Throwing a party for Joe Gracey

Friend Joe Gracey passed in mid November, just after his 61st birthday, so his friends and family are throwing a big ol’ bash for him on Sunday, December 4 @ 2 pm at Austin City Limits Live in downtown Austin. Even if you never heard of Joe, if you dig Austin, Texas music and all that is cool about this part of the world, you’re invited to send off one of the tastemakers who made it so.

I am honored to have been asked by his family to write his obituary. God bless Kimmie, Jolie, Gabe, Jeremie, brother Bill, and all his friends and relatives.

After a well-spent life defined by a series of reinventions, each more outrageous and ‘way cooler than the previous one, Joe Gracey has left the building – this place we call earth. Born in Fort Worth on November 14, 1950, Joe distinguished himself as a communicator at an early age. He built his own radio studio in the family attic in sixth grade, mowed lawns to get his first guitar, played in teen bands alongside fellow Fort Worth- ers Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett, and projected gravitas and au- thority as a veteran newsman and familiarity and intimacy as a country music disc jockey for KXOL-AM and FM when the 16 year old wasn’t at- tending classes at Paschal High School. His mother drove him to work at the radio station.
Like many other young Texans of his generation, he gravitated to Aus- tin to attend the University of Texas where he graduated with a degree in American Studies while moonlighting on Austin’s Top 40 radio station, KNOW-AM, and writing the first rock music column for the Austin American-Statesman, immediately over- stepping his assigned category by writing about country and folk music too, focusing on the unique country-rock musical hybrid that was incubating in Austin.
In 1974, he joined KOKE-FM in Austin, the first progressive country radio station in the world. Blessed with a warm, full-bodied voice with enough of a lingering drawl to leave no doubt where he came from, Gracey be- came an intimate friend to strangers who discovered they could learn a few things about music by listening to the radio; unlike his broadcasting peers, Gracey was fixated on what he said as much as how he said it.
Smart and a smartass both, he was a pillar of a burgeoning music community on the verge of being discov- ered nationally and internationally. He welcomed music fans to some of the most exciting and eclectic music be- ing created as one of the voices who did radio commercials for the storied Armadillo World Headquarters. It was Ol’ Blue Eyes, as he called himself, who coolly and casually opened his microphone so Willie Nelson and his friend Kris Kristofferson could perform an impromptu concert for listeners at home.
Gracey not only played Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadours, he took the time to explain ET’s signifi- cance and line out Tubb’s hip bona fides for a generation that had previously ignored their parents’ and grandparents’ music. He turned on music lovers to exotic sounds in their own backyard such as Tex-Mex con- junto music as articulated by his friends Doug Sahm, Ry Cooder, and Flaco Jimenez; and western swing, the almost-forgotten Made In Texas country-jazz hybrid popularized in the 1930s, kickstarting its revival by put- ting Asleep at the Wheel and Alvin Crow into heavy rotation. Gracey played a critical role defining Super Roper Radio, as KOKE was known, demonstrating how the Rolling Stones and Gram Parsons were related to George Jones and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. In that respect, he was as influential as Willie Nelson, Austin’s musical godfather, in bringing the hippies and the rednecks together through the common love of music.
With Gracey as program director, Billboard magazine crowned KOKE-FM as “Trendsetter of the Year.”
Gracey’s trendspotting abilities earned him the role as talent coordinator for the new “Austin City Limits,” now the longest-running music series on American television, when the series started in 1976. Through Gracey, the remaining Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, Flaco Jimenez y Su Conjunto, and Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana Zydeco Band performed for national television audiences for the first time. His byline continued ap- pearing in the Austin Sun and the literary country music journal Picking Up the Tempo.
In the summer of 1977, inspired by his mentor Cowboy Jack Clement, he left KOKE-FM a few weeks before the station’s format switched, and headed downstairs to the basement of the KOKE building where he fash- ioned a four track TEAC recorder and two windowless offices into the funky, duct-taped recording studio known as Electric Graceyland. The studio was the site of some of the first recordings of future blues legends Stevie Ray Vaughan and Miss Lou Ann Barton; The Skunks, Austin’s first punk band; and Tex-Mex rockers Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns. Gracey also recorded the demo that scored the Fabulous Thunderbirds their first record contract and worked the dials for Lubbock songster Butch Hancock and his Dixie’s Bar and Bus Stop cable television music series. He recorded Stevie Vaughan and Barton and the band Double Trouble at Clement’s Nashville studio.
He used Electric Graceyland to collaborate musically with his partner in crime, Bobby Earl Smith, as the Jackalope Brothers. Gracey and Smith also did radio promotion for Alvin Crow & The Pleasant Valley Boys while Gracey often opened shows for Crow with his brother Bill as The Amazing Graceys.
It was during this flurry of recording and promoting that Gracey was dealt the lousy hand of a cancer diagno- sis that eventually robbed him of his gifted voice.
Only 27, Gracey fought the hard fight medically while simultaneously adapting. A Magic Slate kids’ erasable writing tablet tucked under his arm became a Gracey accessory so he could scribble a quick response to any questions and allow him to engage in conversations, followed by the soft, barely-audible rip as he cleared the pad to erase the message once his words were understood.
In 1979, his friend TJ McFarland introduced him to the love of his life, Kimmie Rhodes, a singer-songwriter from Lubbock, as well as a playwright, painter, writer, and all-around creative force.
They married in 1984 and settled in Briarcliff where he helped raise Kimmie’s sons from a previous marriage, Gabe and Jeremie Rhodes, and their daughter, Jolie Morgan Goodnight Gracey. A family band emerged with Gracey playing bass and Gabe, a talented producer in his own right, who absorbed all the nuances of the elec- tronic recording art from Joe, playing guitar.
Kimmie and their neighbor Joe Sears started writing plays together and Gracey joined the fun as an actor, playing the part of the skeleton barkeeper in the play “Windblown,” and the role of the clown in “Small Town Girl,” in addition to other performances.
He also worked the audio console at nearby Pedernales Studios for a number of years and in 1996 was at the controls for Nelson’s groundbreaking album, Spirit, which inspired Nelson to redefine his live sound. Gracey and David Zettner built the small, simple recording studio in the back of Willie’s Luck World Headquarters saloon where Willie liked to hold court and make music at the spur of the moment, which yielded the albums, Picture in a Frame, Willie’s 2003 album of duets with Kimmie, and the Grammy-nominated collaboration be- tween Willie and Ray Price, Run That By Me One More Time.
Rhodes and Gracey’s shared love of food and fine wine (he learned how to keep boudin warm on his Cadillac’s engine returning from a trip to visit Clifton Chenier in Lafayette, Louisiana), along with numerous European tours by Rhodes launched another career for Gracey – food writer – as championed by their friend Colman Andrews, the editor of Saveur magazine, for whom Gracey did several pieces. Joe and Kimmie also taught cooking classes together. Their food adventures and Kimmie’s continued popularity in Europe eventu- ally led to the couple’s renovation of a small 1,000 year old stable-farmhouse in the Languedoc province of France.
Gracey never stopped creating, and he started a blog, Letters from Graceyland (Graceyland.blogspot.com) to share his latest adventures with readers.
Cancer-free for 30 years, the beast reentered his life in 2009. The bad news was accompanied by good news though. Doctors at M.D. Anderson Hospital would embark on experimental surgery that led to a partial resto- ration of his voice. But the new cancer was joined by other cancer, leading to several months of treatments in Houston. Afterwards, Joe and Kimmie were able to spend some weeks together in their French place again with friends and family before returning to Texas one last time.
Sickness never defined Joe’s life. It was an irritant and obstacle to be overcome so he could pursue his many interests. He defined it; it didn’t define him. And although so much of his professional career revolved around music, his life was much more than that too, as his extensive network of family and friends that spanned the globe would attest to.
They all knew that Gracey’s presence could never be ignored. He was not the kind of person to let that hap- pen. Which is why despite his unplanned departure, he wanted his friends, family, and all the strangers he never met to hold close to their hearts the advice he dispensed whenever he signed off from another shift on the radio:
“Drink lots of water, stay off your feet, and come when you can.”
Joe is survived by his wife Kimmie Rhodes Gracey, daughter Jolie Gracey Musick and husband Jason; sons Jeremie Rhodes, Gabriel Rhodes and wife Carmen; grandchildren Louis and Ruby Rhodes, Isaac and Isabella Bryson; brother Bill Gracey and wife Cathy; nieces Christy and Kate Gracey; and, Louis’ mother, Jamie Rhodes.
The family is grateful for the loving care and attention provided by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Nobelity Project (www.nobelity.org) or M.D. Anderson Can- cer Center (www.mdanderson.org).
A public celebration of Joe’s life will be held on December 4, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. at the Austin City Limits Moody Theater, 210 W. Willie Nelson Boulevard, in downtown Austin, Texas 78701. Y’all come.

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Snake Farm’s Charms Still Casting Spells

from the Friday, July 15 southwestern edition of the New York Times via the Texas Tribune

 

Tomorrow is World Snake Day, meaning a large number of vehicles will be veering off of southbound Interstate 35 at Exit 182, between New Braunfels and San Antonio, to pay their respects at the Snake Farm.

Before there was Sea World or Six Flags Fiesta Texas, there was the Snake Farm. Since 1967, when the main highway out front was still Route 81, parents of a certain age have viewed the Snake Farm as the only truly irresistible roadside attraction on the iconic car trip to the Alamo. Inner Space Cavern, Aquarena Springs (which featured Ralph the Swimming Pig), Wonder World Cave and the Natural Bridge Caverns could all be ignored. But if there was a herp freak in the back seat, you had no choice but to pull over at the Snake Farm.

Those carloads add up — and it’s not just families. Even after four-plus decades, the Snake Farm manages to attract 400,000 visitors of all ages annually. At $9.95 per person ($6.95 for children 2 to 12), it’s a tidy little business.

In the late 1970s, the iconic New York punk rockers The Ramones stumbled upon the Snake Farm while on tour between Austin and San Antonio. The band subsequently began to wear Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their stage and offstage personae. Snake Farm shirts, replicas of those worn by the late Dee Dee Ramone, have been available online for $49.95.

Five years ago, Ray Wylie Hubbard (the singer-songwriter who performs on the other side of New Braunfels tonight at Gruene Hall) paid homage with “Snake Farm,” a song about a guy in love with a stripper who works the counter at, yes, the Snake Farm. The engaging sing-along refrain: “Snake Farm, sure sounds nasty. Snake Farm, pretty much is. Ewwwwwww.”

A persistent legend among many young Texas males is that if you asked for change for a 20 at the Snake Farm, your double sawbuck would be kept and you’d be directed to one of the trailers out back, where a lady of the night would be waiting, in the tradition of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange.

The reality is snakes, and lots of ’em. More than 200 species are on display inside a no-frills cinder-block building. Stickers on some vivariums identify the Snake Farm’s Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes. The No. 9 King Cobra and No. 2 Black Mamba appear far more threatening than No. 1, the Inland Taipan, a small, rust-colored snake.

In addition to snakes, there’s a petting zoo, outdoor cages with lemurs, hyenas, parrots, monkeys, kinkajous and peacocks, and a pond filled with crocodiles and alligators. This explains the official name, Animal World and Snake Farm, even though the souvenirs all say Snake Farm Exotic Animal Park.

For the past eight years, the staff, led by Jarrod Forthman, the director of outreach, has overseen daily animal encounters at noon and 3 p.m., offering lizard talks and bringing out a huge python for photo ops. The big ’un is the Sunday 3 p.m. Croc Feed, in which the resident family of crocodilians have their once-a-week meal of raw chicken parts.

Mr. Forthman, 30, describes the weekly feeding as the most dangerous show in the country. “I have some job security, if you know what I mean,” he said with a sly grin. Mr. Forthman added that the farm was not regulated like most zoos. “So we’re able to do things normal zoos cannot,” he said. “You can get up close and personal.”

You can also get bitten. Mr. Forthman, who has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” has 100 stitches in his right hand from one croc bite and is missing half a thumb from another.

With the recent purchase of 45 acres behind the present three-acre footprint, Mr. Forthman envisions more snakes, more animals and a drive-through safari. But it’s the old-fashioned cheesy aura and staff members’ willingness to risk digits and limbs in the name of putting on a good show that will keep drawing the crowds.

“I get no greater thrill than having to handle some of the deadliest snakes,” Mr. Forthman said. “Call me crazy, but I’m doing what I love.”

Joe Nick Patoski is a regular contributor to these pages.

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Jacob’s Well Inspires a Push To Protect the Underwater Cave and Springs

photo by David Baker

Groundwater Gusher
The mysterious power and irresistible draw of Jacob’s Well inspire a push to protect the underwater cave and springs.
By Joe Nick Patoski

At first sight, Jacob’s Well appears to be a deep, dark hole at the bottom of a pool of creek water — nothing more. Pay attention to how the hole, about 15 feet in diameter, has perpetually gushed pure artesian water out of the ground since before humans first wandered around this part of what is now known as the Hill Country, and it takes on deeper meaning. Listen to stories about it, and it becomes something much more than just a special natural place.

Spanish explorers described a head of water 4 to 6 feet high being pushed to the surface from far below. American Indians living in the area considered the place sacred. The name Jacob’s Well was supposedly inspired by a survivor of the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle for Texas’ independence from Mexico, who first saw it while looking for a place to build a mill along the Blanco River and declared it “like unto a well in biblical times.”

mp3 button Listen to a podcast of “Groundwater Gusher.”

Local elders speak of leaping in as kids and being thrust back to the surface by the force of the flow. The location in the eastern Hill Country — the dry, rocky rise above the coastal prairie — makes it all the more remarkable. That a place like this exists in the 21st century, when half the springs documented in Texas in 1900 have gone dry and disappeared, is a miracle.

At least that’s how it seems whenever I’m gazing into the blue and green hues tinting the water and the limestone walls of what is the beginning of a giant underwater cave. Everything sparkles like magic, a phantasmagorical welcome to another world below.

Peer into its depths and it pulls you in.

That pretty much sums up David Baker’s life since May 1988. He had been in Austin working as a designer and carpenter on a theatrical production when he took a drive with his wife to the village of Wimberley, got directions, walked down a trail to the end of a limestone bluff and saw Jacob’s Well for the first time.

“The hair on my arm just stood up,” he says as he relates his first impression of the bubbling spring surrounded by elegant cypresses with a rough, rocky bluff rising above it. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was so confident we were going to move here that I rented a storage locker.”

In a matter of months, Baker left a mountaintop home near Santa Cruz, Calif., in the redwoods, where on a clear day you could see the Pacific and the town of Monterey. He packed up his pregnant wife and his 9-month-old son, Jacob, and moved into a rock cottage a few short steps away from Jacob’s Well.

Fast-forward 23 years.

The sign in front of a former RV park reads “Welcome to Jacob’s Well Natural Area, the Jewel of the Hill Country.” A couple hundred yards past the sign, David Baker sits at a desk, typing at a computer, preparing a paper to protect the well he fell in love with. Baker’s office is neither bucolic nor picturesque, but rather chaotic. Baker fields calls, refers to charts and converses in geologist/hydrologist acronyms, citing DFCs (desired future conditions), ADRs, MAGs and GAMs as he talks about the Well’s past, present and future.

Baker toils in the trenches these days, working his way through a very thorny political process, having been schooled in contrarian water laws. Texas treats surface water such as lakes and streams as a common resource owned by all Texans, while groundwater such as Jacob’s Well is considered private property. The “rule of capture” states that the owner of surface property owns the water underground as long as it is not part of a subterranean stream.

Baker was in the minority voting bloc when the board of directors of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, an entity he was instrumental in establishing, voted earlier this year to issue new pumping permits for a development and a golf course that Baker fears will hasten the Well’s demise. There is already an annual decline of two feet under current conditions, Baker pointed out during discussions before the vote.

Board President Jimmy Skipton, a developer and property rights advocate from Henly, responded, “That’s David’s opinion.” As an individual, Skipton has filed a lawsuit against Hays County for establishing development rules that require lot sizes to be at least six acres for homes dependent on individual water wells. Skipton wants to sell 1.5-acre lots on the 165 acres he would like to develop.

David Baker wants Jacob’s Well to continue being Jacob’s Well.

For natural places to remain natural, stewards like David Baker are required. Special places lack lobbyists, money to contribute to politicians and the legal tools to fend off forces that compromise their integrity and threaten their existence. The best hopes are advocates willing to devote time, money and research in order to preserve, protect and conserve places such as Jacob’s Well.

In the big picture of earth science, karst aquifers are rare and unique — spongy-looking hard limestone reservoirs hundreds of feet below the surface that filter water, hold water and produce water, pushing it above ground, as is the case of Jacob’s Well.

The Well feeds Cypress Creek and Blue Hole, the town park and swimming hole in Wimberley, before the water flows into the Blanco River about five miles downstream. The creek courses through scenic landscapes of twisted oak and gnarly scrub woodlands and abundant grasslands, bordered by high bluffs and hills beyond the drainage. The beauty is both surreal and exceptional. Endangered golden-cheeked warblers thrive in abundance here.

My introduction to Jacob’s Well came through Stephen Harrigan’s 1980 article for Texas Monthly magazine and his 1984 novel, Jacob’s Well, in which he tells the story of the Well and its attraction to scuba divers, and how several cave divers died in its chambers. I came away wondering what kind of place exerted that sort of fatal attraction.

Between 1960 and 1985, eight divers died in the Well, primarily because of the tight passageway between the third and fourth chamber, the quicksand-like sediment at the bottom of the third chamber that is easily stirred up and narcosis, a condition of confusion that can affect divers at depths greater than 100 feet. Don Dibble, a master scuba instructor and the owner of the Dive Shop in nearby San Marcos who almost lost his own life on a recovery dive on behalf of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team, wrote his own account of the Well’s allure for divers for Reader’s Digest.

photo by Jesse Cancelmo

I didn’t actually see the Well until the early 1990s after I moved into the Wimberley community and was invited to a festival at Baker’s Dancing Waters Inn.

When I finally saw it, I got it. Of the proverbial 1,100 springs that define the Texas Hill Country, this one was indeed special, exceptional and worth fighting for.

In 1996, Baker got serious about protecting Jacob’s Well when Wimberley residents began meeting to discuss formally incorporating the village. Baker was on the water and sewer committee. One consensus recommendation from the committee was the need to form a nonprofit land trust and water trust in the Wimberley Valley to ensure water quality and quantity, a critical element of Wimberley’s tourist economy. Working with Jack Hollon, whose family had donated ranchland to create Rancho El Cima for the Boy Scouts of Houston and who had seen the Blanco River go dry in the 1950s, landowner Johanna Smith, University of Texas history professor Patrick Cox and physician-nutritionist Dr. Philip Zyblot, Baker helped form the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association in December 1996.

photo by Jesse Cancelmo

The nonprofit organization began writing small grants and engaging in water quality monitoring, participating in the Texas Watch program. It also focused on ownership of Jacob’s Well, which had been divided into four major pieces, with more than 120 parcels in the 100-acre area around it.

“It was extremely fragmented,” Baker says. “We debated whether to buy land around the Well to get it under one owner or work on the surrounding watershed to protect the recharge. We decided we needed to get land around it for an educational center.”

In 2005, with financial help from the Save Our Springs Alliance in Austin, the group got a loan for $2 million to purchase 46 acres, including 100 percent of the well. The selling price was about $1.1 million less than the appraised price. The SOS Alliance put a conservation easement on most of the property to prohibit future development and to limit impervious cover such as asphalt and concrete to 6 percent. The Wimberley group had two years to pay back the loan.

In 2007, 69 percent of Hays County voters approved $30 million in bonds for open space. The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association hired the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and architects Lake/Flato to create a master plan with input from 30 residents. The group determined that environmental education, aquifer research and recreation were the top priorities.

The patchwork of acquisitions was completed in late December 2010 when developers of the mobile home park canceled plans to build a “green” development with 65 condominiums and a hotel on 15 acres adjacent to the Well and dropped a lawsuit against the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association over access issues and the perceived right to build a road through the property. Instead, the developers agreed to sell the land for $1.7 million. Hays County ponied up half the price and the Texas Nature Conservancy loaned the other half, citing the unique attributes and ecological significance of Jacob’s Well.

photo courtesy of David Baker

Humpty-Dumpty has been put back together again. Today, Hays County owns Jacob’s Well and 96 acres around it. The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association has a three-year contract with the county to manage the property and oversee education and public outreach.

Slowly but surely, the surrounding landscape is returning to its natural state. Through better understanding of how the land and water are interconnected deep underground, people are beginning to appreciate the critical role we play in this system and how easily we can disrupt the balance that has made nature’s abundance such a critical key to human growth and progress.

But that is not enough.

The “rule of capture” property right accepts the Texas Supreme Court’s judgment made in 1908 that groundwater is too “mysterious and occult” to regulate like a river, lake or stream. Looking down into Jacob’s Well, I can understand the judges making that sort of determination.

But our understanding of groundwater has improved considerably over the past century. We know how it works, how it moves, where it starts and where it stops.

Through Baker’s initiatives, scuba divers and dye tests, we know that Jacob’s Well is connected to the Edwards Aquifer near San Antonio and to Barton Springs in Austin, that the actual well is at least 5,550 feet long as mapped by divers for the United States Geological Survey (the first- or second-longest underwater cave in Texas, depending on the latest measurements of Phantom Cave near San Solomon Springs in West Texas), that the water emerges from the Cow Creek Limestone formation and that pumping from some of the larger of the 6,600 wells in western Hays County reduces the flow of Jacob’s Well.

The Well stopped flowing twice — in the summer of 2000 for the first time ever and during the drought of 2008 when 42 wells in the county and nearby Onion Creek went dry. The Well survived the historic drought of the 1950s but may not be able to endure the population boom in Hays County and the surrounding Hill Country.

Education is the best hope.

“It’s so neat to watch people react to it,” Baker said. “It’s the mystery. This hole in the ground. Nobody knew how deep it was. It was intriguing watching people relate to it. Some would be afraid. ‘That’s where the divers drowned.’

“Some look at it as sacred. I feel that way about it: Here’s the earth, giving water, the one thing besides air we need to live, it’s doing it every day, it’s done it for millions of years, it’s a miracle. It was also chaotic. Nobody really was responsible. I kind of started to become somewhat of a policeman, which wasn’t a pretty job. But someone needed to take responsibility for managing this resource.”

Receiving the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Texas Environmental Excellence Award for 2011 has helped validate his work. Baker prefers another standard of measure: “If the well’s flowing, the water’s still clean so we can drink it and our kids can still swim in it, we get an ‘A.’ If the water’s polluted or quits flowing, we’ve failed.”

He acknowledges he’s in a race against competing interests and that the deck may be stacked against him.

“Sometimes I do feel it’s not going to work out, that it’s too late. But then I see all these people who get it. That’s when I realize that we can do it.”

As if on cue, a women’s hiking club from Canyon Lake arrives and Baker delivers an informal talk about the Well and shows hydrological charts, historical photographs and underwater video before sending the group on the path down to Jacob’s Well. (Free public tours of the Well are conducted at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.)

I’m not sure who walked away happier from the visit — the hikers or Baker.

“I found something bigger than myself,” he told me. “It gave me a purpose for my life the past 22 years to create something that would be here after I’m gone that I could share with the community.”

And now they come — to see, to study, to experience and even to jump in. If Baker gets enough people to do that, they just might save Jacob’s Well for this century and even beyond.

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Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns ride again

The band I managed back in the 1980s, Stiff Records artists Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns (Joe King, Kris Cummings, Brad Kizer, Miguel Navarro) have reformed 30 years after the fact for a Texas Tourette.
Dates are Friday, June 17 @ the Continental Club Houston
Saturday, June 18 @ the Back Porch, Port Aransas
Friday, June 24 @ Poor David’s, Dallas
Saturday, June 25 @ Antone’s, Austin
Sunday, June 26 @ Sam’s Burger Joint, San Antonio.

Here’s the story:
In the late summer 1979, Joe “King” Carrasco formed a stripped-down four-piece combo to replace his Chicano big band, El Molino. Dubbed the Crowns, organist/accordionist Kris Cummings, bassist Brad Kizer, and drummer Miguel Navarro backed up Carrasco at Raul’s, the famed punk club, and the Hole-in-the-Wall, and other University of Texas-area venues in Austin, quickly gaining a following around their revved-up Tex-Mex brand of punk rock, harkening back to the classic Vox and Farfisa organ-driven sound first popularized by the 1960s Texas bands Sir Douglas Quintet (“She’s About A Mover”), Sam The Sham and The Pharoahs (“Wooly Bully”), and ? And the Mysterians (“96 Tears”).

In November 1979, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns made their first trip to New York City where Joe “King” almost gave the Lone Star Café’s owner, Mort Cooperman, a heart attack when he jumped off the club’s balcony onto the stage. The band was such a sensation, they were invited to play the storied Mudd Club downtown, and returned to Austin with critical praise from New York’s music press including Lester Bangs and John Rockwell of the New York TImes.

Armed with a 45 rpm single “Party Weekend” b/w “Houston El Mover” that was financed by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, the band returned to New York in the spring of 1980 to record a demo album for Warner Brothers Records, which was eventually released on ROIR records as “Tales From the Crypt,” and platy two weeks worth of dates at CBGB’s, Hurrah, TR3, which would lead to more bookings at the Danceteria, the Peppermint Lounge, and the Bottom Line, as well as appearances in Washington, DC, Boston, Toronto, Providence, and other cities in the northeast.

By the end of the summer, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns signed a recording contract with Stiff Records in England and embarked on the Son of Stiff Tour with Tenpole Tudor, Dirty Looks, the Equators, and Any Trouble, an extended three-month tour of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the northeastern United States, promoting their debut album and the single “Buena,” a Top Ten hit in France and Sweden that charted in the Top 40 on the BBC.

While overseas, the band filmed a video of “Buena” in London, and taped television appearances in Spain, France, and on Musicladen in Germany, which was broadcast across the Continent.

In January, 1981, the band issued their first US album on the Hannibal label for music empresario Joe Boyd and appeared on the television series “Saturday Night Live” and was a featured act on a new cable television channel called MTV. Later that year, JKC and the Crowns made their West Coast debut at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go behind their Hannibal EP “Party Safari” and played a date in the basement of Hollywood’s Cathay de Grande where they shared the bill with Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs and Los Lobos, making their West LA debut.

Joe “King” Carrasco & The Crowns played a critical role in exporting the Austin sound and Texas music around the world, while establishing the band as one of the most popular music-makers in the Lone Star state in clubs, at Spring Break in South Padre Island, and in arenas and outdoor venues such as Red Rocks, the Frank Erwin Center, the Summit, the Ritz, and Southpark Meadows where they shared the bill with the Talking Heads, the Police, REMm UB 40, the English Beat, the Go-Gos, George Thorogood, and Culture Club.

Thirty years later, the band that exported Tex-Mex Rock-Roll around the globe has reunited for a limited number of Texas dates, demonstrating to fans that what they had heard all those years ago was no mirage: Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns rock like no one else before or since.

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Book signing at Book People, Sat, June 25

Join me at Book People Saturday, June 25 at 5 pm for a talk and book signing for “Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy” published by Texas A&M Press.

603 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78703

Open daily, 9am to 11pm Call us at (512) 472-5050
Start: 06/25/2011 5:00 pm

Author and journalist JOE NICK will speak about and sign his new book, Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy.

Each year, Sand County Foundation’s prestigious Leopold Conservation Award recognizes families for leadership in voluntary conservation and ethical land management. In Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy, veteran author and journalist Joe Nick Patoski visits eight of the award-winning families, presenting warm, heartfelt conversations about the families, their beloved land, and a vision for a healthier world.

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Water Policy in Texas Legislature Rode on One Word

from the Friday, June 10 issue of the Texas Tribune/New York Times

photo by Betsy Blaney, Associated Press

by Joe Nick Patoski

With the Big Dry upon us, the longstanding fight over the water percolating under the surface in Texas’ 9 major and 20 minor aquifers was bound to get contentious before the end of the 82nd legislative session. And it did, at least for a while, because of a single word.

Expanded coverage of Texas is produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization. To join the conversation about this article, go to texastribune.org.

The Republican majority’s agenda for the session included numerous expressions of fealty to property rights. Among them was Senate Bill 332, which affirms groundwater as property right courtesy of the “rule of capture,” a quirky Texas law that gives landowners ownership of the water below the surface of their property. When he introduced the bill, Senator Troy Fraser, Republican of Horseshoe Bay and chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, described groundwater as a “vested” property right.

That modifier threatened to upend a delicate balance between landowners and the 97 local groundwater conservation districts charged with regulating the below-the-surface reservoirs of water that supply more than 60 percent of what the state needs. As written, groundwater as a “vested” property right would have trumped the ability of groundwater districts to protect a shared resource.

Texas is the only Western state that regulates its groundwater through the rule of capture, which was adopted from English common law when Texas became an independent republic in 1836. The rule (also called the Rule of the Biggest Pump) was first upheld by the Texas Supreme Court in the landmark Houston & Texas Central Railroad Co. v. East decision in 1904 and was most recently reasserted in 1999, after property owners in Henderson County unsuccessfully sued the neighboring Ozarka Water Company for pumping 90,000 gallons of groundwater a day, severely affecting the water table.

Mindful that an individual could create quite a mess by invoking the rule of capture but not inclined to do away with a historic property right, the Texas Legislature tweaked the rule in 1949 with Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code, which allowed for the creation of groundwater districts, the preferred method to regulate groundwater use in a specific area.

To many property owners, though, such districts have not provided enough protection.

“Water planning needs to start where the first drop of rain falls on the ground,” said David K. Langford, a former vice president of the Texas Wildlife Association and the owner of a 13,000-acre Hill Country ranch that has been in his family for seven generations.

Mr. Langford supported S.B. 332 because, he said, it would allow him to conserve the groundwater on the ranch. “Conservation needs to have the same weight as users do,” he said. “We asked to re-establish the property right so conservation would have as much standing as a developer who buys a ranch next door to build a golf-course community.”

As the session wore on, Mr. Fraser’s House colleagues stripped the word “vested” from the bill, disappointing advocates of property rights but melting away opposition from groundwater districts.

“ ‘Vested’ would have created a constitutionally protected property right, making a statute of common law,” said Gregory M. Ellis, the former head of the Edwards Aquifer Authority and now a lawyer who represents several groundwater districts. “The threat would not have been to groundwater districts but to the water supply itself. Every landowner would be entitled to as many wells as they wanted, and they could pump as much as they wanted.”

Once the new law takes effect, Mr. Ellis said, “the districts can manage with more flexibility around the demand and have the tools they need to get the job done.”

Except for S.B. 332, the 82nd session was remarkable for being unremarkable when it came to water, one of the most crucial issues that the state will have to grapple with over the next century. In particular, Mr. Ellis admitted disappointment that the Legislature did not take on the bigger challenge inevitably facing Texas groundwater conservation districts and all of Texas: rising demand and declining supply.

“Eventually, a district will either have to stop issuing permits or reduce pumping to accommodate new permits,” he said.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ellis added, legislation “doesn’t create more groundwater.”

Only rain can do that. Until that happens, all that water users, sellers, property owners, state legislators and the 97 groundwater conservation districts across Texas can do is conserve, hope, pray and watch the skies overhead.

Joe Nick Patoski has written about water policy for Texas Monthly and Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

Continue Reading

Finding Austin

from the Houston Press 6/8/11
http://www.houstonpress.com/2011-06-09/news/finding-austin/
by John Nova Lomax

photos by John Anderson

Armadillo World Headquarters
Austin food by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson by John Anderson
Yours truly, holding an old Soap Creek poster by John Anderson

Finding Austin
The neo city on the hills is a far cry from its cheap pot, cold beer and low-rent former ways.

From the outside, nothing about Eddie Wilson’s near-north Austin bungalow would indicate that a prime architect of the city’s mystique lives inside. Once through the door, though, and the whole fantastic story becomes plain as a giant javelina sucking on a six-story jug of tequila. Over the fireplace, in the living room where Wilson jokes that prior to remarrying his ex-wife he spent five divorced years cavorting as Austin’s “fat Hugh Hefner,” there hangs a painting of the Armadillo World Headquarters, the venue and “beer garden of Eden” he opened in 1969 and sold to a partner in 1976.
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.

…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.

More so than any other place in the Texas capital’s history, the Armadillo was where Austin got its merit badge in cool. Just for starters, it was the epicenter for the rise of redneck rock, the sacred place where cosmic cowboys like Waylon and Willie united the hitherto-warring tribes of rednecks and hippies. Next to the painting, on the mantel stands a Day of the Dead shrine to Doug Sahm, another Armadillo regular and perhaps the one man who truly mastered every single style of Texas music from gutbucket blues to conjunto. To the left is the ‘Dillo’s old piano, played by
everyone from Fats Domino to Johnny Winter to Mose Allison to Van Morrison.

The idea for Austin City Limits — the brand name that indelibly stamped Austin as the “Live Music Capital of the World” to a generation and counting of PBS viewers, and the driving force behind Texas’s largest music festival today — was hatched at the Armadillo. Indeed, ACL’s raucous Gary P. Nunn theme “London Homesick Blues” famously choruses “Take me home to the Armadillo…”

While you are taking this all in, Wilson is regaling you with tales of this bygone Austin. He explains how people were able to smoke weed with impunity there; powerful men like Bob Bullock liked to ogle the coeds in their halter tops and faded cut-off Levi’s. And Wilson also shows you a picture of him goosing a youthful Ann Richards. The heat wasn’t gonna come down on the fat cats’ playhouse.

In the study, amid thousands and thousands of books and Burton Wilson photographs and psychedelic Jim Franklin posters and other lore, hang five paintings of giant armadillos prowling rolling bluebonnet prairies amid towering Lone Star longnecks. Yep, Wilson’s club inspired that whole National Beer of Texas, “Long Live Longnecks” ethos, too.

“Cheap pot, cold beer and cheap rent,” Wilson says in his courtly, old-school Texas rasp of a voice. With his snow-white mane and goatee and piercing eyes, he looks for all the world like a potbellied Mark Twain. “That’s what got it all started here and now we’re running out of all of it.”

Well, maybe not the beer, but the point is well taken. Eddie Wilson’s Austin, the one people flocked to from all over Texas and the nation to come join, where people could share $60-a-month rent houses and while away their lives hanging out down by the water and partying, is buried, if not dead.

Sure, you can still find vestiges of that magic in places like the Continental Club on South Congress and the Saxon Pub on South Lamar, and Wilson’s own Threadgill’s restaurants, and the other pockets of freakiness that dot the city from the North Loop to deep East Austin, not to mention in farther-flung outposts like San Marcos and Martindale, but by and large, Austin is coming more and more to resemble places like Dallas and Houston, the cities so many adopted Austinites fled in disgust.

And at the same time, Texas’s larger cities are getting cooler and more livable, much “less suffocating,” as Wimberley journalist and Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski puts it.

As Wilson approaches 70 and battles lung cancer, he is wondering what will happen to his legacy and the city he worked so hard to craft in his image. It’s been 30 years since the Armadillo met the wrecking ball. Wilson says he watched as a loader tipped remnants of the old stage into a dump truck. He swears he saw the glitter Doctor John once tossed in the air twinkling among the foam, dust, floorboards and mortar, but nowadays that seems less like an omen of great things to come than a coda to an era that will never return.

Today, where once the Armadillo rollicked, there squats an utterly sterile, suburban-looking, glass-sided office building. It’s as if Austin had declared an official intent to abandon its good-timing days, sober up and get in the hamster wheel with the rest of the rat race, to mix rodent metaphors. Austin officially decided to barter its imagination for a bid at Houston- and Dallas-sized stacks of cash.

“What’s even more ironic is that was initially a bank. And it failed,” says Wilson. “That piece of real estate was the first flip in Austin, and I believe it flipped twice or three times before the thing got built and failed.”
_____________________

From a distance, Austin still looks as beguiling as it must have appeared to its earliest settlers, even if today’s western hills — so exquisitely violet in the setting sun — are studded with McMansions. Austin is easily Texas’s most outdoorsy city. All over town, cyclists whiz past in far greater numbers than anywhere else, and at least on the south side of town, many suburban neighborhoods mesh well with the surrounding hills and thickets. Greenbelts and rocky, shaded creeks streak the city like veins of precious ore, and huge nature preserves and state parks are minutes from town.

The lake, a treacherous river in the old days, is more crowded than ever, but still an amazing downtown amenity, and Hippie Hollow has managed to hang on and is now officially Texas’s only clothing-optional swimming hole. There’s also Zilker Park and Barton Springs — in Wilson’s vernacular, “our G-spot.”

No, Austin is not a truly gorgeous geographical Shangri-La, like San Francisco, Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Seattle or even Chattanooga, Tennessee, but it’s pretty enough and easily the beauty queen of Texas. What’s more, its violent-crime rate is a merciful fraction of those of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Fats, Jerry Lee and Van the Man were but three of the touring legends to have radiated the Armadillo piano’s 88 keys; above, a portrait of the iconic Austin shrine as it appeared in its heyday.
Photos by John Anderson
Fats, Jerry Lee and Van the Man were but three of the touring legends to have radiated the Armadillo piano’s 88 keys; above, a portrait of the iconic Austin shrine as it appeared in its heyday.
While Austin has recently developed a new tier of high-end restaurants, it’s still a town where you can eat fast, cheap and tasty meals tailored for a student budget. Most recently, the city has seen an invasion of over 2,300 food trucks like this one from Franklin BBQ.
John Anderson
While Austin has recently developed a new tier of high-end restaurants, it’s still a town where you can eat fast, cheap and tasty meals tailored for a student budget. Most recently, the city has seen an invasion of over 2,300 food trucks like this one from Franklin BBQ.
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While the music scene isn’t quite what Austin’s boosters would have you believe, it does have its moments, day in and day out, week after week. “I’ll start on a Thursday at five o’clock at happy hour at Continental Club, and then go from there to the early show at the Saxon, and then maybe go over to the East Side to TC’s, and then end up between midnight and two in the morning at Antone’s, perhaps with Del Castillo,” says Wilson. It’s a concentration of reasonably compressed world-class talent Wilson can drive to in minutes. “My friend from L.A. tells me it would take him approximately 18 months to see that much world-class talent in L.A.,” he says.

As an eating town, Austin was once home to little more than sausage wraps and brisket and breakfast tacos, nachos and guacamole — cheap fare to fill the bellies of UT students while leaving them a few extra bucks for partying. Today, that tradition of cheap eats lives on in the 2,300 hipster food trucks that patrol the city, and they offer much more diverse fare than what was available in the past. And while Austin has not yet caught up to Dallas or Houston in fine or ethnic dining, it has made strides, especially in high-end eats. UT grad and former Austin and Houston food critic Robb Walsh says that Austin has developed whole new foodie-tiers in recent years. “Recently, some really good and really expensive restaurants have opened and been able to survive,” he says, citing examples such as Uchi and Vespaio. “It’s very competitive on that level, but you can make it now.”

However, in many, many other areas, Austin is mired in an intermediate stage between overgrown town and true metropolis. To Wilson, the Austin of today is “like a good-lookin’ chick who got knocked up and can’t get into her britches anymore.” What’s more, a great many of the citizens can’t seem to see the way forward.

Austin is home to precious few top-rate museums and little in the way of high art or fashion. The only international flight out of its airport goes to Cancun. Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns). While the real estate market is a bargain to Californians, by Texas standards it is both costly and cramped.

Above all that, there’s traffic, the “sheer hell trying to get around that city,” as Greg Ellis, a former Dallasite and Houstonian and now the manager of Sundance Records in San Marcos, puts it. Austinites have a curious attitude toward their clogged roads. In a recent poll, 70 percent of them said it was their city’s top concern, and a 2010 study conducted by Texas A&M’s nationally renowned Texas Transportation Institute, one that used the latest high-tech GPS devices and even iPhone data to measure travel times, concluded that in all of America, Austin trailed only Los Angeles and Washington D.C. in average travel times.

Yet when you read the Austin American-Statesman’s article about the study, there’s this weird parade of denial in the online comments. Yes, traffic is bad, dozens of the commenters say. They will all admit that I-35 is a nightmare from Williamson County to San Antonio, and that it does suck being America’s largest city with only one interstate. They’ll grant that Highways 183 and 290 are hell-paths, and that MoPac is an inadequate north-south conduit, and that major arterials such as Lamar, Airport, Burnet and Manor all have poorly synchronized traffic lights.

And yet still, even given all that, they will insist that traffic in Austin is “not as bad as it is in Dallas and Houston.” (Others, like Wilson, just shrug it off and say things like “That’s why you are supposed to smoke a joint in your car.”)

That denial is typical, according to Julia Youssefnia, a 28-year-old accountant who graduated from UT and has since lived in both Houston and Dallas, and it’s not limited to traffic. “Austin is a city with tons of problems — segregation, gentrification, problems with affordable housing — but most people there tend to ignore them,” she says.

Indeed, some in the city seem to celebrate their woes. That’s what makes Austin weird, they claim.

But Houston blogger Lou Minatti points out that so much of what Austin touts as being weird is actually ordinary. Bats under bridges? Houston has those. A large population of panhandlers, or “dragworms,” as they are called in Austin? Both Houston and Dallas have them.

The one thing he grants is truly weird about Austin was the population’s hatred of ease of transit, an antipathy manifested by residents’ refusal to do anything to alleviate their woes.”More highways will make us just like Houston and Dallas!” is the rallying cry, and to be like those towns would not be weird.

But to people who have actually been to all three cities recently, it’s apparent that they are already more alike than different. “I cannot truck people who say they don’t want Austin to become Dallas or Houston, because it is,” says Patoski.
Author Joe Nick Patoski holds a relic from the tail end of Austin’s glory days: The Soap Creek Saloon was the soul of Austin’s scene while the Armadillo was the heart. Today, Patoski believes that Austin has the same big-city problems of Houston and Dallas, while the two larger cities have both gotten less suffocating.
John Anderson
Author Joe Nick Patoski holds a relic from the tail end of Austin’s glory days: The Soap Creek Saloon was the soul of Austin’s scene while the Armadillo was the heart. Today, Patoski believes that Austin has the same big-city problems of Houston and Dallas, while the two larger cities have both gotten less suffocating.
When South by Southwest was launched the late 1980s, its goals were to show off local and regional bands and fill downtown bar stools while the UT kids were on spring break. Now, it’s morphed into three conferences spanning most of March and is a spring break destination in its own right, not to mention an international Shangri-La for techno-nerds.
John Anderson
When South by Southwest was launched the late 1980s, its goals were to show off local and regional bands and fill downtown bar stools while the UT kids were on spring break. Now, it’s morphed into three conferences spanning most of March and is a spring break destination in its own right, not to mention an international Shangri-La for techno-nerds.
Details

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Nowhere is that more apparent than downtown, where the past ten years have been home to a crass real estate boom that would shame even Donald Trump. Austin’s downtown was once home to much that was funky, family-owned and attitude-free.

That vibe has been vanishing, especially since 2006, when a strong ordinance dictating an unobstructed line of sight to the Capitol from pretty much all points was weakened to the point of near-meaninglessness. Ever since, high-rise luxury condos and hotels and glitzy shopping centers have erupted like enormous rainy-day toadstools. Austin’s tall landmarks were once the Capitol and the Texas Tower — politics and academia. Now the city’s skyline declares that Austin is really about flipping condos.

In a real estate developer-driven bid to weaken the Capitol Corridors ordinance, Austin mayor Will Wynn stated that he wanted to have 25,000 people living downtown by 2015. And what kind of people did they want? Rich ones, as attested by the fact that the one true grocery store in the area is the Whole Foods flagship.

Like the city of its birth, Whole Foods is a lot more corporate and ritzy than it was in the hippy-dippy ’70s, and Patoski believes that store is helping solidify downtown as a paradise for wealthy Bobos, to mangle the title of David Brooks’s memorable 2000 book. “It’s their theme park,” he says of the flagship. “I’ve seen people moving into high-rises down there so they can be close to Whole Foods.”

The kind of people who can afford to do their regular shopping at Whole Foods are not the bohemians Austin once drew. Instead, they are the people who can afford to live in the brand-new, 683-foot Austonian condo tower, now Austin’s tallest building, where studio condos start at $500,000 (with $700 monthly fees) and prices ascend to a cool $8 million for a penthouse. At the time the project was announced, one of the developers reportedly stated that these would not be first or second homes for their typical buyers, but fifth or sixth, somewhere in the port­folio amid properties in the south of France, Manhattan, Aspen, Tuscany and Malibu.

Today, downtown Austin is cramped. It’s hard to park. By and large, the people you see on a night out are alternately pretentious, thuggish (on skanky East 6th Street, where gang shootings and fistfights are becoming common occurrences) or douched-out, as on West 6th Street, which now rivals or exceeds Uptown Dallas as a spawning ground for vulgarian 30k millionaires swilling bottle-service Grey Goose. (While the exact number of douchebags prowling Austin was not tracked by the census and is therefore impossible to quantify, suffice to say that a production company recently found it fertile enough ground to announce they were casting a Texas-style Jersey Shore ripoff in Austin.)

By night, the one thing much of downtown Austin has in spades is vapidity, an affluent airheadedness that reigns everywhere where it is not supplanted by its cousins: lunkheaded testosterone head-cracking or the putting on of airs, depending on whether you are east or west of Congress.

Austin Community College librarian Red Wassenich spearheaded the Keep Austin Weird campaign of the last few years. He says he’s been encouraged by some recent developments in the city, but he did tip us off to one place whose mere presence would seem to toll the death knell of any city that claimed to be cool.

“There are these horrible bars downtown like Qua where they have, like, live sharks swimming under the dance floor,” he said.

We thought he had to be exaggerating, but no, Qua really exists, on West 4th Street. It’s got it all, including that stupid, meaningless name. It’s got the velvet rope and the dress codes. It’s got bottle service, and, yes, Virginia, there are in fact actual live sharks swimming under the glass dance floor. “They are fed fresh seafood (from Whole Foods) daily,” notes the info page on Qua’s Web site.

Downtown Austin, 2011: where even the nightclub sharks dine on Whole Foods seafood daily.

Molly Ivins wept.
_____________________

It’s fitting that the supermarket chain that white people like most was born and bred in Austin, the Texas city that white people like best. Austin is easily Texas’s milkiest big city, and the inner core is getting more ivory by the minute. It’s curious — Austin is Texas’s most progressive city, and it’s hard not to imagine that its residents wouldn’t speak highly of diversity as a concept. (Indeed, President Obama enjoyed his greatest Texas margin of victory in Travis County, though he took both Dallas and Harris counties, too.) And yet the stats don’t lie: Austin is 8.8 percent black, Houston is 18.7 and Dallas is 20.7 percent.

The Hispanic population of all three cities grew between 2000 and 2010, but in Austin, that growth has been tempered by a simultaneous gentrification of the East Austin barrio / black neighborhood, both just across I-35 from downtown. According to U.S. Census figures, the Hispanic presence in Central East Austin declined by 9.3 percent, and that of blacks by 27 percent. (Both groups have been pushed to the burbs.) At the same time, the white population boomed by 40 percent.

Many of those white people are hipsters, but to Patoski, that “hipness” comes at a dear price. “As hip now as east Austin appears, what made it cool was the black and Mexican ethnic aspects, and that is now basically gone,” says Patoski. “They’ve run it all out.”
Jeff Liles and friends have transformed a section of Dallas’s South Oak Cliff into a place even the hippest Austinites envy.
Alex Scott
Jeff Liles and friends have transformed a section of Dallas’s South Oak Cliff into a place even the hippest Austinites envy.
Designer Judy Masliyah followed her soon-to-be-husband from Los Angeles to Austin, but quickly determined that Austin’s creative scene was “just for show.” Now she runs a boutique on Houston’s Main Street and loves the Bayou City’s cosmopolitan flair.
Troy Fields
Designer Judy Masliyah followed her soon-to-be-husband from Los Angeles to Austin, but quickly determined that Austin’s creative scene was “just for show.” Now she runs a boutique on Houston’s Main Street and loves the Bayou City’s cosmopolitan flair.
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This odd phenomenon has been replicated in other progressive cities such as Portland and Minneapolis. Attracted by stuff white people like such as farmers’ markets, bike lanes and hipster culture, they flock in from slightly stodgier yet much more diverse cities like Houston and Dallas. Once ensconced in their ivory bastions, they look back at the chaos and hurly-burly of the places they left behind with smug self-satisfaction.

Writing on the Web site Newgeography.com, Aaron Renn wonders if they have earned the right to such snobbery. He believes that what they see as progressivism could also be interpreted as “White Flight writ large.” Say you grew up in the suburbs of Dallas or Houston and would love to be in the middle of the action of the big city, but places like Oak Cliff or Houston’s East End are just a little too real for you, with their methadone clinics, police sirens and 24-hour cantinas.

In Renn’s view, that’s where places like Austin come in. Why move to or stay in the suburbs of your square city to escape minorities and get slammed as a bigot for doing so, when you can move to some hep place like Austin and win praise for your progressivism?

“They often think that by moving to Austin they have done something great for humanity,” notes Youssefnia.

Smugness about their monochromatic progressivism is just one aspect of “Austitude,” a collective municipal narcissism shared by so many Austinites. To them, Austin is better, smarter, friendlier and utterly unlike everywhere else in Texas. Austitude is very prevalent not only in Austin but also in California, a prime source of migrants to Austin since the 1990s tech boom.

Tell Austinites that you live in Houston, and some will actually say to your face, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Delia Swanner, a Houston native now living in California, says she is sick of hearing Californians — even ones who’ve never been to any city in Texas — tell her Austin is the only place in Texas they’d consider living.

Other manifestations of Austitude drove Judy Masliyah right out of town. Back in the 1990s, Masliyah, a California native and designer of quirky, retro clothing, met her soon-to-be-husband Glover Gill in Los Angeles. Gill is a Houston-bred, then-Austin-based musician and composer whose tango-infused keyboard work appears in Richard Linklater’s films. They would seem to be the perfect Austin couple, and Masliyah followed Gill there and set out her designs. At first, Masliyah enjoyed Austin somewhat, even if she chafed at Austin’s creative-class hive mind. “I just really hate being told what’s what, this expectation of what I am supposed to like or believe,” she says.

Those misgivings turned to terror once Masliyah and Gill tied the knot, and it suddenly dawned on her that she might be living in Austin for the rest of her life. “I would have to somehow identify with it,” she says. She says she “lost it” after a fashion show she put on. “After it was over, one of the models said, ‘I really love your clothes. If I lived in New York or L.A., I would wear them.’ That was just it for me,” she says. “Austin is just for show. They want to have all this stuff like fashion shows, but only so they can say they can. Nobody wanted to wear it, but they wanted to say they had it. They weren’t there, but they still wanted to act like they were there.”

Later that day, Masliyah told Gill she couldn’t live in Austin anymore. “So we started this half-and-half thing, living in both places. (She now owns the My Flaming Heart boutique on Main Street in Houston.) “And it’s not that I don’t like it there, but it’s complicated my life so much, and his life, but I’m totally willing to do that. I don’t have any snobbery against Texas. It’s just Austin that gets under my skin.”

“I’m not from here / but people tell me / it’s not like it used to be / they say I should have been here / back about ten years / before it got ruined by folks like me.” — James McMurtry, “I’m Not From Here” Austin boosters can say all they want about the nerd chic of the new tech sector and the reflected Hollywood glamor of the city’s growing film industry, but the jewel in Austin’s crown of cool has long been the music scene. And oddly enough, Austin has the shortest musical history of any big city in Texas. As late as 1963, Austin’s pop music scene consisted of touring old-school country bands and cover bands working the frat-house circuit. The Austin of that time had a lot in common with Baton Rouge — both were formerly Confederate state capitals and seats of learning. About all that was different was the rainfall and the fact that chili ruled Austin and gumbo Baton Rouge.

Around that time, Kenneth Threadgill, a fiftysomething country music lover and former bootlegger (and proud owner of the first post-Prohibition beer license issued in Travis County), started welcoming an autoharp-toting, ballad-belting Port Arthur wild child by the name of Janis Joplin and her UT student crowd of folk music-loving proto-hippies to Wednesday night jams at his redneck roadhouse on North Lamar. Wilson, also a Threadgill’s regular at the time, maintains that Threadgill’s ability to calmly host both rednecks and beatniks served as a template for his Armadillo World Headquarters.

Mescaline and LSD swept through Austin right about then, giving rise to the lysergic sonic tsunami that was the 13th Floor Elevators, the city’s first nationally known rock band, and still Austin’s most dangerous. By 1969, Wilson was managing Shiva’s Headband, another psychedelic Austin band. Since Shiva’s had trouble finding a place to play locally, Wilson had to open one himself. He bought a former National Guard Armory on Barton Springs Road and renamed it the Armadillo World Headquarters.
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Photos by John Anderson
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Details

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Arts, Entertainment, and Media

There followed a decade or so of Austin’s glory years, where Willie’s Django-infused gypsy country finally found its spiritual home and where Waylon’s high-octane, cocaine-amped West Texas honky-tonk stomp coalesced, all in front of howling crowds of “headnecks in cowboy hats” and the scantily clad foxy hippie chicks.

Wilson wants it known that the Armadillo was not just a hippie club that became a cosmic honky-tonk. Blues guitar master Freddy King tore it down there on many a night, as did international stars such as Jimmy Cliff and Van Morrison. And it wasn’t all shades of popular music. “No one ever gives us credit for all the bullshit we did. We had ballet once a month for ten years, musicals, folkloric groups from around the world,” Wilson remembers.

In 1976, Wilson sold out to a friend, and the club marched on to the early days of Texas punk. Around that time, Patoski detected some ominous minor-key music amid the carefree parade. “I remember in the mid ’70s seeing a banker snorting coke and going all on about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. I knew it was over then,” he says.

But it wasn’t, quite. By about 1981, punk was on the march all over town, and Austin was hip for a whole new generation of disaffected kids from all over Texas, albeit these with Mohawks and Day-Glo hair and piercings. Dallas’s Jeff Liles was chest-deep in the punk scene. “I lived there when Club Foot was happening, and Raul’s was happening, and Club 29 and all those great venues. It could not be beat back then. Oh my God, Austin was the shit back then. That was before the whole concept of alternative music. Classic rock was on its way out, and punk, alternative and new wave were this brand-new thing, and Austin was a really cool, subversive place to live.”

By the middle of the ’80s, some of that punk scene would evolve into a new wave sound, something like a slightly twangier take on the Athens-jangle rock scene that gave the world REM. At the same time, Austin’s bluesy retro-rock scene was going great guns under the auspices of iconic late club owner Clifford Antone. The major labels signed lots of Austin-based acts in the ’80s from both the new wave and blues camps, with the latter winning out in sales in the form of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

In 1987, South By Southwest was launched. Its original goals were to fill up downtown bars while the UT kids were away on spring break and showcase local bands, and boy did it ever succeed, at least at the former.

Since its inception, SXSW’s trend has been toward bigger, grander, louder and more. Today, there are three SXSW festivals — the original music confab and others for film and tech. The emphasis on regional and, to a lesser extent, unknown music is long gone, as some 2,000 bands from dozens and dozens of countries are spotlighted. Huge established acts now perform regularly, and it has sprouted a glitzy layer of B-list celeb scuzz on top; it is now the kind of event that is apparently proud to allow the likes of Perez Hilton to host day parties.

It has also become a Music Biz 2.0 event that is less about music than it is about corporate branding and data mining, according to Austin punk godfather Jesse Sublett. You don’t think all those bands, those mounds of tacos and oceans of booze are really free at those day parties, do you? Sublett doesn’t. He says when he saw the New York Dolls at a recent SXSW, he had to fill out an invitation that mined him for about 15 different items of information, and then, he says, he had to “watch Rachael Ray’s fat ass bounce around to the Dolls. I mean, I’m glad she hosted the show, but come on.”

Greg Ellis believes the 1990s were a horrible decade for Austin culture. MTV discovered SXSW, and suddenly the insider regional event became a destination for college kids who wanted to be like MTV’s frothy host Tabitha Soren. And then Richard Linklater’s Slacker came out. Ellis thinks it is an amazing film but that, like SXSW as presented by MTV, it made Austin seem cool for all the wrong reasons. “Slacker and SXSW established Austin as the place to be for the types of hipsters that you didn’t want here,” he says. “These were people who just wanted to he hipsters. That’s not who you want.”
Meanwhile, out in the northern suburbs, the rise of Dell helped kick-start the tech boom. “That brought in a lot of people who just thought Austin was a pretty place, or they came on a visit and liked what they saw, so then they wanted to make it exactly like the place they had just come from,” says Ellis. “They wanted to turn it into the fuckin’ East Bay. And it wasn’t like that at all.”

At the same time the Californians poured in, the surrounding suburbs filled in with typically Republican Texans, delineating a bright red ring around Austin’s island of blue. “Nowadays you can’t give a party in your own fuckin’ home without suddenly realizin’ that your house is full of fuckin’ Republicans,” Wilson grumbles. “Man! It’s a disgusting state of affairs.”
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Photos by John Anderson
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Details

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BLOG POST: Cover Story: Taking Austitude Down A Peg Or Two
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More About

Eddie Wilson
Houston (Texas)
Dallas (Texas)
Music Festivals
Arts, Entertainment, and Media

All those forces, all those tens of thousands of people who moved to Austin because it wasn’t “like Texas” (as if people like Molly Ivins, Lady Bird Johnson and John Henry Faulk were not Texan) have conspired to erode Austin’s unique sense of place. Eddie Wilson’s Austin was like Texas, only it was Texas at its most laid-back, and it was proud of its provincialism and reveled in its native music.

Today, save for the old-timers, there’s no Austin music that “sounds like Austin” the way the cosmic cowboys, retro-blues folks, and even the Austin punks and new-wavers did. The bands that have created national buzz out of Austin in the last five or ten years — Ghostland Observatory, Spoon, Okkervil River, the Octopus Project — could just as easily be from Portland, Brooklyn, Toronto or San Francisco. Likewise, today’s Austin City Limits could as easily be called Indie City Limits. But that’s a national trend: music everywhere is starting to sound like music anywhere.

And there’s nothing unique going on in Austin. “Tell me what the cool venue is in Austin right now,” says Ellis. “There’s not one. There’s nothing like Liberty Lunch or the Beach or anything like that anymore. You’ve got the Red Eyed Fly, which is okay, but it’s a hellhole, really. And then you’ve got…um…Stubb’s I guess is the coolest thing that you’ve got. And that’s controlled by [corporate concert promoters] C3, and there you go. You wanna go see Primus at Stubb’s? Well, that’ll be $45. Lauryn Hill? $63. That’s not Austin.”

Given that there’s no special sound to the rock bands there, and given that rents are so high, and given that there are so many musicians there that club owners feel free to pay starvation wages, it’s worth wondering why bands continue to move there.

And maybe they don’t. While it’s impossible to take a direct count, it has seemed as if the trend has slowed in recent years in both Houston and Dallas. And Wilson thinks it just might start moving in the other direction.

“Because of the economics of the situation, we’re gonna send a huge number of creative people in every direction just lookin’ for a place to live,” he says. “Hell,” he says, “If I was pushin’ 40 instead of 70, I’d probably be tryin’ to find a piece in Fort Worth,” he says.
_____________________

Jeff Liles made the move back to his native Dallas from Austin in the early ’80s and hasn’t looked back since. A mover and shaker in the glory days of Deep Ellum, Liles has since helped establish an arts colony of sorts in a neighborhood called X-Plus, in the northern part of Dallas’s Oak Cliff area.

Oak Cliff is different from the rest of Dallas, Liles says. (Hell, not too terribly long ago, it attempted to secede from Dallas.) It’s across the Trinity from the rest of town, and the river clearly marks a delineation between the two. “There’s a different mind-set. Most of the people who live in X-Plus hung out in Deep Ellum in the late ’80s and early ’90s and now they are married with kids,” Liles says. “They still have creative inclinations, but family is the first priority, a day job is the second, but they still play music and they want to live in the midst of an arts community.”

The epicenter of that community is the Kessler Theater, a listening room/arts space managed by Liles. While Liles is an interested party and can come across as a (very confident) booster, Joe Nick Patoski vouches for Liles’s claims. Patoski says that the Kessler is one of the best listening rooms he’s ever been in, and he was shocked by the hipness of its environs. “Oak Cliff is now hipper, edgier and more affordable than east Austin is,” he says.

Liles radiates pride when he talks about X-Plus. He says his neighbors are not “hippy-dippy people,” but instead are just “really smart, intuitive people and they are trying to change things for the better.” Such changes include more bike lanes and dog parks, created from scratch. “They really care about their surroundings, and they are really trying to preserve X-Plus and Oak Cliff as it always has been, trying to keep that snapshot in time, so it doesn’t become like the rest of Dallas: overrun by empty buildings and development that’s not even real,” says Liles. The neighborhood recently scored big when it turfed out a bidness-friendly city councilman and replaced him with a liberal who managed to stop a Walmart from going in.
Liles doesn’t know of any Austin artists who have moved to X-Plus, but he says they are taking note of the changes. Some even blaspheme their own hallowed hometown, he says. “I’m telling you straight-up, they enjoy playing the Kessler because there is nothing in Austin like the Kessler,” he says. “All the artists who come up here love being from Austin. They are very proud of the fact that they are from Austin. But they come to the Kessler and they see this neighborhood and they say, ‘Damn, this is the way Austin used to be. There is nothing in Austin this cool right now.'”

Meanwhile, Houston has at last apparently stanched the exodus of young rock bands to Austin, a stampede that began in the ’70s and finally started slowing about five years ago. Ellis, a 35-year veteran of the music scene in the Austin area, Dallas and Houston, ventures to say that Houston’s scene is better than Austin’s right now.
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Photos by John Anderson
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Details

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BLOG POST: Cover Story: Taking Austitude Down A Peg Or Two
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More About

Eddie Wilson
Houston (Texas)
Dallas (Texas)
Music Festivals
Arts, Entertainment, and Media

“You can’t live cheap [in Austin] anymore,” he says. “There’s no cool places to play. There’s nothing really happening. It just doesn’t have the appeal anymore. Certainly someone like Blaze Foley couldn’t survive there anymore, though the argument could be made that he couldn’t survive then either. But today nothing like that would even be embraced.”

Today’s Houston finds more rising young rock bands choosing to stay here than at any time since the 1960s. Fitzgerald’s is back as a cutting-edge venue after years in lunk-core alt-rock purgatory. The Heights, Houston’s own mini-Austin, is filling up with fun beer gardens and low-key restaurants, and there are other scattered pockets of cool in Montrose, the Museum District and the East End. Taking in a concert in Discovery Green can trick you into thinking you are in Chicago, only with better weather, and Austin so loved our Art Car Parade, they’ve attempted to steal the entire concept, just as they’ve attempted to steal the memory of our Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark/Steve Earle/Rodney Crowell songwriting history.

What’s more, Houston is a city and proud of it. Masliyah loves living in the kind of city where it’s easy for her to buy her dressmaking supplies and also to travel the world without leaving home. “The other day I went shopping at Phoenicia and it was like I’d gone around the world,” she says. Youssefnia also loves Houston’s cosmopolitan atmosphere and realistic sense of itself.

“Houston has a strong scene and many hidden elements that keep it interesting,” she says. “People realize the problems it has — the corrupt oil money, the sprawl, the pollution — and don’t deny the problems like people in Austin do.”

Back in Eddie Wilson’s bungalow, the man is still railing. “I’m still an Austin booster,” he says. “I’ve gotta be, but it’s kinda like bein’ in an arm-wrestling contest. You’ve just gotta persevere and hope that sooner or later the other side gives in.”

He doesn’t think that’s going to happen, though. “Greed never sleeps,” he says. “It never takes a day off. Everybody from the jolly side of life wants to celebrate, at least here, there and yonder, but greed can’t afford to because it’s always after what it is you’ve got.”

He catches his breath. “When you run the cops and schoolteachers out of the town they are servin’…”

“It finally happened,” he continues. It has finally come to pass that Austin really and truly was better before you got there, and won’t ever see such creative days again.

“We had ’em on the run for a while, but I believe they’ve taken over the goddamn front-end loader now,” he says. “C’mon. Let’s go on over to Thread­gill’s and have a beer. On the house.”

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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Saturday Night: Accordion Kings & Queens At Miller Outdoor Theatre

from the Houston Press’s Rocks Off blog
By William Michael Smith, Mon., Jun. 6 2011 at 12:00 PM

 

Brave Combo june6.jpg
Photos courtesy of Miller Outdoor Theatre Advisory Board
Brave Combo

Accordion Kings & Queens Festival
Miller Outdoor Theatre
June 4, 2011

Timing can be everything. And it only took about ten seconds standing in the wings 20 feet from Clifton Chenier’s former guitarist Lil Buck Sinegal and the rest of Corey Ledet’s zydeco band as they kicked off their portion of Saturday’s Accordion Kings & Queens festival to realize that these guys had just opened a can of Deep South Louisiana badass, and that something very special was about to go down.

It was also immediately apparent that Clifton Chenier’s Houston-born baby, zydeco, had met New Orleans’ Congo Square head on in a massive groove collision somewhere near Breaux Bridge and that all was right with the world.

 

Lil Buck Sinegal june6.jpg

​ People always bring up guitar technical whiz Sonny Landreth when they talk about Chenier’s classic zydeco band, but Sinegal (right) was the man behind the sound for many, many years, and Saturday night he was the coolest of the cool cats as he locked in with the backline of bassist Tony Delafose and drummer Rusty Metoyer.

Sinegal was doubling Delafose’s bass line note for note, cutting the groove deeper and deeper and turning the orchestra pit at Miller into a dancehall. There isn’t much live music more joyous than listening to and watching a locked-in Louisiana rhythm section laying down the voodoo hoodoo.

While many of Houston’s music lovers battled the heat and crowds of Saturday’s opening day of Summer Fest, another 4,000 or so took advantage of an unusually breezy cool evening for early June on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre to catch the finals of Texas Folklife Resourcess 22nd annual Big Squeeze contest, followed by the Accordion Kings & Queens extravaganza.

Fifteen-year-old Ignacio “Nachito” Morales of Dallas was this year’s Big Squeeze champion, beating out Pasadena’s own 12-year-old child accordion prodigy Isaiah Tellez, as well as La Joya’s Omar Garza and Joseph Garcia of Victoria. Morales received $1,000, a new Hohner accordion and recording time at Corpus Christi’s Hacienda Records for his victory.

Accordion Kings & Queens, emceed once again by Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski, also serves as a showcase for the stylistic diversity of Texas’ national instrument. The large, festive, family-oriented crowd cheered mightily for conjunto veterans Mickey y sus Carnales, who fired up the proceedings and brought back fond memories of Houston’s Tejano heyday with their old-school Tejano/conjunto set.

And just to add a taste of spice and a feeling of kismet to the proceedings, the festival organizers brought in Denton’s nuclear polka band Brave Combo as the evening’s headliner. One of the truly unique bands in Texas for over 20 years, the Combo moves in rarified air, floating effortlessly from klezmer to conjunto to “Chopsticks” without a change of expression.

The band is, in a word, musical virtuosity personified, but with a very Texan stamp. And if the true test of music is joy and dancing, you should have been at Miller Outdoor Theatre to see the smiles on the faces of the children who were present. That said it all.

 


Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

 

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