When you’re meeting an interview subject for the first time amidst the human potpourri of Jo’s on South Congress, you usually need to ask what they’re wearing for a positive ID. Not necessary for William Harries Graham, who booked and organized Sunday’s Margaret Moser birthday bash at the Continental Club. Graham is 13 years old. The blond moptop bounds into the hip hangout alone and right on time.
The son of musician Jon Dee Graham and Austin Community College teacher Gretchen Harries, young William has made a notable impact on the local music scene in the past year, with his Proper Nang Night showcases prepping the next generation of bands and his blog in the Austin Chronicle documenting the growing “U18” (under 18) scene in Austin. As a member of melodic rock trio the Seaside Swifts, Graham saw the need for a place where teens could play their own songs, free of the “band camp” constraints.
“If I wasn’t playing music, I doubt if I would be putting on shows,” he says. “But I like doing it. There’s a definite need.”
Talking to this articulate youngster, who is home-schooled in a “gifted and talented” online course from Northwestern University, it’s hard to believe he was born in 1999.
“He asks all the right questions and doesn’t seem to get flustered,” says Moser, the Austin Chronicle staffer who hired him to write the “Next Up” blog and gives him advice in concert promotion. “The first time I met him, I knew William was going to be in my next generation of adoptees.”
Since launching the South Texas Popular Culture Center in San Antonio last year and turning her focus more to history than beginnings, Moser had been looking for someone to take over her bookings of teen bands.
Then Moser got sick. William says he received the first inkling that something was wrong with his mentor when she asked him to send his column to another editor in early February. Moser, who turns 59 on Wednesday, was in the hospital, where she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
The news hit the tight-knit local scene like a sledgehammer. The week after she ran the Austin Music Awards in March, doctors told Moser her test results were “disappointing” and her cancer was now rated stage four. It’s inoperable, but she’s currently being treated with chemotherapy.
Young Graham says that at first he “felt helpless” when he heard the dire diagnosis. “I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what else I could do besides put on a show to let Margaret know how much she’s helped so many artists.” Moser gave William some suggestions on which acts to call, but he’s done pretty much everything else for the show.
Give teens a chance
Moser has long been supportive of ambitious kids. In the early ’80s, she discovered such teen acts as Monte Warden and Charlie Sexton, and in recent years Moser has promoted shows featuring musicians 18 and younger at Threadgill’s and other venues.
“I want these kids in Austin to experience live music like I did growing up,” says the San Antonio native who’s been a fixture on the Austin scene since writing for the Austin Sun in the late ’70s. “When the Beatles hit, most of the people who ran out and started bands were teenagers. Roky Erickson wrote ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ when he was 16.”
But the Austin club scene is funded by liquor sales, and booking teen bands with underage fans doesn’t make financial sense. “There are a lot of parents who won’t let their kids go to Red River and Sixth Street,” Moser adds.
So she started booking “U18” showcases at family-friendly venues and championed such young acts as Mother Falcon, Schmillion and Ariel Abshire in print. “When I started putting together shows, everyone was telling me I had to meet Margaret Moser,” says William, whose best friends include Finley Rose Sexton and Juanita Escovedo, offspring of Will and Alejandro.
An early start
Moser and William have actually known each other since he was a 4-year-old who played a song he’d written called “Rock and Roll Street” at the Austin Music Awards, an event Moser has produced for 32 years. When “Willie Graham” was diagnosed in 2005 with Legg-Perthes, a rare childhood disease that affects the hip joint, Moser helped publicize the “Big Sweet Life” benefit concert and CD, which raised money for William’s treatment. The “Willie” is gone, and the doctors have the ailment under control.
It’s a big, sweet coincidence that the tribute/birthday show, with proceeds going toward medical bills and living expenses, falls on Mother’s Day. The older sister of three brothers, Moser has maintained a maternal role on the music scene, nurturing young writers like Chris Gray and Andy Langer, as well as the musicians who are playing at the Continental on Sunday.
If this town of lost boys is Neverland, Moser is Wendy. Her mothering instincts overpower a desire to never grow old.
The Margaret Moser Birthday Bash
When: 3:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave.
Playing: Jimmie Vaughan, Wagoneers, Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, Kathy Valentine, Wild Seeds, Skunks, Shoulders, Ty Gavin, Finley Sexton, Seaside Swifts and the Mystic Knights of the Sea.