UPDATE: In a heartfelt Facebook post Saturday night, ACL Radio host Andy Langer announced an upcoming "Blues on the Screen" event curated by Jackie Venson.
The event will air on Austin’s Fox 7 on July 8. It will be recorded without an audience.
The full text of his announcement (which everyone should read) is below.
UPDATE: Shinyribs has pulled out of ACL Radio’s Blues on the Screen event. Kevin Russell shared the following statement with the Statesman on Saturday:
In light of current events Shinyribs cannot in good conscience fulfill our upcoming engagement to play Blues On The Green/Blues On The Screen-We are in full support of our friend, Jackie Venson and the Austin music community she loves. As local artists going forward we must require venues, multi-artist events and festivals to fairly represent POC, women, and LGBTQ in their artist rosters, vendors/sponsors, etc
The vibrancy of our city depends on our concerted efforts to achieve this goal.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to indicate the Suffers headlined Blues on the Green in 2016.
EARLIER: On June 2, Austin blues artist Jackie Venson took to her Facebook page to call on white tastemakers in the Austin music scene to put their money where their mouths are.
"Instead of being silent, today I’m going to demand that my city, Austin, Texas, be better," Venson wrote. "I see you all chiming in with your voices of support against systemic racism. A lot of you are pretty big players in the ATX music scene. I hope you still believe Black lives matter when you’re choosing your lineups for the major Austin concert events and festivals, when you’re picking out music and songs for your radio shows, when you’re doing artist spotlights."
This was a week after protests over police brutality and systemic racism began.
Two days later, radio host Andy Langer reached out to offer her a gig, a plum opportunity with a $1,500 paycheck. In response to the coronavirus epidemic, the popular Blues on the Green concert series hosted by Austin City Limits Radio (formerly KGSR) was presenting a special "Blues on the Screen" online streaming event.
"The bill was originally going to be me, Bob Schneider and Shinyribs," Venson said on Thursday. "And I didn't want to be a part of that, because I felt like I would have been a direct hypocrite to everything I just posted publicly online. I'm getting dangerously close to a token situation right now."
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A beloved, perennial event called "Blues on the Green" has headlined no Black artists since 2016.
At this moment in time, with businesses and individuals around the country adopting the Black Lives Matter rallying cry, Venson said it was time for organizers of the event, an Austin institution for 30 years, to take a stand.
"I told him that I would only be on it if there was going to be an all-Black lineup because it’s long overdue," Venson said.
Venson’s stance led to a back and forth between Langer and Venson’s manager, Louie Carr, that Carr described as "some of the most disheartening conversations I've had."
Langer declined to comment for this story.
Langer’s main concern, as described by Scott Gillmore, senior VP and market manager at Waterloo Media, the parent company for ACL Radio, was that contracts for the other artists on the bill were already in place.
"We had already booked two acts," Gillmore said Thursday. "We did not want to go back and you know, we made offers on those which had been accepted."
RELATED: Jackie Venson asks the Austin music scene: ‘What are you willing to do?’
As a compromise, Langer offered Venson the option of bringing a second Black artist onto the bill, but Venson and Carr dug in on the idea of an all-Black lineup.
Carr said he volunteered to reach out to the other artists on the bill.
"I know, Kevin (Russell from Shinyribs). I can call him if that's what you're worried about," Carr said he told Langer. Carr said he felt like Russell and Schneider, both of whom draw on Black music as source material for their sound, would be willing to cede their time.
In the ensuing back and forth, Carr said Langer told him there weren’t enough Black Austin artists with a draw to support an all-Black bill.
He found Langer’s attitude concerning. "This man has held the keys to some of the city's biggest events for decades," he said.
Carr said he made another appeal for an all-Black bill and suggested meeting with Gavin Garcia, director of EQ Austin, a nonprofit that strives for equity in the Austin music industry. Carr is on the board.
Days later, Carr learned through an industry colleague that two other Black artists had been booked onto the event. When he reached out to confirm that Venson was no longer in consideration, Langer responded: "Indeed. We’ve built a four-act bill we’re all happy to move forward with. I appreciate you initially considering it, asking the tough questions, moving Gavin into the picture and standing your ground, but your ultimatum ultimately wasn’t something we could accommodate."
Gillmore, Langer’s supervisor, said he thinks there was a miscommunication between Langer and Carr regarding what was said about the ability of Black artists to draw crowds and he’s open to the idea of an all-Black bill in the future.
A review of the past five years of Blues on the Green lineups shows a lack of Black artists booked. The last black artist to headline the event was the Suffers in 2016. In the past five years, seven out of the 40 artists booked were black artists. The Suffers were the only headline act. In 2015, Gary Clark Jr. was originally scheduled to headline a 40th anniversary celebration for Antone’s, but was unable to accommodate a schedule change when the original date was rained out.
For the past two years, the series — which is the only music event other than the Austin City Limits Music Festival permitted to take place in Zilker Park, the crown jewel of Austin’s park system — included one Black-fronted act (out of eight booked) each season.
Gillmore said Blues on the Green has evolved from a local radio station summer series "geared very much towards the AAA (adult contemporary) format." Because the event takes place on public land, "we want it to be a celebration for the whole city," he said.
"With Latino and Black acts, we've tried to make them part of that and we intend to do more in the future," he said.
In the past five years, two Latino acts have headlined the festival, Shakey Graves in 2015 and Grupo Fantasma in 2017.
"There's a difficulty in that there are not enough artists that are African American or Black artists that are headliners yet and we'd like to see more," Gillmore said. He said the "no question headline acts in Austin, the Black acts, would be Gary Clark Jr. and the Black Pumas."
In the music industry, talent buyers have substantial power to develop artists. High profile placements on festival lineups, events like Blues on the Green and opening slots for large touring acts expose artists to thousands of potential new fans. In Austin, the vast majority of talent buyers are white.
In a roundtable discussion with Black Austin musicians hosted by Austin360 on June 8, the tendency of white music tastemakers to underestimate the popularity of chart-topping, traditionally Black music forms like hip-hop and R&B was a recurring theme.
"We need to change these things, these people with, you know, these midcentury thoughts and mindsets," rapper Kydd Jones said.
Venson said she believes Blues on the Green is lineup proof. "It’s an institution," she said. "We don't need a draw for bands to get people to watch and care about Blues on the Green. It's free and it's supposed to be like a community thing, but if you go to it, you're not seeing the entire Austin community, you're seeing one tiny portion of it."
She’s frustrated by the way the local music industry "is catered to this one group of people in Austin that look a certain way," she said.
"I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place," she said. "The rock is that I'm nervous about what the repercussions will be. For me, the hard place is that I have no choice but to do this because I can't be a part of all this. I have to fight against it or else I don't know how I'm going to sleep at night.
"That's where I'm stuck right now like, OK, I'm just gonna go ahead and sacrifice some career opportunities because I do want to be able to sleep at night."