Local Music Photographer Wins Deer Tick's Tour Bus

Mark C. Austin just keeps on living the dream. Last month he opened "Three Songs, No Flash," his first-ever exhibition of his bountiful collection of concert photography - many shot for these very "pages" - now on permanent display in Warehouse Live's Green Room. Last week he became the proud owner of a 2001 GMC Sahara mini school bus, which he won last week on an eBay auction for $1,700.

Austin, who is now in New York to catch some of My Morning Jacket's five-night stand at Manhattan's Terminal 5, purchased the bus when rowdy Rhode Island rockers Deer Tick decided to upgrade and donate the proceeds from the auction to OxFam. Deer Tick, by the way, was at House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room last week. (Christ, was that last week?)

Once he gets the bus back to Houston, Austin wants to loan it out as a tour vehicle for local bands to grow their regional fan bases; The Tontons, Tyagaraja and Peekaboo Theory are already on board. His plan has already been written up by Paste magazine, leading a friend of Rocks Off to call Austin "well on his way to being a Houston music legend" in an email earlier today.

Not bad for a mild-mannered accountant. OK, Mark's not all that mild-mannered, but this is pretty cool. Rocks Off shot local bands' new best friend a few questions via email this afternoon.

Rocks Off: Was this a spur of the moment thing or something you had been planning on for a while?

Mark C. Austin: Well, its been something I've been thinking about for a while. I've heard more than a few local bands talk about booking tours to get out of Houston and play a bit, but the costs of such an endeavor always seem to come up.

How can we afford to take off of our day jobs and drive around the U.S. for a couple of weeks? The cost of transportation is a big one. Renting a van/bus to do something like that can be quite expensive. I've considered buying a van or something for a while.

RO: Why Deer Tick? Do you know them, or was this just what was available?

MCA: I actually got to know Deer Tick and their management this year at Lollapalooza. Super cool group of guys and I love their last 2 albums. I had no idea this bus even existed. I started following them on twitter this year (@deertickmusic) and they posted about this on their Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago.

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They toured their last album in this bus and I'm assuming that they've just gotten better wheels this year with the new album. They decided to auction off this bus to raise money to contribute to OxFam's Pakistan relief efforts. I thought it was a great idea and something that could easily be put into service in Houston. Just the perfect storm of events. I watched the auction, bid on it and won. Pretty simple.

RO: What kind of condition is the bus in? How about the gas mileage?

MCA: It's a 2001 GMC Sahara (mini school bus). Just over 100K miles on it and they've done some interior renovations to accommodate a touring band (storage, comfort, etc). This is practically new for a school bus and everything is in working condition. Clearly, I'm going to have it tuned up and ready to roll before it goes into service. Hoping to have the interior fixed up for comfort and function as well. Anyone who provides such services, please reach out to me.

RO: You've said you're going to loan out the bus for local bands to take on tour. How is that going to work?

MCA: I haven't worked out the details of just how that's going to work just yet. I may give up accounting and become a tour bus driver. Kidding. I'm hoping to make it available for bands to use to tour, but I'd like to have some type of tour requirements or other incentives to bands to promote themselves better/more efficiently.

I'll work up something. In the end, I want to make sure its used to its utmost to get as many Houston bands to the next level as possible. I'm open to ideas at this point. This all happened so quickly that I haven't been able to put a full program together, but I've got a 30 hours drive from Rhode Island to figure that out. J/K.

RO: Will you be going with them?

MCA: To tour? I hope to get out on a couple of tours. No plans to be a full-time bus driver yet. We'll see.

RO: Will media be allowed to ride the bus?

MCA: Of course. That would be awesome. In fact, a couple of media members have already volunteered to make the trip to and from Rhode Island to get the bus. We are trying to plan a "halfway home" tour stop in Nashville right now and have some local bands come along for the ride and the show. [Ed. Note: Austin says Chase Hamblin and Benjamin Wesley have volunteered.]

Again, details are being worked out right now. Flights to Rhode Island are only $135 right now. Wanna go along? [Ed. Note: Yes.]

RO: Are you going to keep the bus in your driveway or what?

MCA: Ha ha! For a while yes, but I'm not sure my neighbors would appreciate that very much. I'm going to have a storage spot or garage to keep it in when its not in service. Anyone have a garage or storage spot that they'd like to let us use? Let me know.

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