Make Your Mark On Austin's Music Map

Originally published on December 5, 2012 12:33 pm

If you've ever been to Austin, you know that the Lone Star State's capital city has a lively music scene. Residents like to think of it as the "Live Music Capital of the World." Whether that is just Texas talk or rooted in truth, a new website aims to put all of Austin's musical goodness on the map.

Delaney Hall is a producer at NPR member station KUT in Austin, and her idea was to make an interactive map that gives music lovers around the world a chance to experience some of the city's official and unofficial music venues.

Hall tells NPR's Michel Martin, "We're looking for stories about the ways music brings people together, the way it's used to celebrate and commemorate, the way it carries important cultural traditions forward through time."

Take, for example, Austin's annual Juneteenth Parade. Historically, the day celebrates the announcement of the abolition of slavery. Click on the parade's spot on the map, and the sound of a marching band takes you to an Austin city street, where residents line up to catch candy being thrown from parade floats.

Community members like Ruthless Lala feel that it's an opportunity for the community to come together. "It's kind of hard for people always to come together," she says, "so for something like this ... to bring everybody together, it means a whole lot."

Delaney Hall says that's the point of the Austin Music Map. "A lot of the stories are about music, yes. But they also get into questions about community, belonging, heritage, history, all of those very deep feelings and ideas that music often taps into."

The Esquina Tango Cultural Society of Austin knows a thing or two about the deep feelings of connection music can inspire. Its dot on the map might make some listeners think they've traveled to a dance hall in Buenos Aires. As dancers twist and turn on the dance floor, musicians and tango dancers talk about the vibrant tango community in Austin. The society's co-founder, Gustavo Simplis, says, "I cannot live without tango. ... For me it's a passion."

Makers of the Austin Music Map hope others will share their passion for their own Austin music experiences. In this way, the website is also a platform where people can share photos, videos, sounds, all kinds of media from those experiences.

The Austin Music Map is produced in collaboration with member station KUT in Austin, Texas; Localore, a national initiative of the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR); and Zeega. Austin Music Map is one of several interactive public media stories that NPR's Tell Me More will be highlighting in the coming months.

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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. If you want to know the kind of music Rosie Castro, activist and mom of two rising political stars, listens to, we'll tell you in a few minutes.

But first, we want to tell you about something we're particularly excited about. It's new efforts to tell stories in new ways, and the best part is, you can participate. Over the next few months, we'll tell you about several projects around the country where producers are using new digital tools to tell stories on public radio, but these tools also allow you to submit audio clips, photographs and video.

The first project we're going to talk about is the Austin Music Map, and when you check it out, you can immediately see that you are greeted by the music you might hear if you're hanging out in Austin, walking past bars, dance halls and churches, each luring you inside with their own musical flair.


MARTIN: The Austin Music Map is produced by Delaney Hall at member station KUT in Austin, Texas, and she's with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

DELANEY HALL: Thank you. I'm really glad to be here.

MARTIN: Now, the site has just launched and you've already collected some material that we'll be hearing throughout this segment, so why don't you start by telling us about the Juneteenth Music Festival, which was in Austin this past June?

HALL: Sure. So Juneteenth is an annual celebration across the country, really, but it's especially important here in Texas. And it marks the day back in 1865 when General Gordon Granger and about 2,000 federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas, which is down on the Gulf Coast. And they came in to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued three years before. But Texas, like a lot of states in the South, had kind of been dragging its feet.

So Juneteenth really marks the end of slavery here in Texas. And the date, June 19, is celebrated every year. And here in Austin, it's celebrated with a big parade; and a bunch of high school marching bands perform, and it kind of winds through Central East Austin, and draws big crowds.

MARTIN: OK. Great. Well, we're going to hear - let's hear a little bit. We're going to hear a marching band - one of the bands - and some of the voices of the people who attended. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Today, we're at the parade. It's very hot. Everybody's happy, and music is playing. Well, today is a special day because Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. I'm happy because we get to throw candy and see everybody cheering and happy and having fun.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN # 1: Since an adult, I guess, I've been here for the last five years. Yeah. And I think it's a tradition that I wanted to continue and it's significant for me because it's sort of like a continued legacy of where we've been and where we are going and what we are doing now. I enjoy it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN # 2: It's about heritage. You know, like, that's pretty much, like, the only way that really sums it up because it's kind of hard for everybody to always come together. You know what I'm saying? So for something like this to be a heritage to bring everybody together, it means a whole lot. You know, it unites, for once, everybody to stand together instead of divided.


MARTIN: So tell us about Austin Music Map now that we've had a little taste of it. What is it that you're hoping to do with it?

HALL: Well, this story is just the kind of story we're interested in, the story of the Juneteenth Parade, because music figures really prominently. The marching band kind of draws people together. It makes it a big party, but there is this deeper back story behind it, which really taps into the history of African-Americans here in the state and the struggle for freedom in Texas, so there's a very deep cultural layer to it.

So what we're doing is that we're looking for stories about the ways music brings people together, the way it's used to celebrate and commemorate, the way it carries important cultural traditions kind of forward through time. So a lot of the stories are about music, yes, but they also get into questions about community, belonging, heritage, history, all of those very deep feelings and ideas that music often taps into.

MARTIN: Well, you were telling us that you're also looking for music that's experienced, you know, outside of the concert hall or, you know, the traditional places. Just to quote, "front porches and backyards, dive bars and churches, garages and community centers where people make music in a more communal and informal way," unquote. So tell us a little bit more about that. Are you looking for kind of people who just stumble upon experiences or is kind of anything that people that music will welcome?

HALL: Yeah. Well, the idea is kind of rooted in this idea of Austin as the live music capital of the world. And I lived in the city during college and so I knew that it had an incredibly strong identity as a music town. And that live music capital of the world is kind of a self-proclaimed title and a little bit of a marketing slogan in some ways, but it's also really true. So there's more venues here per capita than any other city in the U.S. We have these huge festivals, like South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Fest. But I wanted to kind of work on a project that pushed beyond that slogan and kind of dug into the ways that music is kind of woven into the everyday experience of the city. So the buskers, the gospel choirs, the parades and marching bands and musicians rehearsing on their front porches, all of the ways that music exists and is practiced beyond the mainstream industry. So we're really looking at the diverse ways that people make and consume music and in some of those informal settings that you mentioned, like porches and backyards.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with producer Delaney Hall. She's at member station KUT in Austin, and we're talking about her new project. It's called the "Austin Music Map."

Let's learn about another musical space you discovered and put it on the map. Culture Night. Every Thursday night, Native Americans in Austin gather. And you caught up with them as they were getting ready for the 21st annual Austin Powwow, which was just a few weeks ago. And let's listen to some of the people you interviewed. I think we're going to hear from Lois Duncan, right?

HALL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And then we'll hear from Matt De Villa.

LOIS DUNCAN: Many people we find that find great promise in the community really know little of their heritage. They know their American Indians. Sometimes they don't even know their nation or they're tribe and so we try to help them figure all that out.

MATT DE VILLA: It's also serving a purpose, which is to educate and to actually, you know, let people know there are Native Americans around here still. And even though I'm not from here, we're still proud of who we are, where we come from, and what we stand for.


MARTIN: I think that'll be great for people, some people who have never heard of a powwow or have never been to a powwow...

HALL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...or didn't realize there was one right nearby. So Delaney, I have to ask - were you invited, or did you crash?


HALL: I crashed. But I mean, I connected with Matt who is the drummer in a local drum called Eagle Point. I spent a couple culture nights, which are these nights they have, in the weeks leading up to the powwow where they teach people how to create their own regalia. There's very elaborate outfits that people wear to the powwow that they perform and dance in. So they teach people how to bead, how to do fringe work on the shawls that they're creating, stuff like that, the drum rehearses. So I spent some time getting to know people at that Culture Night. And then Matt was kind of my guide at the powwow itself, which is a huge and amazing event. It's now one of the biggest single day powwows in the whole country and draws people from surrounding states - New Mexico, which has a big Native population, Oklahoma, which also has a big Native population, Texas, and other parts of the South.

MARTIN: You notice how many times she told us is the biggest, the best and the first? You really are a Texan, honey.


MARTIN: We're just going to make sure you know the biggest, the best, the first.


HALL: Texan not by birth but by choice.

MARTIN: But by choice.

HALL: I love it here. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Well, we've promise that you would let us know how you can participate. And the public can participate in your project. Can you talk about that? And you don't have to be in Austin. I mean this is about music that's going on in Austin, right?

HALL: Yes.

MARTIN: But you don't have to physically be in Austin to share something. If perhaps, you had visited, and you're by and you collected some sound or something like, can you tell us about that?

HALL: Sure. Yeah. Well, first of all, anybody can experience our website, which we've designed to be really immersive, kind of like an Austin hologram that you can navigate to. So you can experience the Juneteenth Parade, for example, and then jump over and watch a story about a renegade marching band that staged a show in canoes on Barton Creek. And so there's all of these little musical worlds you can kind of drop into via the website.

And then there's another layer of participation, which that is we're asking the community here in Austin, but also more broadly, to help us capture interesting musicians and spaces across the city. So, in addition to being a place where you can experience the stories we've made, the website is also a platform where people can share photos, videos, sounds, all kinds of media from their own favorite Austin music experiences. So we're really looking to the community as an incredible resource and as our partners in building the site and mapping the city's music. So...

MARTIN: And you're interested in all kinds of music. I just want to play one more...

HALL: Yeah. Sure.

MARTIN: ...from - this is the tango. Let's listen to some music and then we're going to hear one of the cofounders of the EsquinaTango, Cultural Society of Austin. Here it is.


GUSTAVO SIMPLIS: I cannot live without tango. I will call as a drug, you can take it or drink, or for me it's a passion. It's everything now. It's a lot of things. Yeah. I can't even imagine myself not dancing the tango.


MARTIN: Well, I predict people are going to get hooked on your site pretty quickly, Delaney.


HALL: I hope so.

MARTIN: So what's been your favorite so far?

HALL: Oh, I - well, I loved that tango story. The tango community here is really amazing, and at the center of it is the little Latin American cultural Center called the EsquinaTango. And one of the reasons I loved it is that the way that Gustavo, who you just heard from, who is one of the founders of Esquina, the way people talk about tango is incredible. You know, he says it's like a drug.


HALL: And other people described, you know, each time they dance with a partner at a Milonga, which are these tango parties, each dance is like a little love affair. And people talked about how tango changed their lives. So there were a few musical communities we documented where the fans and participants are quite so hard-core.


HALL: There's something about tango that really kind of grabs people and holds them really tight.

MARTIN: Well, we were lucky we were able to get you out of there long enough to tell us the story. Thank you for joining us, Delaney.


HALL: You're welcome. I've never been asked to dance so many times when I was reporting the story as at Esquina.

MARTIN: We've been talking about the "Austin Music Map" produced by Delaney Hall. That's who was speaking just now, in collaboration with member station KUT in Austin, Texas and Local Lore. That's a national initiative of the Association of Independences in Radio. To learn more, go to, look for the Programs tab and then click on TELL ME MORE.

And Delaney, hopefully you'll stay in touch with us and we'd like to hear over the next couple of months more of what you've heard and discovered and what the public has contributed. Will you do that with us?

HALL: Absolutely. I'd love to.

MARTIN: And let's go out on a rockabilly legend and Austin favorite, Rosie Flores. She makes an appearance on the "Austin Music Map," and this is her song, "Little Bit More."


ROSIE FLORES: (Singing) Well, bigger is better, that's what I say. If you're looking for less, then just get out of my way. All I need is all I can get. Some day I will, but I just haven't yet. Whenever I get what I want, I need a little bit more. Whenever I get what I want, I need a little bit more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.