It was an intriguing if relatively simple idea: Round up six local musicians and sponsor their journey to an international music event. But when local musician and filmmaker Chris Brecht started Project ATX6 last year, neither he nor his subjects knew exactly how it would pan out.
“You don’t know these people at the start of the project,” he says, remembering the uncertainty. “But at the end, they’re like your best friends. When everybody had to go home, we didn’t want it to end. That’s when I knew we had something special.”
The success of that inaugural year — which brought together Aisha Burns, Dana Falconberry, Carson McHone, Jesse Moore, Leo Rondeau and Jordan Webster for festival gigs at North by Northeast in Toronto and Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany — cemented Project ATX6 as an ongoing concern. Last month, Brecht returned to Toronto’s NXNE with a new cast of musicians: Elsa Cross, Gina Chavez, Jana Horn, Brian Kremer, Silas Lowe and Jonathan Terrell.
That was just the first stop on what this year will be a three-event itinerary for the ATX6 participants. Next month, they’ll travel to Angers, France, to play a handful of shows during “Austin Week,” a sister-city program that spotlights film, tech, food and wine from our city as well as music. And October brings a return to Canada for the Halifax Pop Explosion in Nova Scotia.
With the help of sponsors such as Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Project ATX6 arranges and pays for the musicians’ travel and lodging. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for the musicians — one that might seem out of reach without such an assistive program.
“I don’t think an Austin artist is constantly thinking, ‘I want to get my music to France,’” Brecht says. “They’d love that, but they don’t necessarily know how to do it.”
Two years in, Brecht is still learning himself. When Project ATX6 began, it got a significant boost from the ATX Music Office, but this year Brecht needed to pursue backing from the private sector. “Funding has literally dominated my life in the last few months,” he says. “I thought last year was hard, but this year has been difficult in a different way.”
Support also comes from the music community at large. The six musicians occasionally team up for fundraising shows at local venues; their next one is on Friday at Stay Gold (9 p.m., $5), with another scheduled for Sept. 5 at the White Horse.
Larger sponsors are fairly essential to the Project ATX6 model, but Brecht sounds determined to make it work whether the support comes from public or private sources. “I think this is something that our city should be standing behind,” he says, but he notes that “a business like Tito’s is also an extension of our city.”
Though traveling abroad with six performers isn’t cheap, Brecht keeps costs modest by booking HomeAway accommodations and traveling via public transit and train as much as possible.
“It isn’t designed to be a glamorous ‘let’s get on a tour bus’ thing,” he says. “I like that it gets our musicians in touch with the culture of the places.”
Along the way, Brecht has shot several hours of footage that he’s assembled into short clips posted on Vimeo, with a goal of creating either an ongoing series of 30-minute episodes or a 90-minute documentary film. He’d prefer the former, and he’s been working with KLRU-TV’s Green Light Committee, which evaluates film projects for development. “I’d like to keep this as a series that we keep going through year after year,” he says.
One key aspect of Project ATX6 is the diversity of the artists involved. Brecht chooses three men and three women, and he says he looks for a range of ages, musical styles and levels of experience.
“I don’t want to just pick a bunch of 20-year-olds,” he says. “I like having people who have been working at it for many years and maybe have been on the cusp (of a career breakthrough) but haven’t quite gotten there.”
That’s the case with Terrell, who had a strong run recently with rock band Not in the Face but is reinventing himself as a country-folk singer-songwriter. On the other end of the spectrum in this year’s class is Horn, a 21-year-old rising talent who fronts the indie band Reservations.
In a similar position last year was Carson McHone, who was 22 when Project ATX6 made its 2014 trip to NXNE. She returned there last month, this time performing with her own group of touring musicians. “I know that I was probably given a showcase with my band because I was a part of the festival last year,” she says.
McHone remains grateful that Brecht gave her a chance. “He knew that I hadn’t done much, but that I wanted to, and I was motivated,” she says. “There are a lot of ideas and plans (in Austin) that never come to fruition because nobody follows through with them. But Chris actually did it. He made something really cool, and it actually was a success.”
It succeeded, at least in part, because Brecht knew firsthand what it was like trying to play music in Austin. He’s released three records and hopes to put out more, though Project ATX6 has become a priority for now.
“I was just a musician doing what these people are doing,” he says. “But there came a point where I started to think, why are other things not happening for us? Sometimes it’s hard to do something for yourself but it’s easy to do something for somebody else. So I started this because I thought it should happen.”
Ross Shoemaker tribute
When Ross Shoemaker died in a head-on collision in Oklahoma in May, quite a few Austin music lifers took it hard. Though Shoemaker hadn’t lived in Austin for two decades, his friendly face was omnipresent here from the mid-1980s to the early ’90s, when he worked the door at Liberty Lunch and stocked bins at Waterloo Records.
When Ross (“Roscoe” to his friends) loved a band, it was his mission to let everyone know. In 1990, he insisted that I had to hear this record by a new trio, Uncle Tupelo, titled “No Depression,” never dreaming that five years later I’d start a magazine with that name. But those were the kinds of ripples Roscoe’s enthusiasm often initiated.
His circle of friends and favorite bands overlapped considerably with South by Southwest creative director Brent Grulke, who died three years ago this month; so it’s fitting that many of the same Austin bands that convened for the Grulkefest tribute show in 2012 are on the bill Saturday for a show at the Gatsby honoring Shoemaker.
The music starts at 6:30 p.m. and includes performances by Doctors’ Mob, Wild Seeds, Alejandro Escovedo, the Wannabes, Why Not Satellite, the Reivers and Dumptruck. The $10 cover charge will go toward a college education fund for Roscoe’s daughter, Sadie. There’s also a silent auction with items donated by members of the Replacements — Shoemaker’s favorite band — Waterloo Records and others.