Sixteen bands performed on the iconic Paramount Theatre stage Saturday night, as Austin nonprofit Black Fret awarded $230,000 in grants to 19 local bands at its annual Black Ball. For all the gowns and tuxedos in the audience, the atmosphere was informal and upbeat. Excited whoops and friendly heckling were directed towards the stage, and the few technical delays were shrugged off with a sense of humor.
We were there to celebrate. The first award winner of the night, Jackie Venson, told attendees she wasn’t going anywhere because of Austin’s vibrant support system for musicians. “There’s no HAAM in New York. There’s no SIMS [Foundation] in Chicago.”
With a fair amount of negativity directed towards Austin’s growth and subsequent affordability issues, one might assume the ecosystem for musicians is in decline. While we have work to do as a city, Black Ball showcased a vibrant community of musicians being propelled toward success through Black Fret grants.
Announcing the 2017 Black Fret Grant Recipients
At the beginning of 2017, Black Fret members nominated 20 musicians. After a year of listening sessions, members cast their votes for the winners. Nineteen nominees received grant dollars: either a major grant of $18,000 or a minor grant of $5,500.
Note: The members of Black Pistol Fire, among the original 20 nominees, removed themselves from the running. The band’s minor grant was distributed among the other minor grant winners.
Major Grant Winners
- Jackie Venson
- Warren Hood
- Sarah Sharp
- Carolyn Wonderland
- The Bright Light Social Hour
- Whiskey Shivers
- Eric Tessmer
- The Deer
- Leopold and His Fiction
Minor Grant Winners
- Akina Adderley
- Cowboy Diplomacy
- Croy and the Boys
- Daniel Eyes
- David Ramirez
- Jane Ellen Bryant
- Kinky Machine
- Los Coast
What Do Black Ball Winners Do With Their Money?
Grants are not blank checks. Instead, winners “unlock” grant dollars through activities like writing new songs, putting out albums, going on tour, and even performing at nonprofit events.
For many recipients, grants are crucial to the forward momentum of their careers. In a film played during Black Ball, 2016 winner Dan Dyer explained that his grant was not “part” of the reason for his latest album. It was the reason he was financially equipped to focus on his creative work and release new work.
Join The Austinot in Supporting Black Fret
My husband Eric and I met Black Fret founders Colin Kendrick and Matt Ott in 2013 when the organization was just starting. I remember them making announcements from the stage every time someone became a member. The numbers were in double-digits.
After covering the launch party at Spider House Ballroom with about 200 people in attendance, it wasn’t long before we decided to become founding members. Considering The Austinot is a labor of love, and our sponsor dollars don’t go much further than keeping the virtual lights on, it’s a big investment for our little blog.
We have no regrets. As Mobley accepted his $18,000 grant on stage last night, he said hope is a precious commodity for musicians. The business side has never been easy, and in Austin it’s getting harder. Black Fret gives hope and encouragement to the Austin music community at large. And much more tangibly, it gives financial and advisory support.
Colin Kendrick reminded Black Ball guests that the organization’s members are leaving a legacy. We are patrons of local art, indirectly responsible for a growing body of musical work. We recognize that music has intrinsic value, that it makes our community better.
I am proud to live in a city where a nonprofit organization like Black Fret can thrive. I invite you to become a member of Black Fret today, and hope to meet you at a listening event in the coming year. The member number has grown beyond double-digits and we can pack out The Paramount Theatre now, but every new member is still worth celebrating.
-Brittany Highland, Editor