Hanging out in Austin clubs as teenagers in the mid-1980s, Black Fret founders Colin Kendrick and Matt Ott became friends who shared a love for the city’s vibrant music scene. Then, as now, musicians were everywhere.
Less prevalent, in the days before Austin’s tech boom, was a well-off segment of the local population that might be interested in supporting such musicians through grants. While such avenues have long been common in fine arts realms such as opera and theater, the practice generally hasn’t been adapted to popular music.
Enter Black Fret, which seeks to unite members from the growing demographic of financially stable residents who love Austin music and want to help those creating the sounds.
“It’s a new generation of donors,” says Kendrick. “The money we’re starting to raise is money that might have traditionally gone to other art forms.”
“We think this is going to make Austin a more vibrant community for giving,” Ott adds. “And hopefully create a new era of philanthropy in Austin.”
At $1,500 a year, membership in Black Fret is beyond the reach of most Austinites, particularly those who tend to be deeply involved in the music community. The targets, then, are patrons who have an interest in what’s happening locally but might not be in a situation to immerse themselves in the local scene on a regular basis.
“Some of our members tend to be people who, through having professional jobs, or children, have floated away from the music,” Kendrick says. “They’re people who really love it and spent a lot of time with it in their youth but have lost touch with it. They’re looking for a way to re-engage.”
What they get for their $1,500 is not only a voice in providing grants — which in Black Fret’s inaugural year will provide $10,000 to each of 10 Austin acts — but also a social agenda that involves live music. Members and guests (usually one guest per member, sometimes more) are invited to official Black Fret concerts at venues and private residences for performances more intimate than public nightclub shows, with food and drinks provided.
Black Fret spent the past year gradually growing membership toward an initial goal of 100 members — a milestone they have reached just in the past few days, Kendrick and Ott reported on Friday. Reaching that goal, they say, allows them to formally proceed with the 2014 grant process, which begins with a March announcement of 20 nominees for the 10 grants.
Black Fret members then spend the next few months hearing the nominees at sanctioned events, as well as at house parties presented by members and at the nominated artists’ usual club gigs around town. In November, they cast their votes for the 10 acts to receive the grants.
Ten artists and $10,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket among the sea of Austin musicians, but Kendrick and Ott say the aim, as they approach their capped goal of 1,333 members, is to increase both the number of grants awarded, to 40, and the size of the grants, to $25,000.
Their next event, a March 8 private house show with jazz saxophonist Elias Haslanger’s “Church on Monday” outfit and the Jitterbug Vipers, is intended in part to broaden the base of genres under consideration. Previous performers at Black Fret events have included Graham Wilkinson, Erin Ivey, Quiet Company, Shakey Graves and Ben Kweller.
“We need to let the community know that this isn’t just about the traditional genres,” Ott says. “This is about all Austin music.”
Tuesday’s first annual Ameripolitan Music Awards Show is sold out — though with a modest capacity of 400 at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, it didn’t take long to get there.
“It’s a learning experience this year to find out we definitely could have sold twice as many tickets,” says Ameripolitan ringleader Dale Watson. “It may be at the Stateside or the Paramount next year.”
Watson, whose profile has been quite high of late with the early February airing of his first-ever appearance on “Austin City Limits” and his role in keeping Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon open, launched Ameripolitan Music LLC a year ago with husband-wife Silvia and Brett Neal of local honky-tonkers the Daliens. Their actions were largely in response to country star Blake Shelton’s comment in January 2013 that “nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music,” among other disparaging remarks about fans of classic country that drew an angry response from Ray Price.
“It was right after Blake Shelton had said that, and called us old farts and jackasses,” Watson says. “He just said what everybody knew was the way that Nashville really thought. So I said, ‘All right, if you’re going to throw this stuff away, we’re going pick it up and transplant it.’”
Watson sees the Ameripolitan Awards as distinct from the 12-year-old Americana Music Awards, held every September at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. “Americana is firmly rooted in Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and Steve Earle and that stuff – it’s original music with a prominent folk and rock influence,” Watson says. “And Ameripolitan is original music with a prominent roots influence; it starts with Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and Kitty Wells and all that stuff.”
The Americana Music Association has a different view, describing its genre on its website as “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues.”
Regardless, there are differences in the organizations’ aesthetics. “Americana, just like country music, doesn’t describe what we do,” says Watson, whose Ameripolitan camp focuses more on traditional forms such as honky-tonk, western swing, outlaw and rockabilly. “You can go through the history of Americana’s charts and awards, and it’s pretty much focused mostly on the rock- and folk-based artists.”
There are exceptions, but a look at winners of Americana Awards in the past three years largely bears out Watson’s point: The likes of Shovels & Rope, Jason Isbell, the Civil Wars, Alabama Shakes, the Avett Brothers, Robert Plant and Mumford & Sons took the bulk of the honors.
The Austin-heavy lineup for Tuesday’s Ameripolitan Awards offers a pretty good demonstration of the differences. Performers include Ray Benson, James Hand, Wayne Hancock, Rosie Flores, James Intveld and Heybale, with special awards going to Johnny Bush (who wrote Willie Nelson’s classic “Whiskey River”) and W.S. Holland (longtime Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash drummer). Mojo Nixon of Sirius XM satellite radio’s Outlaw Country channel will host.
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