(Regular freelance writer Chad Swiatecki reports from Friday’s Black Fret Ball.)
About 20 minutes into Friday night’s Black Fret Black Ball awards show there was a moment of artistic irony so blunt that it may as well have been delivered via an anvil with “ACME” printed on the side.
The moment came via Austin agit-folk rockers East Cameron Folkcore, who kicked off its two-song set with “Our City” and its lyrical screed against new wealth that builds condos and high rises on every square inch of a city like Austin while artists and long-timers are making do sleeping in alleys and scavenging for two meals a day.
That those lyrics were being recited and shouted at a theater full of tuxedoed and well-heeled professionals – ie, the types who in many ways are causing Austin to become pricier by the day – at the Paramount Theatre paints a picture of the bind in which the city and its artists find themselves.
Friday’s award show was the second annual gala for the charity, which awards career advancement grants to Austin musicians – think of a patron system used for local ballets or symphonies as a model – so they can make a reasonable living from their art even as the music industry collapses.
In 2014 Black Fret gave $130,000 to its first class of artists, with 10 major grants of $10,000 each and 10 more $3,000 awards to other nominees.
The group’s growth in 2015 allowed it to up those numbers for its second batch of recipients, with major winners netting $12,000 each, with the money coming “unlocked” in phases as artists reach career milestones, such as recording demo songs, booking regional tours and performing for a local nonprofit group. See the full list of winners and nominees below.
The mechanics and benefits of the group’s model were elaborated on throughout the night during promotional videos and testimonials from group co-founder and emcee Matt Ott, who ably killed time during the quick stage changes for the night’s 10 musical acts that were also 2015 nominees.
In effect the night was a buffet of Austin live music at this very moment, with the crowd-pleasing hip-hop of Riders Against The Storm, arresting folk pop from Danny Malone, deep funk and soul from Tameca Jones, and Jazz Mills eliciting a standing ovation with a stirring solo a cappella spiritual.
In between those performances and candid moments that thankfully pop up at award shows – like when the theater got a chuckle hearing Tameca Jones off stage shrieking in surprise upon learning of her award – Ott, co-founder Colin Kendrick and a series of group donors and local music luminaries announced this year’s grant winners one or two at a time.
Many of those recipients gave insight as to how the grant dollars will help them. For East Cameron Folkcore it’ll help fund two albums and at least 100 tour dates; fiddle player/vocalist Ruby Jane will cover recording costs from her forthcoming EP; and Danny Malone joked he’ll get to repay the thousands of dollars his mother has contributed to his career over the years.
Of course there’s more than money involved with Black Fret, since its dues-paying members include lots of music industry professionals who serve as advisors and mentors to nominated acts and give guidance on how to make a living as a musician.
The value of that proposition was something that Miguel Ojeda of the rock trio Migrant Kids focused on after his band was announced as the final major grant recipient. The money is great and needed, he said, while smiling in a state of disbelief, but the other resources that Black Fret brings to bear to help local artists are what can make as big of difference for artists trying to scratch out a living as the Live Music Capital of the World grows an d changes around them.
Major grant winners ($12,000)
East Cameron Folkcore
Shakey Graves (donated his $12,000 to the award pool for minor grant winners)
The Digital Wild
Minor grant winners ($3,000 each, but increased to $4,200 via Shakey Graves’ donation)
Aaron Behrens (donated to Health Alliance for Austin Musicians)
Not In The Face
Riders Against The Storm