We’re keeping you in the loop with developments around our new initiative to help makers innovate with live events.
This is the fifth in the occasional series of prompts to stimulate ideas for new approaches to creating work in the physical space of the community. We hope to encourage your efforts by sharing best practices, examples, and point you to some of the inspired producers involved in creating new work on “street platforms” across America. We’ll have more news ahead about AIR’s #LocaloreLive microgrants to support innovative approaches to create new work in the “far corners” of local communities. Meet Delaney Hall:
Austin Music Map, KUTX in Austin, Texas
The Austin Music Map was created in partnership with AIR and KUTX between 2012 and 2013. The goal of the project was to highlight the diverse musical subcultures that make up “The Live Music Capital of the World.” Our aim was to push the radio station to engage with communities in new ways, beyond the station walls. We did this through a series of radio stories, an interactive website, and a number of live events.
I came to the AMM project with a background in reporting and producing. I had limited experience putting on live shows. And so I relied on the experience of KUTX staff who regularly hosted live performances in their studio and at local music festivals. I also hired the amazing Haley Howle, specifically to help with outreach, engagement, events planning for the AMM.
Our most ambitious live event was called MapJam. It was a day-long music festival that spanned nine different venues across the city’s east side. We wanted to represent the breadth and depth of Austin’s local music scene and to invite audiences to join us at a variety of venues, both traditional and unconventional. We also wanted music fans who might not ordinarily mingle to come together for at least a day. The first show of the festival featured a bluegrass band at a local brewery, the next show featured an orchestral pop group at a nursery and plant store, then a local soul singer at a legendary blues venue. MapJam also featured hip-hop artists, Conjunto accordionists, a punk band made up of kids, a rockabilly performer, a DJ, a salsa band, and more.
As the day began, we waited nervously at the first venue, sound-checking the musicians and wondering if anyone would show up. As show time approached, people began to arrive. And then more people. And then MORE. They rode their bikes and walked, like we’d encouraged them to do. They gamely tramped from location to location. The weather was beautiful. People picnicked and danced and drank in the sun. A few of the featured bands said they were performing for the biggest hometown crowds they’d ever seen.
There were a few hiccups. A number of the venues were too small and had to turn people away. We had to find and rent additional port-a-potties in the middle of the day because crowds were so much bigger than expected (pro-tip: always get more port-a-potties than you think you’ll need). We didn’t have much of an event crew and were up until 4am packing and hauling equipment back to the station after the last show. But overall, it was an amazing experience.
Of course, it also wasn’t for the faint of heart. To make MapJam happen, we had to navigate the city’s permitting process, and to convince the station it was a good idea to invite thousands of Austinites out to a party that the station was hosting. We cultivated a few key allies within the city’s music office who helped us maneuver the bureaucracy and get all our ducks in a row. And we’ll always be thankful to KUTX for saying “yes” to our crazy traveling-festival dream when it would’ve been much easier to just say “nope.”
MapJam continued for two more years — in 2014 and 2015. Each year was bigger and more ambitious than the last. While KUTX has since moved in some new directions the station recognizes as inspired by our work, its not doing MapJam anymore. The experience did prove the station could undertake a new approach to a music festival in a town saturated with them. My favorite response to MapJam was from an attendee who said that it felt like “SXSW but for locals.” I love that we were able to celebrate local musician and the huge variety of music happening in Austin’s own backyard.
I’m happy to answer questions if anyone is thinking of putting on an event like this and wants to be in touch. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Delaney Hall is a Senior Editor at 99% Invisible.