A South By Southwest How-To
Over the past few years, the number of Houston bands at South By Southwest has been shamefully tiny relative to our population, in comparison to our dreaded rival Dallas-Fort Worth, and in terms of adequately representing what we have going on here. This past March, only 13 Houston bands (not including DJs) made the cut, as opposed to 30 from Dallas and nearly 300 from Austin. (As ex-Suspect Bill Grady puts it, "Just how bad does your Austin band have to suck before you're not accepted by South By?")
Racket has blamed the people who run South By in the past, but he's come to suspect that the real reason we have such inadequate turnout is that far too few bands know how to go about getting on the bill, and too many of those who do don't bother. And now that the application deadline is fast approaching, Racket will relieve the former category of its excuse.
So without further ado, here's how your band can perform at the biggest dog and pony show of the year in the live music capital of Travis County:
First, send in a completed showcase application, a CD or cassette of at least three songs of original material, a photo, bio, press kit and your processing fee. To receive an application, go to www.sxsw.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 512-467-7979. Then mail the packet to SXSW Music Festival, P.O. Box 4999, Austin, TX 78765. Make sure your press kit looks at least semiprofessional. As for the fee, it's cheap: a mere $15 if you get it in postmarked no later than October 7, $25 thereafter up to the final deadline of November 8.
And here, according to Cactus Music & Video general manager Quinn Bishop, is where a lot of Houston bands have been making a key mistake. "After sending in their packet," he says, "they sit on their butts and wait for their rejection letter." Bishop says that the main reason for Austin's and Dallas's dominance is that those bands know how to play the behind-the-scenes game and we don't. So here's what you need to do: Get political. Call in favors from whatever friends you might have in Austin, be they ex-bandmates who have moved on, nightclub owners you've impressed, music scribes in the capital -- whoever. Lobby. Sweat. Consider the mailing in of your application just phase one of getting on.
"It's like Thomas Edison said," Bishop says. "It's 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. In the music business, it's 1 percent music and 99 percent business."
Either way, you'll know by February 8 whether you made the cut. And if you don't make it, you'll at least have a nifty South By rejection letter to show your grandkids.
On a related topic, Bishop believes that not enough Houston bands use the free resources of the Austin-based Texas Music Office as much as they should. Many young bands don't have a clue about anything when they start out. They don't know how to go about manufacturing a run of CDs. They don't know how to pay royalties on cover tunes. They don't know how to get a UPC registered. All of that info and tons more is available from this taxpayer-supported clearinghouse in Austin, and what's more, it's all free. Check it out at www.governor.state.tx.us/music/index.htm .
With the seasons changing and the first straight-up cool weather since April, Racket thought it was time to take a look back at some past columns and bring readers up to date on what's happened since then.
When last we visited at length with Robert Conran, a.k.a. Reilly, the unluckiest musician in Houston history was languishing in an INS jail, convicted of a crime even the judge in his case believed he didn't commit, awaiting cancer surgery and deportation to a country he hasn't lived in since the 1960s. Since then, his tumorous kidney has been removed. But while he may have won the battle against cancer, he lost the war to stay in America.
"He got deported, basically," says Reilly's friend and former Los Mortales bandmate Steve Baker. "He's in England now. He had a change of heart. Finally he was just like, 'You know what? Why don't I just get out of the country?' "
Baker says if anybody can come out of midlife cancer surgery and start over -- penniless, mind you -- in what amounts to a foreign country, Reilly can. "He's a tough guy, man -- this is the second time he's battled [cancer] in his life. I talked to him not too terribly long ago, and he's got a pretty cool setup over there in London and he's just enjoying his freedom. That's a big thing to get it back when it's taken away."
While Conran has his freedom back, downtown partiers won't have No tsu oH to kick back in ever again. It's now official: No tsu oH is no mo' -- at least under that name. Former proprietor Jim Pirtle, whose errant cigarette was ultimately to blame for No tsu oH's demise, recently told Racket that choreographer and former No tsu oH featured attraction Richie Hubscher (of Easy Credit Theater fame) will be his new tenant in the space.
As anyone who knows Hubscher and Pirtle can surmise, not much is gonna change when No tsu oH is resurrected as Clark's Jewelry on (Hubscher hopes) December 1. There will be the same ultra-eclectic entertainment, the same rigorous dress-down play ethic and the same junkyard aesthetic -- albeit a slightly "cleaner" version, as Hubscher puts it. He plans to get a liquor license for the place; the coffeehouse days are over. "We're going to serve alcohol, beer and wine, and maybe some cold food," he says. "We're going to have the same open-door policy -- when you walk in you're liable to see anything from performance art to a really hot band to a really piece-of-shit band. Probably a lot more belly dancing and cabaret and stuff like that than in the past, but it will also be a place to go and chill and have a drink."
Hubscher is taking on the project out of a sense of necessity. Since the downtown real estate boom, the number of spots for artistic types in the city center has been dwindling. "For the past six years, it's been the only place for someone like me to feel comfortable downtown," Hubscher says. He also hopes the bar will be successful enough to fund the resurrection of the nonprofit arts venue Zocalo/TemplO.
Meanwhile, as of two weeks ago, a possibly mentally ill homeless woman was squatting in No tsu oH's storefront. Racket was surprised to see her sitting mannequin-still in the display window as he walked past one early evening. "Yeah, we argue all the time," Pirtle chuckles. "I've decided to let her stay."
For only the second time since its grand opening way back in the Eisenhower administration, The Record Rack is for sale. After 20 years at the helm of Houston's oldest continually operating independent record store (long the DJ/dance retail HQ), owner Bruce Godwin is selling out. "This store has survived every transition, from 78s to 45s to LPs to eight-tracks to cassettes to CDs," Godwin notes. "But we're getting killed by MP3s." Godwin says that in addition to free downloads, the economic downturn and today's "worse than pathetic" music are forcing the sale. Godwin, who started as a clerk at the store in 1978, bought out original owners Jim and Helen Flimtjer in 1982.
Mr. Smithereen is coming to Huntsville (and the Sidecar Pub). Pat DiNizio, that populist libertarian pundit and chain-smoking Smithereen, will bring his rabidly pro-capital punishment, anti-gun control views to the East Texas town he must regard as something of a Shangri-la on October 4, the night after his gig in northwest Houston. It's part of DiNizio's innovative coast-to-coast house concert tour; his road MO is to arrive with a keg and a guitar and play requests all night anywhere someone will pony up $2,000. (For more info on this gig, call 936-295-5225. DiNizio also is seeking unsigned local talent to spin on the XM Radio show he hosts.) It will come as a surprise to those who assume all rockers not named Skunk Baxter or Ted Nugent are flaming lefties that DiNizio wasn't thinking about Ralph Nader when he penned "Green Thoughts." The Smithereen was elected a Republican Party committeeman when he was 18 and ran for the U.S. Senate in his native New Jersey in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket, though he supported Alan Keyes and not Pat Buchanan for president. (Incidentally, did you know that both Baxter and Nugent were born on December 13, 1948? Weird, huh?) Long-term Tony Vega Band bassist Brock Proctor has split amicably from his mates. The band is auditioning for a replacement; meanwhile, local veteran Lil' Screamin' Kenny is filling in Gonzalo "Gonzo" Sosa was recently diagnosed with leukemia and is in desperate need of a $500,000 bone marrow transplant. Gonzo's friends -- Tomball punkers Donora's Center -- have organized an October 11 benefit for Sosa. "Gonzofest" will be at Juergens Park in Tomball. All proceeds will go toward Sosa's medical bills. So far Donora's Center, Paris Green and Mark Needs A Chick have signed on to play, with more TBA Beck and the Flaming Lips have announced a November 13 Houston gig -- at Jones Hall, of all places And finally, Don Walsh of Rusted Shut graced us with another of his rambling, angry messages last week. After perusing our Best Of issue, Walsh came up with a new category we missed. "How about having Best Band that Can't Get Gigs?" he growled, presumably nominating his own for that honor. "There's a bunch of fuckin' Nazis booking gigs in this town."
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