing programs for students using the legendary music venue as a resource.

Initial board members of the non-profit organization include Wiley Koepp, who launched the Facebook group Save the Cactus Cafe, now with over 22,000 members; Austin attorney and political consultant, Reid Nelson; and Paul Oveisi, a member of the Austin Music Commission and owner of Momo’s Club. Additional board members will be added in the near future and will be drawn from the business, music, and university (including students and faculty) communities, donors, and others.

“We want to preserve the ethos that makes the Cactus Cafe what it is today and help it build upon its well earned reputation in a way that allows greater opportunity for students in managing and performing in the club,” organizer Koepp said.

Friends of the Cactus Cafe will kick off a fundraising drive this week to fund the SaveTheCactusCafe.org campaign aimed at convincing the Texas Union management to formally commit to keeping it open and adopt the organization’s plan to provide ongoing financial support for Cactus Cafe operations and fund programs that will include student internships, Cactus Cafe student performing artists-in-residence and marketing projects undertaken in conjunction with the business school to better promote the venue.

“We think our plan will provide a secure financial future for the Cactus Cafe, and assist the University and the Texas Union in these difficult economic times and beyond,” Nelson said. “A profitable Cactus Cafe benefits everyone.

The group sought input from members of the Austin community and University students in an organizational meeting held this past Saturday, February 6, and after incorporating their suggestions and gaining their endorsement, the group finalized their plan and made the decision to move forward with forming Friends of the Cactus Cafe.

“The support from the community and students for the plan was overwhelming,” noted board member and Music Commission Member, Paul Oveisi. “As someone who is both involved in and who deeply cares about the music community in this city, I am honored to be part of this effort.”

Details of SavetheCactusCafe.org’s plan follow.:


Short-term goal: convince the Texas Union management to formally commit to keeping the Cactus Cafe open through a plan that preserves its fundamental character in its current location, provides a secure financial future for the legendary venue, and builds upon its current operating model to allow greater opportunity for students in managing and performing in the Cactus Cafe and interfacing with local and national music professionals.

Long-term goal: provide ongoing funding for operations of, and ongoing programs through, the Cactus Cafe as described below.

This plan addresses the concerns expressed to date by university officials, Texas Union management, students, the Austin community and the American music community at-large regarding the decision to close the Cactus Cafe. It will:

1. Maintain those elements about the Cactus Cafe most cherished by the community, including continuing its offerings of live acoustic music in its current space in the Texas Union.

2. Assist the University in meeting its budget by insuring that the Cactus Cafe is profitable.

3. Provide greater access and control to students in Cactus Cafe operations, including management, booking and performing.

4. Assist the University in furthering its missions of teaching, community involvement and support for the arts.

I. Formation of a non-profit Cactus Cafe support organization

SaveTheCactusCafe.org is forming a non-profit organization to support the Cactus Cafe and this plan to save it. This organization will:

(1) Begin fundraising now to fund the Save the Cactus Cafe campaign to get the Union management to formally commit to keeping it open and adopting this plan and (2) Provide ongoing financial support for Cactus Cafe operations in a way that addresses student access and control concerns with regard to the venue.

Board Members will be drawn from the business, music, and university (including students and faculty) communities, donors, and others.

II. Financial Support for Ongoing Cactus Cafe Operations

Upon a formal adoption of this plan by Texas Union management, a portion of the funds raised will be used to make up any shortfalls in the Cactus Cafe operating budget

III. The Cactus Cafe Student Initiative

The remainder of funds raised will be used to support the following programs:

· Internships for students in both the business and technical areas of the music business: producing shows, booking talent, marketing, etc.

  • Cactus Cafe Student Artists in Residence Program: A number of students will be chosen through competition to become performing artists-in-residence at the Cafe, both opening for national acts and headlining, and would receive an annual stipend to support their residency.
  • Ongoing workshops on both music and the music industry, allowing students to interact with and learn from community and national professionals in the music industry
  • Marketing and other revenue enhancing projects, in partnership with the business school, aimed at increasing the revenues of the Cactus Cafe by capitalizing on its iconic brand which has been built over the last 31 years.


ABOUT: SaveTheCactusCafe.org is an eclectic group of music lovers from all over the world who are dedicated to preserving Austin’s iconic music venue in its current location in the Texas Union.

i’m moving into a pod

So with 2 growing kids (8 and 9) in a roughly 1000 square foot downtown Austin apartment, I’m thinking it might be time to look for more space.  Maybe get the kids  their own rooms.  An office would rock.  A yard would be nice.  I had that once.  But now that I think about it, I don’t miss it terribly.  Sure there are advantages.  But it’s also a bit of a time suck.  And a money suck.

I asked my kids.  Hannah says it would be cool to have her own bathroom.  Alec asked for some crackers. Outside that, they dig the space we have now.  Sure you can hear it everytime someone gets up to go the bathroom at night.  Believe me, I’m an absurdly light sleeper, I hear a pillow getting flipped.  But, we make do.  There’s enough closet space, a more than adequate kitchen, a great view.  Yep, it’s plenty.  Hell, it’s more than plenty.  I look at the images of shacks in Haiti and realize we’re living large.  So now my question is: could I go smaller?

Turns out there’s a movement to go ultra small.  As in:

This is 100 square feet.  10% the size of my existing apartment.  But the design is pretty damn impressive. I’m not ready for this but it sure would be a kick-ass vacation home in the mountains maybe.  Or on a lake.

Video tour of the features/design:

And then there’s this:

image courtesy of thedesigninspiration.com

image courtesy of thedesigninspiration.com

image courtesy of thedesigninspiration.com

After 18 months, the mobile living space – blob VB3 is finally finished. This unit is build by architectural firm dmvA for the office of xfactoragencies. The blob is mainly made by polyester, and holds all necessary items one could possibly need as bathroom, kitchen, lighting, sleeping space and several niches for storage. Moreover, the nose can be opened automatically and functions as a porch. While being closed, it blends into a complete smooth blob.

It is an impressive creation for mobile unit. We could easily use it as an office, a garden-house or whatever we want. The most exciting thing is that it can be moved to any place. With blob VB3, our outdoor lives will be more convenient and of homey comfort.

From designinspiration.com.  The egg is my fantasy office/escape space.  I’ll take it.  Does it come in macbook aluminum?

But the future has gotta be this:

by Graham Murdock via popsci.com

Damn. A house you grow.  A living, breathing, 2-story, water-recycling, energy-efficient home.  A perfect blend of modern tech and natural design.  Now this is my dream home.  This is how human beings should live.

Video tour:

introducing the coveters…

show #1: feb 4 @ continental club 10pm

show #2: mar 4 @ momo’s club 10pm


banking local: invest in your city and save the economy

Go Local! should mean more than produce and dining.

I made the move from the one of the largest behemoth banks to a local/regional bank earlier this year and have not regretted the move.  What the local bank lacks in a conglomerate’s prowess and needless bells and whistles, they make up for in customer service, ACCESS and a personal relationship.  My banker returns my emails within minutes!

And if enough folks follow suit, we can eliminate much of the excess, greed and corruption of these outdated institutions and inject more money into local investment as outlined in this recent Huffington post piece:

If enough people who have money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it’s meant to be.

Agreed Arianna.  This is a fantastic New Year’s resolution.   Check out http://www.moveyourmoney.info.

You’re no fraud, Margaret

Or should I say Commissioner Moser.  We’re all proud to serve alongside you on the Music Commission.

At the 1979 'Dillo punk poster show. Photo by Ken Hoge

Moser writes:

Which again brings me to feeling like a fraud for being on the Music Commission. Except for one thing: I deeply love the music made in Austin.

Fraud? Hardly.  I dare anyone to suggest a person more qualified.

…I believe passionately in the future of Austin’s young musicians, I could make a difference.

That difference will come in issues the Austin Music Commission tackles and on which it advises the City Council. This year it convened the Live Music Task Force to deal with thorny sound ordinance issues, met with the Fire Department to review city ordinances related to public assembly and temporary use, worked with CreateAustin, and oversaw the Music Memorial selections.

Much is left on the table, including the quality of life for musicians, live music venue issues, working with other commissions such as the Downtown Commission and the Arts Commission, Waller Creek questions, and yes, even street busking, an activity that can be traced back centuries. Is an open guitar case panhandling? No? What about an open guitar case with a CD for sale? Does it matter?

It matters to the extent that music has saved my life many times over. Writing about music saved me much the same way, and gave me a voice I didn’t know I had. Music amplified the good times, redeemed the bad times, and put together an unforgettable soundtrack to 331/³ years of documenting the town whose music I so love.

Now it’s time to listen to the voices of others who have also been saved – and/or just plain care – and do the right thing.

From her recently posted Chronicle piece.

is 200 the new 85?

A good case made for the assertion that we should live much longer than we do.  There’s an explosion in groundbreaking discoveries  in disease prevention and avoiding premature aging.  The next 2 decades are going to change the way we think about health, disease and longevity.  Kurzweill/Grossman make a damn good case for the notion that we are dying and aging way too young.

Nanotechnology, biomechanics, and supplementation will likely make most disease, like diabetes, obsolete.  The authors might go a little overboard in their reliance on technology. And they don’t seem to fully understand the value of intense exercise.  But, their understanding and explanation of what is going on inside our cells that cause aging, and how to avoid it NOW through nutrition and lifestyle and we’ll avoid it LATER through technology and research that is almost complete-makes this damn interesting.

I’ve certainly changed my supplementation and nutritional habits as a result of this book and will likely pick up their recent release, Transcend.

amazon link:


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