As 2015 comes to a close, Austin nonprofit Black Fret has something to celebrate. The organization’s Black Ball gala on December 4 marks the culmination of a year’s worth of work in an effort to preserve, promote, and support the backbone of our community: music.
Designated as the Live Music Capital of the World, there’s certainly enough music to go around. But what may be startling to many is the lack of resources available to our city’s musicians to make a living doing what they love.
Black Fret is changing all of that. Based on the age-old symphony patronage model, the nonprofit merges music fans who have the means with talented musicians in an effort to uphold this vibrant and vital asset to the city.
Black Fret members pay annual dues in order to help financially back artists. Over a series of monthly concerts at private homes and intimate venues, Black Fret members cast their votes on Austin artists that warrant funding to pursue their music dreams. The effort reaches its high point at this year's Black Ball gala, where 20 Austin artists will receive grants to aid in their career goals.
“Black Ball is important to Austin musicians and to our community in that it is a real celebration of our local music and a declaration of the fact that this music has true value to our community,” says Matt Ott, co-founder of Black Fret.
As Black Fret’s biggest event of the year, Black Ball’s inaugural event in 2014 gave $10,000 grants to 10 different musicians. But it didn’t stop there. Black Fret’s advisory board (made up of industry experts) then mentored the nominated artists, helping them “unlock” their grant dollars by using the money towards writing, recording, and producing music; touring outside of Austin and the U.S.; and giving back to the local community. More than 70 songs were professionally recorded, nine music videos were released to the public, and over 150 out-of-town performances were held.
“Some of my favorite stories are around bands like Wild Child, who used their grant dollars to fix their van and buy a bunch of merchandise, which gave them an amazing East Coast tour, which was a factor in them getting signed to the label that they really wanted to,” says Ott. “Additionally, Mother Falcon created a new album due in part to the grant dollars that we provided for them,” he continues. “And subsequently they were signed to Universal Music Classics, who took that new record as it was and put it out on their own label, which is wonderful.”
Held at the Paramount Theatre, the 2015 Black Ball is promising to be even bigger and better than last year’s. This year, the nonprofit will be awarding more than $150,000 to 20 nominated artists from 2015, proof that the organization’s growth is paying off — literally.
Of the 20 nominees, 13 high-energy performers will play the Black Ball gala including Riders Against the Storm, Dan Dyer, East Cameron Folkcore, Holiday Mountain, Not in the Face, Tameca Jones, Nakia, Ruby Jane, and The Digital Wild. It’s going to be a wild and wonderful mix of hip-hop, blue grass, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll, just how it should be done in the ATX.
While the Black Ball is exclusively open to Black Fret’s advisory board, members, artists, and their invited guests, Ott encourages anyone who is interested in becoming a Black Fret member to do so, as membership also grants access to all Black Fret shows and allows you to have a say in which Austin artists deserve financial support. Memberships are $1,500 for the year, which might seem like a hefty fee, but it goes a long way in improving the lives of musicians at the heart of our city.
“All of our artists have not only benefited from their grant dollars but also from the relationships they’ve set up with our advisers,” says Ott. “It’s been beautiful to see courses change and better decisions made because of those relationships.”
2015 Black Fret nominees:
East Cameron Folkcore
Not in the Face
Riders Against the Storm
The Digital Wild
The Black Ball gala takes place Friday, December 4 at the Paramount Theatre. For more information or to join Black Fret, visit the nonprofit’s website.