Austin music nonprofit Black Fret has launched a new livestream series through a grant from the Stand With Austin fund that is playing local acts $500 to play sets for companies who book the events as virtual happy-hour entertainment for their employees.


The Black Fret Happy Hour Concert Series already has paid out $23,000 to musicians for livestream events booked by companies including Dell, Cisco and Slalom. Black Fret received a $50,000 grant from Stand With Austin, a fund created by the Austin Community Foundation and the Entrepreneurs Foundation after the cancellation of South by Southwest in March.


Performers play a happy-hour livestream set from their homes or studios, with up to 100 employees of the hosting company tuning in via Zoom. The companies pay a booking fee of $500 that covers production costs and will help to fund more performances when the Stand With Austin seed grant is exhausted.


The $500 payout to artists means the original $50,000 would cover 100 happy-hour performances. "Our commitment is to get 100 of these done by the end of September," Black Fret co-founder Matt Ott said Wednesday. Opportunities to extend the series will hinge largely on revenue generated from the participating companies’ booking fees.


Companies booking the events have included local businesses but are not limited to the Austin area. Ott said firms in California and Seattle (where Black Fret recently launched a second chapter) also have booked concerts for the series.


In addition to the $500 payment, the musicians also receive tips sent via Venmo by those watching the concerts. Tips are pooled each week from all concerts and then divided equally between the week’s performers.


Austin acts interested in performing for a Black Fret Happy Hour Concert Series virtual event can apply via austintexasmusicians.org. A press release announcing the series notes: "Musicians will be asked to provide their streaming and social media links, website and other information to confirm their status as an active, professional Austin, Texas musician."


Before the coronavirus pandemic, Black Fret’s funding model was based on live performances. Black Fret members paid $1,500 annually for access to intimate private concerts throughout the year by 20 nominated local artists, with those nominees receiving grants of up to $20,000 at the end of each year.


Since March, the organization has sought out alternative methods for funding and presenting Austin musicians. An "Austin Love & Lightstream" fundraiser streamed remotely from Scholz Garten with no audience in mid-March featured dozens of performances over a five-day stretch and brought in enough for Black Fret to donate $25,000 to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, in addition to payments for the performers who took part.


In addition to the business-centered happy-hour series, Black Fret also has been presenting virtual events the public can view. The first of those was taped privately at Native Hostel and aired via the Black Fret Facebook page on May 9 with solo performances from Leslie Sisson (of Moving Panoramas) and Henry Invisible. It aired via Black Fret’s Facebook page on May 9 and remains viewable there as an archived video.


More such events are being captured on the outdoor stage at Scholz Garten, which recently reopened per state guidelines and limitations for restaurants. The third installment of these sessions will be taped Wednesday evening, June 3, with local acts Dossey and Nane, and is set to air on the Black Fret Facebook page and YouTube channel on Saturday, June 6, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.


"Black Fret has always had private events, but we’ve always wanted to make sure that the content these bands create can be seen by the world," Ott said. "In these pandemic times, that’s what it’s all about."