The tragic and unexpected death of SXSW creative director Brent Grulke was a challenging loss for Austin's music community. During his two-plus decades at SXSW, Mr. Grulke helped transform Austin from the sleepy college town of Slacker yore to the thriving festival city of today.
Many bands that he championed in the '80s and '90s are coming together for Grulkefest: A Celebration of Brent, a benefit at ACL Live on September 8.
One could easily argue that without the success of SXSW, other legendary institutions such as the ACL Festival and the Alamo Drafthouse may never have materialized in our town.
The festival's $150 million impact on Austin's economy, coupled with Mr. Grulke's work everywhere from the Austin Chronicle (where he edited the music section in the '80s) to Austin Music People (where he served on the board) have left a permanent and indelible contribution to Austin music.
In order to both pay respect to Mr. Grulke's legacy and raise funds for his family, many of the bands that he championed in the '80s and '90s are coming together for Grulkefest: A Celebration of Brent, a benefit at ACL Live on Saturday, September 8.
The lineup includes Doctor's Mob, Fastball, Glass Eye, The Reivers, Sixteen Deluxe, True Believers (which featured both Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham), The Wannabes, and the Wild Seeds. In a press release, friend and longtime Texas Monthly writer Michael Hall remarked: "Brent is the connector for all these bands — he was the guy behind the soundboard when they played, he was the guy behind the wheel when they toured. He was friends with all of them."
While Grulke was actively involved in helping a number of bands over the years, he was most closely linked to the mid-1980s "New Sincerity" sound, co-producing a compilation called Bands On The Block that reportedly involved risking his personal savings.
Tickets to the benefit are priced from $20-$35 and go on sale Monday, August 27 at 5 p.m. at acl-live.com, Waterloo Records and the ACL Live box office. All proceeds benefit the Graham Grulke Education Fund. Organizers expect the show to stretch to six hours, and as such have set the start time at an early 6 p.m.
As part of the Austin Fanzine project, Geek Weekly has published a lengthy and insightful interview with Mr. Grulke from Geek Weekly #9 (published in 2001). For those who didn't know him, this piece is well worth your time — it's the rough equivalent of having a beer or two with one of Austin's most important musical influencers.
The humor in the piece is constant, but the thing that struck us most was that the conversation about Austin's development as a city and the lack of ability to do music as a vocation was just as present 12 years ago as today. Our favorite quote from Grulke:
I had all these friends that were musicians and you could make a little money on the road and play a few shows in Austin. It would be enough money to encourage you to continue doing it to where you might be good enough to make some kind of living at it.
Or at least make some kind of creative statement, even if you didn’t make a living at it, at least be able to make a good record or two. And it was inexpensive enough to live in Austin to be able to do that. Now I can’t imagine anyone being able to do that.
For those unable to attend the show, donations to the Graham Grulke Education Fund can be make via PayPal at SXSW.com. As Statesman writer Joe Gross said pithily on Twitter recently: "Anyone who ever had fun at SXSW, pony up."