By Chad Swiatecki, special to the American-Statesman
An important but underrated ingredient for reputable music cities is great stories of the people and places who make up the fabric of a music scene.
The best of those tales wind up becoming legend – think of all the characters and craziness that helped make the ‘70s New York punk scene such a cultural phenomenon – as they’re passed down through generations.
Time will tell if any of the stories shared on Saturday night at the SIMS Foundation’s latest Heart of The City fundraiser at Emo’s make their way into the larger cultural lexicon, but a night of looking back at Austin music moments was a great way to raise money for one of Austin’s most beloved nonprofits.
It wasn’t all story time, with a smorgasbord of Austin musicians performing short tributes to musical heroes throughout the night, but the occasionally shaggy and meandering stories from local music personalities provided some of the most colorful moments.
• Charlie Sexton wandering through the capacity crowd while unspooling a memory of his interactions with departed rock hero David Bowie. The highlight there saw Sexton recounting a writing session based around famous Texas sayings such as “(expletive) fire, and save the matches.”
• Concert promoter Graham Williams recounting the many ways the last owner of the downtown incarnation of Emo’s “stretched” various building codes and other regulations to add to the club’s bottom line. Highlight: hearing about an open-mouthed concertgoer who got a taste from leaky sewage pipe that had been rerouted over the venue’s ceiling.
• DJ and writer Andy Langer comparing the marijuana supplies of Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg, after being cajoled into smoking with each on separate interactions. Highlight: falling into a “weed coma” thanks to Snoop’s stash and standing off West Sixth Street and staring at the Star Bar neon sign for six hours.
• Austin Chronicle and South By Southwest co-founder Louis Black sharing tales of beloved and mentally troubled Austin indie rock hero Daniel Johnston. Highlight: recalling a delusional Johnston making a public spectacle while standing in a fountain on the University of Texas campus that led to a standoff with local police, which led to him being admitted into a mental hospital.
That story, which was the first of the night, framed the event most effectively because it stressed the need for mental health services for musicians offered by the SIMS Foundation since its founding in 1995. Johnston was lucky that he eventually got help and his family and fans formed a needed support network to keep him safe and get him the medical help he needed.
With nights like Saturday helping to finance the Sims Foundation and its gradually expanding client base, Black said Austin’s music community is doing its part to make sure mental health issues don’t run rampant in the artist community.
“We live in a blessed community,” Black said near the end of his story time. “Now we know where to go for help with these problems. Because we have SIMS, we are blessed.”