Boiling down what Black Fret can do for local bands to the most fundamental essentials, Swimming With Bears singer Joe Perry noted that when his band goes out on tour, they often save money by sleeping in their van. “So when you guys fund us, it really helps us get a hotel,” he said.
That’s just one of the ways in which the thousands of dollars Black Fret, a local music patronage organization with more than 300 members, can help make musicians’ lives better as they pursue their art. During Saturday’s annual Black Fret Ball, a marathon concert and celebration at the Paramount Theatre featuring performances by 14 of this year’s 20 Black Fret grant nominees, the organization gave out $220,000.
In addition to Swimming With Bears, whose award was announced by Austin mayor Steve Adler, nine other nominees received major grants of $17,000: Suzanna Choffel, Dan Dyer, Walker Lukens, Carson McHone, Ray Prim, Nakia, Wendy Colonna, Bee Caves and the Peterson Brothers Band. That’s up from last year’s $12,000, and the original $10,000 in Black Fret’s 2014 inaugural year.
A smaller grant of $5,000 each goes to the other 10 nominees: Golden Dawn Arkestra, Leopold & His Fiction, Magna Carda, Harvest Thieves, Calliope Musicals, Daniel Eyes & the Vibes, Dana Falconberry, Brownout, Sweet Spirit and Name Sayers. That amount also has gradually increased each year.
The evening’s performances testified to the diversity of Black Fret’s nomination pool, and to the breadth of Austin’s music community in general. The sets — just two songs from each act, to keep the show rolling — ranged from the highly theatrical presentations of Golden Dawn Arkestra and Calliope Musicals to very stripped-down, song-focused deliveries from McHone and Falconberry.
Standouts included Ray Prim, who wove sophisticated jazz-tinged spells with an eight-member crew that included strings and featured singers; Daniel Eyes & the Vibes, whose tightly focused rock ‘n’ roll helped kick the second half of the show into high gear; former NBC “The Voice” participant Suzanna Choffel, whose singing stood out on material from an upcoming record; and Harvest Thieves, expanded to a six-piece on this night for their energetic brand of country-leaning roots-rock.
By the time the Peterson Brothers Band won the final major grant and played the last set of the night, the show had gone a few minutes beyond the four-hour target. But Black Fret co-founders Matt Ott and Colin Kendrick didn’t seem to mind, joining in the celebration onstage as the Petersons first invited up blues-guitar firebrands Eric Tessmer and Jackie Venson to join in, and finally any of the night’s performers who wanted to take part.
Earlier, Ott and Kendrick, who have volunteered all their time to Black Fret since it began, announced that a donation from local music advocacy group All ATX will help them hire an executive director for the first time in 2017. Many members-only events are already on the books for next year, including a Jan. 21 kickoff bash at the Mohawk. The $1,500 annual fee includes admission for the member and a guest to all Black Fret events. details are at blackfret.org.