- Deborah Sengupta Stith American-Statesman Staff
With a gregarious stage presence and a massive, bluesy voice, 40-year-old singer Nakia Reynoso has been a fixture on the Austin music scene for more than a decade.
In the past few years he’s become one of our city’s foremost artist activists, powerfully advocating for Austin nonprofits like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the Sims Foundation, a mental health organization for musicians. For the past two years he has served on the Austin Music Commission, a citizen body that advises the City Council. In August, when the commission appointed by the new 10-1 City Council convened for the first time, Reynoso was unanimously elected chair.
Reynoso’s interest in politics was sparked in early 2013 when he joined the Texas chapter of the Recording Academy, the regional arm of the industry group best known for producing the Grammy Awards. He was invited to perform at an event at the Texas Capitol, but before he sang he joined members of the academy in a series of meetings with state senators and representatives about proposed legislation that could dissolve copyright protections on music masters produced before 1972.
The experience was eye-opening for Reynoso. “I saw senators not even realizing that by putting this legislation forward they were going to rob Buddy Holly’s family of royalties,” he said. “And they were from (Holly’s hometown) Lubbock. They didn’t get it.”
Reynoso says the meeting was the first time a regional chapter of the academy had lobbied on the state level, and their actions were so successful that the academy subsequently established a “Grammys in My District” program to encourage other chapters to activate locally.
“When I saw that act could make a difference I really threw myself into figuring out other ways that I could be an advocate for myself and other artists,” he said.
Reynoso hopes to inspire other artists to do the same.
The Music Commission is appointed by the City Council, and with the new council the commission grew and its character changed. In the past, the commission has included representatives with ties to South by Southwest, C3 Presents and Transmission Entertainment, some of the city’s music industry power players. Those groups are all absent this time around. Instead the 10-person group includes musicians like Elizabeth McQueen and Graham Reynolds, promoters like Urban Music Festival director Homer Hill, and music educators like Marshall Escamilla, who was voted vice-chair at the group’s first meeting. Reynoso calls the group “the best representation of our community that we’ve seen on the commission.”
“It also represents our best hope to build community,” he said. “I think if we play our cards right and we really listen to the people and try to invite the people to be more a part of our process, we have an opportunity to build up our community in a way that we’ve not seen before.”
With the recent Austin Music Census detailing the struggles facing the industry and a white paper released by local advocacy group Austin Music People disparaging the city’s lack of support, Reynoso believes this is a crucial moment for the Live Music Capital of the World. He plans to spend his term as Music Commission chair trying to build a strong core of artist activists to organize around issues that impact the industry.
“City Hall politics — they don’t work on a proactive basis; they work on a reactive basis,” he said. The group has a lot of data for the City Council to react to, “but we need more bodies and more letters and more voices to speak up on behalf of the musicians.”
The Austin Music Commission held a specially called meeting to talk about the white paper last week. Reynoso said it was a very productive discussion. The group’s next meeting is Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. All meetings are open to the public, and validated parking is available at the City Hall garage.
Backstage before his “Austin City Limits” taping last week, Austin blues hero Gary Clark Jr. showed off a brand new, custom made “Remember Clifford” guitar that was given to him by Susan Antone, sister of the late club owner, earlier in the day.
Clifford Antone took Clark under his wing when he was very young. “I wouldn’t have the musical education, the knowledge … if it wasn’t for that guy who allowed me to hang backstage with Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins and James Cotton,” he said.
Clark has signed on to be part of the blues club’s reboot. The ownership group for the new Antone’s also includes Will Bridges of Lamberts, Susan Antone and Spencer Wells, an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. The club was originally scheduled to reopen downtown on Fifth Street this summer, but Clark said the location is currently “being broken down to be rebuilt.” He predicts Antone’s will be up and running early next year.