After seven months of controversy and community involvement, KUT announced the new manager of the Cactus Cafe on Wednesday: Austin record industry veteran Matt Muñoz.
"I'm very excited," said Muñoz, 39, who will start Monday . "I'm very humbled and very honored with the opportunity here that everyone has presented me with."
Muñoz's hiring represents the culmination of a controversy that began in late January, when the University of Texas announced plans to close the hallowed venue in August. An outraged community responded, leading ultimately to the announcement in May that KUT would step in to manage the music side of the venue. KUT posted the job description for Cactus Cafe manager — a newly created full-time position within KUT that pays $48,000 a year — in May.
The Texas Union will continue to run bar and daytime operations, and longtime employees Chris Lueck and Susan Svedeman will remain at the bar.
Though far from a household name — "There's a lot of people going 'Who the heck is that?'u2009" Muñoz said — the new Cactus Cafe manager first came to Austin in 1993 as a drummer for his band the Cleavers after graduating from West Texas A&M University with a bachelor's degree in music business. That led to a position as a coordinator of artist development and promotion with Arista Records' Austin office. After that office closed in 1998, Muñoz moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in the record industry for 10 years — first with Warner Bros. Records as assistant to the senior director of marketing and later as a label manager with Universal Music Group Distribution.
In 2008 he returned to Austin to serve as director of sales and marketing for Justice Records, which counted Electric Touch, Nelo, and u2026And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead among its roster before folding earlier this year.
Muñoz will step into a carefully scrutinized spotlight, but he said he's ready for the attention.
"I knew when I applied that if I got the job, it would be part of the gig," Muñoz said. "With record labels I've worked with, everyone from Green Day to Bette Midler to K.D. Lang. I've had every type of artist and manager yell at me at some point. u2026 I've let my work speak for myself. Controversy or not, the best thing I can do is come in here and work really hard."
Though he has experience with booking, Muñoz plans especially to bring his experience in marketing to the job.
"I think my ability to develop that may be something that Cactus hasn't really had before," Muñoz said.
Muñoz said he plans to maintain the venue's traditional singer-songwriter offerings, with a focus on developing acts, but also expressed interest in children's programming, master classes, readings, listening parties and other community events.
Longtime Cactus Cafe Manager Griff Luneburg, who was a finalist for the new position, booked fall shows even after KUT assumed responsibility and will continue to assist in the transition. Though working under University Unions, Luneburg will assist with the Cactus Cafe at least through Dec. 15.
"I think one of the great things in the setup we have going forward with Griff working with us is that it'll give Matt a chance to have individual sit-downs, one-on-one, with artists and members of the community and other stakeholders," Hawk Mendenhall, KUT associate general manager and program director, said Wednesday. "And I cannot say enough good things about how great Griff has been through this transition."
Luneburg, who has booked the venue since 1983, has helped institute changes to make the venue more accessible — including student discounts and open mike nights. But Mendenhall says KUT made the choice to go in a different direction.
"Griff has done a remarkable job for a really long time. The way he's been juggling the bar, he's been juggling the booking, he's been having to do all this paperwork — this job, from a fundamental standpoint, is going to be significantly different," Mendenhall said. "The whole bringing in the student aspect of this and developing those programs and expanding the content — I think it's such a fundamentally different job. In terms of what we needed to make this a sustainable property going forward, I think this was the best decision for all concerned."
Wiley Koepp, founding member of nonprofit organization Friends of the Cactus Cafe — which helped lead the charge for saving the cafe — expressed concern about the choice. Friends of the Cactus Cafe raised more than $20,000 in donations and services and $100,000 in pledged donations. Koepp said he'd reach out to members of the group before deciding the organization's way forward.
"I think that it is a statement that KUT wants to take the Cactus in a different direction, which is going to be disconcerting for a lot of people. But time will tell," Koepp said. "There's a concern that what's great about the Cactus could be lost with this change of management. But it may not happen. I definitely wish Muñoz the best, and he might do a wonderful job, but there is going to be the unknown element that is very scary for a lot of folks."