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With the end of SXSW 2021, the music festival this year had me learning about the array of talented artists that live in Austin as I followed the festival all week long. Out of the 27 musicians hailing from the Live Music Capital of the World, narrowing the list down to just seven of my favorites was a challenge. You don't have to go far to find tunes to mix up your rotation.
Here are some of my favorite local musicians from SXSW 2021 that have all earned a permanent place on my playlist.
Toeing the line between rock and soul, I will be listening to Chief Cleopatra on repeat until next SXSW. Coming in at the top of the list with her soulful-yet-airy voice and guitar riffs by Leonard Martinez, Chief Cleopatra has created a timeless, mysterious sound that is very indicative of Austin. A track for the Black Lives Matter movement, "Belushi" is a song people can relate to, dance to and play during the revolution all in one. Her new single, "Friends," tells a story of losing a selfish friend with palpable sadness to a pop beat. Though her discography selection is still small, her music is dripping with emotion.
Since releasing their debut EP, "Tether," in 2017, the four-person band is composed of two best friends and their husbands. The band has played SXSW for four years in a row in between touring from coast to coast. With their infectious dream pop sound, soft guitar and light lyrics, their music is tailor-made for cloud watching in Zilker Park while you wait for ACL to return.
Lord Friday the 13th
A self-described "dollar store trash-glam-punk band," Lord Friday the 13th is a brand new sound hitting the town. Comprised of siblings Sloane on guitar and Felix on vocals, the band has just one song currently released: "Bigots Beware." Unsurprisingly, the song denounces hate in the world and aims to strike fear into the hearts of the intolerant. Since both bandmates have backgrounds in visual media, their music invokes a very artistic sound, aside from just being very eccentric founders.
Named for the affectionate nickname given to frontman Daniel Sahad by his Dominican parents, this six-piece band brings an array of personality to the table, just like each of Nané's songs all have a personality of their own. Selected by Brittney Howard for NPR's Tiny Desk concert, the group of University of Texas students were praised for a "no holds barred" performance. I think it might actually be impossible for someone to dislike every single one of their songs.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine says BettySoo "may well have the most gorgeous voice in Texas" and I can't help but agree. Listening to BettySoo sing "Whisper My Name" will give anyone goosebumps. A Texas native who grew up listening to Texas songwriters and a country radio station to match. BettySoo took nights spent at The Cactus Café and the Great American Songbook and created a unique sound—contemporary folk and pure Texas pride.
Under the pseudonym "Buffalo Hunt," Stephanie Hunt's sound is trippy and unexpected. Ahead of her forthcoming album, "Play the Fool," which will be released this summer, Hunt's song "Apple Tree" is a groovy track that will take you through multiple songs in one. This will be Hunt's first solo album, having already done music as one half of the duo Nancy and Beth. Hunt's music will be a favorite for longtime local music listeners—Hunt's fiance, the acclaimed Shakey Graves, is also featured on the new album.
Golden Dawn Arkestra
Possibly the most far removed in terms of sound from the rest of the list, Golden Dawn Arkestra has a sound that can only be described as funky. The band doesn't play music, oh no, they play "sonic vibrations for children of the sun." The group's tribal appearance and penchant for "sonic healing sessions" that go beyond music on their Youtube channel will transport you to another reality, where disco music reigns supreme. With tunes like "Sama Chaka" and "Wings of Ra," prepare yourself for an ethereal time.
JaRon Marshall, "Act 1 - Last June"
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, "Get Yo Shit"
The Deer, "Confetti to the Hurricane"
As Q2 packs fans like sardines, could city, CDC recommendations disrupt the 'biggest party in Austin'?
In a scene that seemed to mark the pandemic's triumphant end, over 20,000 mostly maskless fans packed into Q2 Stadium for Austin FC's debut at Austin's first professional sports stadium in June. That mask-free utopia couldn't have been possible even a month before, and it may not be possible once more as Austin and the CDC returns to mask recommendations again for the first time since May.
Austin returned to Stage 4 restrictions on July 23 as case rates tripled since the beginning of the month and hospital beds once again filled with COVID patients. The spike comes after the highly contagious Delta variant was detected in Travis County. In its Stage 4 announcement, APH said its recommendations will not affect large events, such as Austin FC games, from operating.
More recently, the CDC updated its recommendation for vaccinated people on Wednesday, saying that all people in high-risk areas—including Austin with more than 50 COVID cases per 100,000 people—wear masks.
With businesses reinstating mask policies and new fear in the air, Q2's carefree party atmosphere may be affected. The club released the following statement to Austonia: "Austin FC encourages all guests to observe Austin Public Health's recommendations and take appropriate action based on individual circumstances."
Fan clubs react
Some Austin FC fans are concerned about taking their young kids ineligible for the vaccine to home matches. (Austin FC/Twitter)
Austin Anthem member Seth Rau said he's heard a few people express more concern about home matches. Still, the demand for attending matches at Q2, which regularly reaches full capacity despite a lackluster first-season performance, is not going away anytime soon.
"We're starting to hear stories like, 'Oh, I have a 10 year old kid. My kid can't be vaccinated yet,'" Rau said. "So I think certain people are less willing to maybe go than in the past, but with everyone who doesn't want to go there are five people ready to claim their seats."
Rau said only few wore masks before last week, but at the last match on July 22, he said close to 5% wore masks. Based on sheer estimation as well as what he's heard, Rau said he expects a significant minority to pull out the masks once again when Austin FC plays on Saturday.
Masking recommendations are fine as long as the stadium remains at full capacity, Rau said.
"It's an annoyance, but it's not a big deal," Rau said. "I think if they ever started reducing capacity, that's where there would be true hell to pay."
While supporters groups, like the city of Austin, can't enforce mask mandates, Rau told Austonia they'll strongly recommend masking in certain situations, including taking a bus up to Dallas for the upcoming FC Dallas match. Rau said Stage 4 has brought new concerns and paperwork into the picture for the road trip.
"It's wild. Like, as a supporters' group, we never thought we'd have to worry about collecting people's health records," Rau said. "It is extremely important to us to keep our Verde familia safe,"
Could Q2 become a "superspreader"?
Some have drawn parallels to last fall when City Council Member Greg Casar and Austin Public Health officials strongly advised against in-person fans at University of Texas football games while in Stage 4.
No public official, including Austin FC fan Steve Adler, has commented, which a few have criticized. A city in which 63% of those eligible are fully vaccinated is different from the fall of 2020, however, and Q2 is still within CDC guidelines that don't recommend masks for those fully vaccinated while outdoors.
Still, some share concerns about the crowded stadium becoming a "superspreader," especially after a mass COVID outbreak in Scotland was tied to fans attending Euro 2020 soccer matches. Up to 2,000 fans traced their infection back to a single match, and controversial journalist Piers Morgan, who was fully vaccinated, said he tested positive for COVID on Tuesday after attending the Euro Cup final.
Now THATS a super spreader for the Delta variant. Learned today that the virus spreads like smoke in the air. Let’s get vaxxed up y’all.— Nick Garza (@nickrgarza) July 23, 2021
No matter the changes, Rau said that the fan club has supported Austin FC even in the strictest of COVID policies and won't stop now.
"We dealt with this at Colorado when we took a couple hundred people to Denver," Rau said. "But we were still able to have a great time in the middle of a pandemic."
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After Austin voters passed Proposition B, reinstating a ban on public camping, City Council directed staff to look into possible sanctioned campsites where homeless residents could live legally. Now two members are asking to shelve discussion on the controversial topic.
Staff presented dozens of possible sanctioned campsites across each fo the 10 council districts in late May, following the election. But members mostly pushed back on the proposed locations, citing cost, wildfire risk and lack of transparency as concerns.
With updated criteria, staff recommended two sites—one in District 1 and the other in District 8—for further review last week. After being briefed on the options during Tuesday's work session, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, and Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, issued a joint statement proposing "a pause" on further discussion of temporary sanctioned encampments.
"We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanent," they said. "It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend out city's limited resources on solutions we know can work."
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey noted that the two locations were imperfect and would require a lot of time and money to outfit as sanctioned campsites during the briefing.
City staff and homeless experts have previously raised concerns about sanctioned encampments, saying they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to to be temporary.
In 2019, staff declined to make recommendations for such sites despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
But with Prop B being enforced and too few shelter beds and affordable units for the estimate unsheltered homeless population in Austin, the city is facing the same predicament that prompted District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo to pursue possible sanctioned campsites in the first place: "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said at a May 6 council meeting.
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Don't lose your mask just yet—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is now recommending masks in areas that are surging as cases rise nationwide and the Delta variant looms.
The CDC announced Tuesday that even fully vaccinated individuals should mask up indoors if their community is experiencing substantial transmission—defined as areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Travis County is sitting at an average of 94.59 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, falling into the highest risk category, according to the CDC.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
After two COVID-19 recommendation stage jumps in the last two weeks, from Stage 2 to Stage 4, Austin-area cases are the highest they have been since February. The seven-day average for cases is on an upward trend, reaching 226 on Tuesday.
The CDC is also recommending that all students K-12 wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. A May executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits schools from requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status. Austin ISD is "strongly" encouraging students to wear masks.
Although vaccinated individuals are still protected against the most severe symptoms of the variant, infections are spreading rapidly and now make up 83% of confirmed cases in the U.S. At least a dozen cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in the Austin area, though there are likely more since testing for it is limited.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that hospital admissions are "almost exclusively" coming from people who are unvaccinated but those who are vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.
"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant," Walensky said. "That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, rare that they are, have the potential to pool and transmit at the same with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person."
Research suggests those who become infected carry 1,000 times more of the virus than other variants and could stay contagious for longer.The announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration ramping up cautionary measures in the face of the Delta variant. Just last week, the CDC said it had no plans to change its May guidance of vaccinated not having to wear masks unless there was a significant change in the data. Officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence, according to reports.
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