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Beerland booker helped shape Red River scene

Joe Gross

In 2010, thousands of people came from out of town for South by Southwest, and a whole lot of them ended up on Red River Street, wandering between Emo's at one end and the Mohawk on the other. They probably passed Beerland, the tiny Red River club between Seventh and Eighth streets that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Beerland wasn't an official SXSW venue, so it could get away with the following sign at the club entrance:

"Once we hit capacity it will be a one-in/one-out situation. I don't care how many hits your (expletive) blog gets a month. (Expletive) Google Analytics. And besides, bloggers aren't real writers. Sorry, I just don't respect you." More often than not, the gent standing near the sign was the guy who wrote it: Max Dropout, Beerland's booker, doorman, concierge, bouncer and social media adviser.

"Man, people were so angry about that sign," Dropout, whose real name is Max Meehan, said over lunch recently at Sunflower, a Vietnamese restaurant off Research Boulevard. "Nobody said anything to me. Instead, they all decided, 'I am going to iPhone that to myself and write about it from the safety of Ontario.' "

Locals knew what was up. Meehan, who has been working at Beerland since he moved to Austin in 2003, is (in)famous for his signs. From "5 Simple Rules," another SXSW sign: "Get off your Blackberry before trying to interact with me. It's called being decent." And "I don't care how used up and wrinkly you look. I will need to see I.D. before you enter. This isn't (expletive) Applebee's."

"Those signs just cut down on a lot of the same questions over and over," Meehan said. "I can just point to the sign."

During the past seven years, Meehan's taste and personality have become integral parts of the Red River scene. Beerland has thrived under his watch. It might not be hitting its 10th anniversary this year because of Meehan, but his presence sure hasn't hurt.

"Max is awesome because he actually cares," Beerland owner Randall Stockton said. "He's really good at determining what bands are good. When Max tells me, 'This is a band that you're going to like,' he's always right. When he tells me, 'You're not going to like this band, but you are going to respect what they do,' he's always right."

Meehan was born in 1977 and grew up in Southern California. Raised by his grandmother until her death when he was 7, he was, as he put it, "shuffled around to a lot of interesting homes. There was a lot of religion."

Movies are Meehan's first love. He screens obscure cult movies at Beerland now and then and is part of "Video Hate Squad," a regular video night at Alamo Drafthouse featuring straight-to-VHS movies that never made it to DVD.

"My grandmother was really into old Universal horror films, and I got into it that way," Meehan said.

By the time he was a teenager, Meehan says, he was pretty much paying rent on his own: "I dropped out of school at 13; hence the nickname."

He held various jobs at video stores, book stores and comic stores, crashing with local punks here and there.

And with punks and movies came punk rock. "In the 1980s, a lot of horror films had fantastic soundtracks," Meehan said. "\u2009'Return of the Living Dead' had this amazing soundtrack with Roky Erickson, TSOL, the Damned."

From a very young age, Meehan tapped into the culture underground the same way folks much older did it: pen pals, tape trading, that sort of thing. It gave him the sort of catholic view of culture's junkier end embodied by such '80s and '90s fanzines as Psychotronic Video and the underground rock bible Forced Exposure.

"I didn't see boundaries between different media," Meehan said. "Everybody had their hand in something different. (Flesh Eaters singer) Chris D. is one of my idols. He was in this amazing punk band and could write encyclopedias about film. Everything is incestuous. Everything influences everything else."

When he was 17, Meehan went to visit some friends in New York and ended up staying for eight years, seeing bands such as the Strokes when they were still playing tiny clubs, working at a video store near Columbia University, then as a graphic designer for French bank BNP Paribas.

"I saw the second plane hit out the window," Meehan said of Sept. 11, 2001. "The trading screens went black, which is very bad, and I walked over to where my bosses were. We could see the tower messed up; then the second plane hit and we all had that overwhelming sense of foreboding."

After a brief stay in Atlanta, Meehan landed in Austin in 2003, immediately working at Beerland.

"I was the bouncer first; then Randall started giving me the occasional night to book."

As Stockton got into other businesses such as Rio Rita, Meehan took over more of the booking, bringing in younger bands such as Video Screams and Fire Versus Extinguisher, bands that evolved into acts such as Dikes of Holland.

Beerland began to define itself around 2007, when longtime Emo's booker Graham Williams split off to form Transmission Entertainment, which books such venues and events as the Mohawk, Red Seven and Fun Fun Fun Fest.

"Up until that point, in spite of our size, we could actually bid on a lot of touring acts," Meehan said. "But when Graham and (Emo's owner) Frank (Hendrix) — both of whom I respect a lot — were butting heads and bidding up shows, it forced us to step back and decide we were going to focus on local talent." That has turned Beerland into perhaps Austin's premier incubator venue for young punk and garage bands.

These days, Meehan is involved in another venture: the record label Jolly Dream (motto: "If it's not a Jolly Dream, it's not worth having") with Orville Neeley of the OBNIIIs and Chris Engberg of Play Pinball Records. Their first record is Austin punk act the Creamers' five-song, 7-inch debut, "Modern Day." Five hundred copies, heavy white vinyl, cardstock covers: It is the state of the art in collector punk.

"A label is a thankless job," Meehan said, "but so is booking, and I love having the control over the whole process, so we have nice printing, nice vinyl, good sound, good songs. I think you rip people off, people who want to buy your stuff, when you don't make a really nice-looking, nice-sounding record."

"I think the Beerland legacy has grown a lot with Max here," Stockton said. "I wouldn't be able to keep up. I don't know how the hell he does it. I wouldn't be able to say, 'Hey, so-and-so has a new band; they have practiced three times; they will be playing here next month.' "; 912-5925

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