Outside, the rain was coming down in buckets on what was one of Austin’s worst weather nights of the year. But inside ACL Live on Friday night at the fifth annual Black Fret Ball, everything was perfect.
Since 2014, Black Fret — a local music patron organization in which members pay a $1,500 annual fee for access to concerts and parties throughout the year — has given more than $1 million to Austin acts. Members nominate 20 artists each year, then attend performances throughout the year and vote on major and minor grant winners announced at the annual December gala.
Here's the list of the 2018 recipients:
$20,000 grants: Donovan Keith, Greyhounds, Los Coast, Jane Ellen Bryant, Jaimee Harris, Wood & Wire, Jeff Plankenhorn, Israel Nash, Shy Beast, Tomar & the FCs
$5,000 grants: Texas KGB, Rebecca Loebe, Dave Scher, Palo Duro, Megafauna, A Giant Dog, Trouble in the Streets, Billy King & the Bad Bad Bad, Otis the Destroyer, Kalu & the Electric Joint
• More photos: A-List gallery from the Black Fret Ball
This year marked a big step up for the Black Fret Ball, with a move from the Paramount Theatre to ACL Live. Increased ticket sales weren't the reason, as the event is not open to the general public. But Black Fret's membership has grown significantly in five years, and the nature of the event's production greatly benefits from ACL Live's more spacious environs.
Most importantly, the venue's stage is large enough to be split into two smaller stage plots. That meant Black Fret nominees could perform back-to-back without any set changes, resulting in a significant streamlining of the show. Past Black Fret galas had sometimes stretched past four hours; this one ran a tight and tidy three hours, plus a half-hour intermission. "We built this (Black Fret) model with this place in mind," co-founder Colin Kendrick said at the start of the event.
Most acts played two songs, keeping the action moving quickly after a 7:15 p.m. start that was slightly delayed to allow for weather-related late arrivals. Between performances, fellow co-founder Matt Ott and various guest presenters, including ACL Live general manager Colleen Fischer and KUTX program director Matt Reilly, announced the grant recipients.
A rousing ovation greeted bluegrass band Wood & Wire after its spirited set, in part because the crowd knew what a big day it had been for the group. Winning a major grant came on the heels of Friday morning's announcement that their album "North of Despair" is up for a Grammy in the Best Bluegrass Album category.
Of this year's 20 grant nominees, 15 performed at the Black Fret Ball. A couple of acts were on tour or had members touring with other groups. Jeff Plankenhorn, playing in Colorado this week, sent back a note that Ott read to the crowd, thanking members for their support and concluding, "I promise not to spend it on that drum machine I've wanted since high school."
After high-powered soul band Tomar & the FCs led a rousing, all-hands-on-deck finale of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home" to close out the night at 10:45 p.m., Ott said to all the Black Fret members in attendance, "We're onto something great here. Stick with us."