Guest article by Sam Small
“I’m an artist with a message,” he told me. “So who’s your audience?” I ventured. “Urban. At risk. And a large portion of them are incarcerated. And next week I’ll be in Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center.”
This intense guy, replete with guitar and message, is none other than SaulPaul, who just jumped off the stage at Palm Door on Sixth, holding the AMP Esme Barrera Award for Music Activism & Education. He’s been saving the souls of off-course youth since 2003. Before that, he clocked four felonies before his 21st birthday and was residing in the Texas State Penitentiary. “But,” he shared, “I discovered that life is the sum total of choices you make. In the end, I got to UT and came out with a 4.0 degree.”
I got the impression that SaulPaul is unstoppable and perfectly aligned to turn around many young people’s lives using the force of his huge personality and his own brand of Austin music.
Music is a serious business in Austin. Many would say it’s the heart and soul of the city. It’s certainly a big reason why so many people come here. But with many corporations entering, and land prices going through the roof, the music scene is under threat. The venues with cranky ceilings and shaky walls are what people love about this city. If they disappear, something essential to Austin disappears, too.
This could be why Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin, made an impassioned speech to the gathering at the Austin Music Industry Awards on March 7. He told me afterwards that there has to be a balance between incoming companies and the older music tradition of the city. He was sure the two entities need not be enemies.
“The Austin Chronicle,” organizer of this annual event, collected write-in ballots from readers for all award categories. The night featured a fine display of talent. These Austin music industry winners are the backbone of the local music scene. The venues, lighting crews, radio stations, music stores, record producers and more. We love you all. You make it happen.
I spoke with John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records, on receiving the shop’s 34th (yes, 34th) award for “Best Record Store” in town. With music practically all download/digital now, how can a record store exist? “Everyone at the store–we all wanted a store that we wanted to shop at,” says Kunz. “We wanted a place where the people of Austin could meet at the ‘town square’ that need music in their life every day. Like they need oxygen and food and water.” That’s Austin.
Then there are the people who make records. Producers like the top award winner, AJ Vallejo. With all kinds of music in Austin, Vallejo is fiercely eclectic. “It’s about trying to stay relevant, but also trying to make timeless records,” he says. “I like hip-hop, but also where hip-hop came from. Way back to James Brown and soul music. I like it all.”
I’ll go along with that. Austin is said to be the Live Music Capital of the World. The folks who dress the music scene here in central Texas are the heroes and saints of what we love about our city. At the Austin Music Industry Awards, the best were applauded.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Who’s your hero working behind the scenes in the Austin music industry?
Sam Small and his wife made the permanent move from London, England to Austin, Texas in 2014. Sam is a writer of songs, articles and screenplays and also runs a small recording studio in south Austin. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.