By Richard Skanse
(LSM July/Aug 2014/vol 7 – issue 4)
Early on a Sunday — as in, before noon early — may seem like a strange time to call a meeting of music artists and professionals. But the fact that some of the Austin music industry’s most decorated and experienced behind-the-scenes players and many of its brightest up- and-coming talents came together on the morning of June 22 at the home of Colin Kendrick, founder of the non-profit Black Fret, was testament to how much they all believe in the cause of keeping Austin’s legacy as one of the best music towns in the world alive and well.
“Black Fret’s mission is to help our musicians make and perform great new music,” explains Kendrick, who adapted Black Fret’s model from the age-old tradition of private arts patronage. Each year, the public charity will award $10,000 grants to 10 different Austin music artists or bands, as picked by patrons who have purchased $1,500 Black Fret memberships. Members also vote on the initial 20 nominees in the running for the grants, and get to attend private concerts and other Black Fret events throughout the year. All of the grant nominees, meanwhile, are allowed to schedule mentor/mentee meetings with Black Fret’s advisory board, a distinguished pool of industry professionals including producers, studio owners, managers, booking agents, radio promoters, and entertainment lawyers.
The purpose of the Sunday get-together in June was to allow this year’s nominated artists — Amy Cook, Danny Malone, Dawn & Hawkes, East Cameron Folkcore, Elias Haslanger and Church on Monday, Elizabeth McQueen, Emily Bell, Erin Ivey, Gina Chavez, Graham Wilkinson, Jitterbug Vipers, Jonny Gray, Lincoln Durham, Little Radar, Mother Falcon, Quiet Company, the Rocketboys, the Whiskey Sisters, Wild Child, and Zeale — an opportunity to introduce themselves to the advisory board. The artists and “mentors” paired off with each other one-on-one for a few minutes at a time, “speed-dating style,” before rotating around so everyone got a chance to meet.
“That was the first time that all the mentors got together with the group,” said advisory board member Heather Wagner Reed, president and founder of Juice Consulting, an Austin-based public relations, marketing and artist development firm. “I don’t know if anyone really knew what to expect, but afterwards we were all blown away. It was just inspiring to see the energy in the room and the kind of connectivity that these artists and advisors had together.”
In addition to Wagner Reed, the rest of the just-announced Black Fret advisory board members (not all of whom were able to attend the initial meet-and-greet) are: Mark Addison, Roggie Baer, Mike Crowley, CJ Eirksson, Jenni Finlay, Will Hoffman, Terrany Johnson, Terry Lickona, Weston McGowen, Davis McLarty, Matt Noveskey, Tim Palmer, Peter Schwarz, Carlos Sosa, Joe Stallone, Stuart Sullivan, Mike Swinford, Kevin Wommack, and Tom Vale.
Going forward, artists and advisory board members will arrange additional mentor meetings with each other as their respective schedules allow. The nominees will also have the opportunity to perform for Black Fret members at regular events throughout the rest of the summer and fall “listening period.” It all leads up to the first annual Black Ball, at which the 10 grant winners will be announced. The gala will be held in November, with venue and date to be announced.