The Heart of the Austin Music Scene

The beauty of living in Austin, Texas – “The Live Music Capital of the World” – is the ability to see a wide variety of musicians live on any day of the week. Austin has no shortage of music venues that attracts musicians from all over the world. On any given day or night there is rock, blues, country, alternative, jazz, hip-hop, etc., you name it, Austin has it.  The downside to this wealth of musicians and clubs often falls on the artist who often has difficulties meeting basic living needs; say, for instance, housing and medical insurance due to low booking wages.

Over the years Austin’s musicians have come together to help each other out in times of need. They formed the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and Housing Opportunities for Musicians & Entertainers, to name a few. At other times, benefit concerts happened because of emergencies. Recently I had the pleasure of attending one such benefit for Craig Nietfeld. Craig has been part of the Austin music scene for many years and has played with many different folks.  One of those people, Ms. Pilar Arias came to Craig’s aid when cardiac problems put him in ICU this past July. As is often the case, a prolonged hospital stay can put a person in economic peril to go along with their medical problems.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Pilar and ask her how this all came about. It offered me great insight into the closeness of the music community and what this fundraiser meant. Pilar had a very personal reason for wanting to help Craig. For one, they are long-time friends who had shared a stage more than once, but there was more. There was a time when Pilar was ill – cancer raised its ugly head and Craig was there for her. There was also a time Pilar had reached a burnout level with performing; the constant strain of touring taking a toll on her. Pilar just could not get into her music as she had before. She was doing very little in the way of singing, just kind of hanging out with an occasional singing gig. Craig reached out to Pilar offering her a way to ease back into performing. Craig offered her support with a singing gig without the pressure of constant touring . . . just getting her back in the game a step at a time. It worked and the flame once again burned; performing became fun again. So Pilar knew without hesitation that helping Craig was the thing to do. Pilar knew the brotherhood of Austin musicians could and should come to Craig’s aid, but where to start? Although she is a lovely and talented singer, Pilar had never promoted or organized a concert. She admitted she had no clue as to where to start; so she started calling friends. One of the first to agree to play was guitar extraordinaire Van Wilks, this happened before a venue had even been secured. Craig was a friend and like many, Van had shared a stage with Craig. It was just a matter of telling him when and where, he would be there.

Enter John Viehweg and Georgiana Thompson…

John Viehweg, another musician and friend, offered his assistance in any way possible.  He was able to speak to with other musicians and stage technicians who all generously offered their help. The question of a venue still needed to be answered and none of the major clubs seemed interested in stepping up.  It was at this point Georgiana Thompson suggested her employer Kevin Munhandro, the owner of 1st Down & Stassney Sports Bar, might be open to the idea. In the past, Kevin’s bar had hosted another fundraiser for Buddha Mills, another one of Austin’s musicians who had suffered medical issues.

A phone call later, it was set; the venue and date was agreed upon. Now, how to put all the pieces together? Phone calls were made and calls started coming in to Pilar as word got out about Craig’s hardship. People/musicians all wanted to help and were willing to play a set for the cause.  In a mere 90 days the benefit concert became a veritable who’s who of Austin’s music royalty.  With Van Wilks as the headliner the show also boasted Lance Keltner, the Uranium Savages, Johnny Dee & the Rocket 88’s, Natalie Zoe, Malford Milligan, Bevis Griffin, Wall Street and the Yes Men.  One by one, each took the stage and many shared a story about Craig or invited him up to sit in with them. There was never any attitude from anyone; with open hearts, everyone just pitched in as needed. Many gave up paying gigs that night to be there for Craig. To say they rocked the house is an understatement. With a full house that night, many hit the dance floor and enjoyed the music to the utmost, all having fun for a good cause.

So I asked Pilar if she felt the concert was a success? To which she replied that at the end of the night, to see the smile on Craig’s face as the funds were presented to him, yes it was.  And once again the Brotherhood and Heart of Austin Music were there for one of their own.


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