March 31, 2009
When you’re out and about this weekend, you may notice a preponderance of black people. No, Austin is not the new Atlanta. We’re not Houston or Memphis or Detroit or even New Orleans, even though we are working pretty hard on building our own Bourbon Street. Austin may be a cultural Mecca, but it certainly isn’t for black people … at least not for 360 days of the year when the Texas Relays aren’t happening. This weekend they are, however, so if you should mount the stair to Momo’s this Friday expecting to see a twangy alt.country act and instead feel your chest crushed by the heavy bass thud of a house mix, just roll with it. It’s only temporary. Austin will revert back to Hooterville hippie chic next week. Don’t expect the Texas Relays fans to hang around. They don’t share the naiveté of, for instance, South by Southwest attendees. They’re not snowed in to relocating to Austin by the nice weather, friendly people, and great entertainment. They know the nice weather won’t last, that the clubs aren’t always full of famous DJs, and the friendly people get cranky when the asphalt starts to melt. They don’t go back home thinking they’d like to move here. They go home thinking, “Nice place to visit.” Austin is to Texas Relay fans what Sturgis, S.D., is to bikers, and understandably. Austin isn’t exactly the standard bearer for black culture. Our two biggest blues legends are Stevie Ray Vaughan and Clifford Antone. Badasses to be sure but missing one crucial element. This is not to say that Austin is entirely bereft of black culture. We have Bavu Blakes, Mitchie’s Gallery, the Carver Museum & Cultural Center, Huston-Tillotson University, and more than our share of dreadlocks – both East and West of I-35 – but all that is a drop in the bucket compared to places like Atlanta, Houston, or Washington, D.C. For now, Austinites have one weekend a year to dip our big toes into the unfamiliar waters of black culture. Might as well get in and splash around a bit. The easiest way to do that this weekend is to head down to Auditorium Shores on Saturday for the fourth annual Urban Music Festival. This year’s fest has one of the best bills ever, featuring crossover acts Cameo, Boyz II Men, and members of the Sugar Hill Gang. OK, so maybe those names are a little bit “last millennium,” but back in the day, they were all huge. Don’t even try to act like you can’t throw down at least a couple of verses from “Rapper’s Delight.” If you’re looking for something a little fresher, BET on-air talent Toccara Jones from America’s Next Top Model will be on hand as well as LeToya Luckett, a founding member of Destiny’s Child. If you really want to get cutting edge, go early and catch local acts Musik Hertz, Spirit Groove, All U Need, Ha-Style, and Bavu Blakes, who will be working double time at the Urban Music Festival afterparty later that night at Antone’s along with Neckbone and Gary Clark Jr. You might want to pop by the house, shower up, and rethread before going to the afterparty. It will surely be grown and sexy.