Editor's Note 1:45 p.m.: This story has been updated from the previously published preview to the rally to tell what happened at the rally.
Austin music industry members and supporters rallied Monday morning in front of City Hall to remind elected officials of their essential role in the "Live Music Capital of the World."
Austin Texas Musicians and Amplified Sound Coalition, advocacy groups recently formed to support local music industry workers, co-hosted the rally ahead of City Council meetings scheduled this week to potentially approve a COVID-19 relief proposal that music industry workers say "doesn't go far enough." Several speakers instead proposed a three-point plan in support of Austin musicians, venues and support staff:
- Music Venue Preservation Fund: Dedicated, fast-tracked funding for music venues
- Clear Eligibility/Requirements: Simple application process and reasonable requirements for qualifying for relief aid
- Transparency: Clear understanding of how relief money is distributed and who receives it
"It's time to put up or shut up," Kevin Russell, frontman for Austin band Shinyribs, said repeatedly to the 200-plus people in attendance. "Too long this city rode our cultural coattails while taking us to the cleaners."
Russell was among almost a dozen musicians and music industry advocates to call for dedicated music industry relief money from city officials.
"We can't turn back time and we don't aspire to turn back time," Russell said. "But we can ask the city to repay our debt to this world-famous culture."
Other speakers included musicians Guy Forsyth, Lauryn Gould, Jesse Dayton and Anthony Farrell of Greyhounds as well as Reenie Collins, executive director of the Health Alliance of Austin Musicians, and Patsy Bouressa, executive director of the SIMS Foundation.
Nakia Reynoso, another musician who led the event as president and co-founder of Austin Texas Musicians, repeated a rallying cry throughout the event, "No money, no music," to emphasize the critical emergency in Austin's music scene amid a half-year of pandemic-related closures and canceled gigs.
"They know how valuable the brand of live music in Austin is, and they damn sure know it when they see how much tax revenue we drive to this city every single year," Reynoso said. "For six months, they keep telling us how valuable Austin music is with 'blah, blah, blah' resolutions. But we have yet to see any actual substantial help for the venues that employ us."
Musicians, as well as venue workers, engineers, site security and other essential workers, are struggling right now, said Jeannette Gregor, a longtime bartender at Mohawk and co-founder of Austin Sound Coalition.
"I recognize all of you for who you are: skilled laborers who are a crucial part of Austin's identity," Gregor told the crowd.
The option to pivot to another paying job isn't practical, she said, and it denies the fact that music industry jobs represent legitimate careers.
"These gigs are part of our careers and our work may be what defines us individually, but our work is what defines this town, too," Gregor said. "We want to go back to work, desperately."
Gregor called for the industry to unite regardless of past allegiances or grudges, starting with agenda items slated during Thursday's City Council meeting.
"Together if we stand united we can amplify our voices and they will have no choice but to listen," Gregor said.
City Council meets for its routine work session at 9 a.m. Tuesday before its full meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday to potentially discuss COVID-19 relief money for essential Austin industries, including music workers.
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."