Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why You Should Care About Austin Venue Closings: Real Issues Facing the Local Music Scene


Photo: Tyson Zoltan Heder
This post originated on Facebook September 28, 2015. As the year comes to a close I thought it appropriate to share again via this blog in hopes that Austin residents gain a clearer picture of the challenges facing the local music industry and the City of Austin as we head into 2016. Will this be the year Austin residents, local government and local business owners align their vision for the "Live Music Capital" or will we continue to claim that title despite the current disconnect? I certainly hope it is the former. The people who work tirelessly to make the music industry in Austin function as well as it does deserve it. Go see a local show. 

Yesterday was the last day for music venue, Holy Mountain and tireless partner/general manager James Taylor there are a few thoughts I would like to share regarding the closing and what it means to the Austin music scene:

1. Venues come and go (they have since I arrived here over 15 years ago). The real loss this week is an Austin small venue operator, music industry proponent and musician who helped grow the Red River scene, supported young acts and worked behind the scenes to further the cause of all small venue operators. The fact that we're losing James to Minneapolis hurts a lot more than losing the venue he made successful. It will be difficult to replace him.

2. The significance of Holy Mountain, Red 7 and now possibly Hole in the Wall closing is not that venues closing is intrinsically bad for the live music ecosystem in Austin, rather it is the message it sends to prospective small venue owners that investing in such ventures may be too risky to consider (with fast-rising real estate values), the fact that a long-term lease is unlikely because of those rising values and costly obstacles to overcome (like a complicated city permitting system).

3. Holy Mountain's closing also highlights another issue many of us aren't talking about much: The fact that the majority of Austinites seem to prefer supporting out-of-town bands over their musician neighbors who ostensibly make Austin "The Live Music Capital." Venues like ACL Live regularly sell-out shows like last week's Death Cab for Cutie two-night run at around $50 a ticket. Fans are less likely to see a talented band like Sweet Spirit for $5 at a tiny club. If nothing else, the intimacy of a show like that makes going to a local show a somewhat more appealing than a venue that holds 2800 fans. It's time we start taking OWNERSHIP of the city's unofficial logo and spend a lousy $5 (or $10) to make sure our scene lives up to it's moniker.

4. Change is the constant we can count on both in the music scene and in our everyday lives. Make a change for yourself by deciding TODAY you want to be a part of Austin's music scene by supporting local clubs like the newly opened Sidewinder and whatever they're going to call the new venue at the old Red 7 space. Or just plan to regularly hit your favorite venue and buy locally produced records. Get involved with organizations that support local artists like Austin Music PeopleMosaic Sound CollectiveHealth Alliance for Austin Musicians - HAAM and The SIMS Foundation or simply donate funds to a similar group annually.

5. Understand that talented musicians who chose to make Austin their home will stay if as a community we do what is necessary to give them the opportunity for the same quality of life as their predecessors. It is not a given that folks will stay here struggling to make ends meet if they see little indication of improved work opportunities and/or a healthy music scene. For a long time Austin was attractive to artists because the city was affordable to live in. Now with high rents and increasing property values, the community needs to give artists a reason to stay and pursue their goals (some of those are listed in #4 above).