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Music commissioners push ACL Fest promoters for more local involvement, equity

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Members of the Music Commission appear to have opened the door for a partnership between the city and local concert promotion giant C3 Presents to feature more Austin musicians at Austin City Limits Fest and other festivals run by the company around the world.

The Nov. 4 meeting featured something of a first for the commission, with two executives from the company in attendance to discuss ACL Fest’s role and impact on the city. The agenda item featured no action and came after several months of pushing by the commission and city staff to receive updates from C3 and the organizers of South by Southwest on festival performance and related issues.

The discussion started with Emmett Beliveau, C3 chief operating officer, sharing details from the company’s most recent economic impact analysis – measured at $264 million for the 2018 festival. Talk shifted quickly to the number of local acts booked over the two weekends each year when the festival takes over Zilker Park and draws 75,000 people a day.

Commission meetings routinely feature public comments from Austin artists criticizing the opportunities offered to play prominent spots at ACL Fest and SXSW.

“Here on the commission we’re hoping you can expand the local side of Austin as well as the international side of the brand. We know that with all the booking there is horse trading going on, and we’re trying to find ways that we can have more Austin bands in that horse trade,” Commissioner Stuart Sullivan said.

“We’ll always push for more, but you have a very successful brand for a reason and it’s not our place to completely meddle in that. Our position here is to speak for Austin bands and look for any opportunities we can find for Austin bands to participate.”

Amy Corbin, C3’s head talent buyer, said the festival typically books 20 to 30 Austin acts over the six days of ACL Fest each year, plus a handful of additional Texas artists with local connections.

During discussion about how the city could play a role in creating more opportunities for Austin artists from within the company, she said an organized effort with financial or promotional resources could lead to more Austin acts at the festival.

“We can see if a band is having growth in their numbers. If there was more of a community or some direction for each year, saying, ‘Hey, let’s really get behind these acts and promote them as the ones to watch in Austin,’ that would help. If we’re trying to highlight more up-and-coming acts that’s a good way to start,” she said.

“We try to give that boost, but it can’t just be us doing that. If we had our list of 30 (Austin) acts for that year and the city of Austin helped us promote those, whether it’s a billboard and we put three Austin acts on Lollapalooza or two acts on Music Midtown … the city of Austin also has to help promote that, whether it’s through press, publicity or showcases.”

No hard plans materialized for how such a partnership would be structured, but commissioners and Corbin and Beliveau generally agreed to remain in contact going forward. Talk of the possible collaboration comes as the city is about to make $3.5 million per year available to support the local music industry, though the commission and city staff are in the beginning stages of deciding how that money would be used.

Beliveau also noted C3’s many philanthropic donations to the Austin Parks Foundation, music nonprofits such as the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and a soon-to-be-announced effort with Community First! Village. He said these contributions tend to go largely unacknowledged because the company doesn’t widely publicize them.

Commissioner Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said the company should take steps to broaden its presence in Austin, including taking direct action to develop local artists professionally so more Austin musicians could advance their careers on an international stage.

“I think it’s great what you’re doing with nonprofits, but I would also encourage maybe more of an investment in helping artists here develop careers in some form of mentorship,” he said. “Austin is unique in the amount of talent that’s here, but C3, in my experience and a lot of musicians’ experience, you kind of work in a non-Austin way and there could be more direct connections with musicians in addition to working through nonprofits, and having something created directly within C3 to work with musicians.”

Photo by J Dimas made available through a Creative Commons license.

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