Music is the lifeblood of Austin. Anyone who tells you different hasn’t spent a Saturday night on Red River or discovered a random artist during SXSW. On any given night, there are 100 shows to choose from in the greater Austin area. Music is a piece of who we are.
But the vein is starting to clot. Rising cost of living, higher venue rent, and dozens of entertainment options force world-class artists to stagnate.
Enter Black Fret, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support, both financial and practical, to Austin musicians. On Dec. 7, 2019, during the annual Black Fret Ball gala, the group awarded $250,000 to 19 local artists. It was an evening of heart, community, and giving.
What Is Black Fret?
Founded by friends and fellow music lovers Colin Kendrick and Matt Ott, Black Fret is a member-driven 501(c)3 dedicated to keeping Austin music thriving through monetary grants, fairly paid gigs, and career mentoring.
Members pay an annual fee and, in return, receive access to dozens of intimate listening room shows featuring some of Austin’s best local talent. Funds are funneled into an endowment to be distributed to artists based on member votes. To date, Black Fret has given over $1.5 million in the form of grants and direct payments to local acts.
But recipients don’t receive a bag of money with a dollar sign stamped on it. Funds are distributed to grant winners through career-enhancing milestones. Need a touring van? Black Fret cuts the check. Studio time for the new record? Black Fret pays the tab, all from designated dollars the artist was awarded.
The organization also offers a mentorship program. Prominent industry professionals coach artists on everything from recording to promotion to preparing to tour. And all the money goes back into the Austin music ecosystem, creating a sustainable environment for the scene to thrive.
All in the Spirit of Giving
A year of musical performances and member voting culminated at Black Fret Ball. Part concert, part party, and part Oprah Winfrey giveaway bonanza, the Moody Theater transformed into Austin’s epicenter of generosity and support. Every member-nominated artist received either a major ($20,000) or minor ($7,000) grant.
Typically, minor grants are $5,000. But this year, Black Pumas donated its major grant back to Black Fret, allowing funds to be split among the minor award winners. This brought the minor grant amount up to $7,000. This was an amazing show of generosity and care for the Austin music community.
And the Winners Are…
Major Grant Recipients: $20,000
- Beat Root Revival
- Sydney Wright
- Dave Scher
- Ley Line
- Cari Hutson & Good Company
- The Watters
- The Texas K.G.B.
- Western Youth
Minor Grant Recipients: $7,000
- Tje Austin
- Go Fever
- Cilantro Boombox
- Erika Wennerstrom
- A. Sinclair
- Good Field
- Jonathan Terrell
- Think No Think
- Dr. Joe
The Show, the Party, the Celebration
A concert of epic proportions was sprinkled among the giving and good vibes. For the first time, 17 of the 20 nominees performed during the over four-hour event. The evening started with a stunning two-song performance by guitar/multi-instrumentalist Beat Root Revival. Andrea Magee’s driving bodhran matched Ben Jones’ furious guitar work, sending the Moody Theatre into a chair-dancing frenzy.
Other highlights included a haunting performance by Erica Wennerstrom and a theater brightening (yet tragically short due to time reasons) set by Austinot favorite, Superfónicos. Cilantro Boombox begged the crowd to put down their phones in favor of living life, and later joined Ley Line in a touching tribute to Daniel Johnston. Their rendition of “True Love Will Find a Way” was a magical moment.
Local punk rockers Think No Think turned the giant Moody stage into CBGB’s thrash session, while Jonathan Terrell introduced country/rock swagger into the already electric evening. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Cari Hutson’s powerful Adele-like command of the stage.
The evening closed with a jolting two-song set by Dr. Joe, followed by a group performance of “Lean on Me.” Arms over shoulders, several voices into one mic, the sing-along swelled the Moody Theater and brought the still rocking audience members to their feet.
This was my third Black Fret Ball, and every time I’m reminded of the special bond this community fosters. In a world where musicians are in constant competition for likes, listens, attendees, and streams, it’s comforting to know a scene as rich as Austin’s can still be a family. And with outstanding organizations like Black Fret creating a sustainable environment for music to thrive, the future looks bright.
The Austinot is a founding member of Black Fret. For more information and to become a member, visit blackfret.org.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Who is your favorite Black Fret artist?