Why It Matters That Austin's Black Population is Being Pushed to the Suburbs

Here’s a sobering demographic fact that came to national attention last year: Austin is the only large, fast-growing city whose African-American population is shrinking. Such was the troubling conclusion of a report authored by UT’s Professor Eric Tang and Postdoc Chunhui Ren, which analyzed US Census Bureau data. As The Texas Tribune wrote last year

“It is completely outside the norm,” said Eric Tang, an author of the report, which looked at cities of at least 500,000 residents that experienced a double-digit rate of population growth from 2000 to 2010. While Dr. Tang said researchers expected to find that Austin’s African-American population was not growing at the same rate as the general population, they did not expect to find a decline. None of the other cities examined, Dr. Tang said, showed a drop. 

As Austin’s population grew 20.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, its African-American population declined 5.4 percent. In contrast, the population of African-Americans increased for the Austin metropolitan region.

What the Hay?

Have you heard the one about the pastry chef who walks into a feed store? “I’d like to buy a bale of hay,” he says. “What kind?” the clerk asks. Astonished to learn there are different kinds of hay, the pastry chef says, “I don’t know.” The clerk says, “Well, what are you feeding?” Realizing he probably should not announce that he intends to use the hay in cake and ice cream and feed it to human beings, the pastry chef says, “Er, horses?”

Austin-Based Restaurant PR Firm “Strange Fruit PR” to Change Name After Twitter Finds Out They Exist

The fact that Austin is a liberal island of blue amidst a sea of red that—this past November—seemed to get even redder at the ballot box is well-remarked upon. That liberal, progressive Austin also has some very serious issues to deal with when it comes to race (the city is the only growing American city whose black population is declining) gets remarked upon less often.

So a number of Twitter users over the weekend were surprised to learn that liberal, progressive Austin has also been home to a major PR firm whose name is a reference to Abel Meeropol’s poem “Strange Fruit,” which is about lynching in the South, and which was made famous as a song by Billie Holiday. The firm was launched in 2012 by Mary Mickel and Ali Slutsky (neither of whom is African-American), and its name has been a source of controversy in the past.

Here's Everything We Know about the Man Who Shot up Downtown Austin on Thanksgiving Night

 

(This post has been updated following the Austin Police Department’s press conference on McQuilliams.)

No one was hurt besides the shooter. That’s perhaps the most important thing to take away from what happened in downtown Austin late on Thursday night/early Friday morning, when 49-year Steve McQuilliams went on a shooting spree. It was after 2am, after the bars were closed, and it happened on Thanksgiving, which meant that the normally-robust Thursday night crowd in downtown Austin was limited. Instead, McQuilliams fired hundreds of bullets into the Austin Police Department headquarters, the Mexican Consulate, and the Federal Courthouse.

The shooting started shortly before 2:30 in the morning, according to reports. 11 minutes after the first shots were reported, McQuilliams was dead outside of APD headquarters.

Here’s what we do know right now: 

Bottle Rocket

Lonestar-Beer_OilRigPoster_680

It was one of the finest marketing slogans ever hatched from the mind of man, a simple, unmistakable declaration of pride and resolve: “Long live long necks.” Fittingly, it seemed to just float into view, conceived over cold Lone Stars in the parking lot of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters sometime in early 1974. 

Jim Franklin, the concert hall’s wild-eyed resident artist and occasional master of ceremonies, was unwinding not far from the backstage apartment he shared with a boa constrictor and a chicken. His conferee was Jerry Retzloff, Lone Star’s local district manager, and talk had turned to the beer business. Retzloff was a reluctant newcomer to Austin, having been abruptly transferred from the brewery’s San Antonio headquarters the previous summer. Budweiser had started taking huge bites out of Lone Star’s Austin sales, in large part by targeting college kids. Retzloff knew that Lone Star president Harry Jersig, a first-generation German Texan and beer man of the old school, was unwilling to court the youth market. Their long hair sat ill with Jersig’s buttoned-up sensibility, and he didn’t want to appear to encourage underage drinking. And even if Jersig eased up, Retzloff would still have Lone Star’s long-standing image to contend with. Its slogan at the time, as voiced in commercials by Ricardo Montalbán, was “The Beer From the Big Country.” It was a rural, outdoorsman’s beverage, a beer for cattle pens, deer blinds, and bass boats. 

But when Retzloff arrived in Austin, he saw a surefire new angle emerging. He spent his days cultivating relationships with the distributors who brought Lone Star to town and the bartenders who sold it. His nights, however, were spent listening to music in the city’s budding progressive country scene, and he noticed an ungodly amount of Lone Star being drunk at its epicenter, the Armadillo. A check of the books at the brewery confirmed his impression: more Lone Star draft beer was sold at the ’Dillo, capacity 1,500, than any venue in the state except the 44,500-seat Astrodome. Whether it was a Texas nativism that even a hippie couldn’t shake or some precursor to modern-day hipster irony, the longhairs were threatening to make the cowboy beer their own.

Retzloff persuaded his superiors to let him pursue them. He brought the vice president of marketing, a thick-necked Canadian named Barry Sullivan, to the ’Dillo to hear the scene’s golden boy, Michael Murphey. When Murphey opened the second verse of his anthem, “Cosmic Cowboy, Pt. 1,” by singing, “Lone Star sipping and skinny-dipping,” every hippie in the room raised a Lone Star toward the rafters and screamed. Sullivan was sold. 

Retzloff’s briefcase.

Retzloff’s briefcase.

 

A drinking glove that Retzloff sold at the brewery’s gift shop and museum.

A drinking glove that Retzloff sold at the brewery’s gift shop and museum. 

A Jim Franklin poster.

A Jim Franklin poster.

Then Retzloff went to work on Jersig, who’d instructed him to grow Austin sales by 15 percent in the coming year. “I went back to Mr. Jersig and said, ‘How about I give you thirty percent?’ ” recalls Retzloff, now 74. “ ‘But you’ve got to let me do it my way. I’ve got to get rid of this coat and tie and get me some cutoff shorts and grow a beard’ ”—all of which were forbidden by strict Jersig policy—“ ‘because I can’t sell beer to these kids that way. I’m in there moving kegs around in a tie? They think I’m a narc! I’ve got to become part of the in-crowd.’ ” Jersig acquiesced—and let Retzloff know his job was on the line.

So Retzloff started thinking about a strategy, and that’s what he was doing, out loud, with Franklin in the ’Dillo parking lot. In his ten years with Lone Star, he’d worked in the plant, the front office, and the field, and he knew that to prod a meaningful uptick in sales, he’d need something to promote other than the beer itself, something that made it seem new. He remembered the Handy Keg, a twelve-ounce can painted to look like a keg that had helped Lone Star to its first year of more than a million barrels sold, in 1965. He looked at the bottle in his hand. It was skinny, with an extended neck, which in the industry was known as a returnable, as opposed to the stubbier bottles that drinkers could throw away. Budweiser didn’t push those longer bottles in Austin because it was too costly to ship them back and forth for refilling. 

Studying the bottle, Retzloff recalled a recent sales visit to a bar in Dallas, where he’d bought returnables for some SMU sorority girls. “Oh, look,” one had gushed. “Longnecks! Just like we get when we go down to Luckenbach.” Her excitement surprised him, and so did her description. “Longneck” was a term he’d heard only in a few small South Texas towns. He kept thinking. “Something about those returnables had always stuck in my head,” he says. “When I worked in the plant, our first beer break was usually at nine a.m., and we had about five places around the brewery where we could drink free beer. It’d be either in cans, returnables, or snub-nosed disposables. For some reason, the employees would always call around and see which spot had returnables, then go take their break there. I also knew, from my time in the accounting office, that eighty percent of the beer that employees took home was returnables.

“So I told all this to Franklin. I said, ‘These are beer people. They don’t give a darn if you come out with cans that fit in your back pocket, socks, purse, or whatever. They will forever be drinking returnables.’ ” That was all Franklin needed. His wonderfully warped mind had already made the lowly armadillo the mascot of the Austin counterculture, and he went to work on a poster design that would similarly elevate Lone Star. “Do you remember that first poster?” says Retzloff. “The atom bomb had just hit and blown everything off the landscape. The only two things still standing, the things that were absolutely invincible, were the armadillo and the Lone Star. And then he came up with that slogan: ‘Long live long necks.’ ”

Live Nation Is in Talks to Buy Austin's C3 Presents

Live Nation Entertainment is the largest live music promoter in the world, but it’s never had much presence in Austin. The company posts more than $5 billion a year in revenue, with an operating budget of over $18 billion annually. It was spun out of San Antonio-based radio/billboard/entertainment holding company ClearChannel (which rebranded this fall as “IHeartMedia”) and grew to mammoth proportions after a 2010 merger with international ticketing behemoth Ticketmaster. 

But aside from a 2012 deal that gave the company the booking rights at the Austin 360 Amphitheater at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, the company’s presence in Austin has been limited. It books events occasionally at the Frank Erwin Center, but despite the staggering 120+ venues it operates/owns/exclusively books around the U.S. and the rest of the world, Live Nation has struggled to establish much hold in Austin. 

Video: Stuart Murdoch Sings With Kid's Choir at ACL

The 5th and 6th graders in the Barton Hills Elementary School Choir are known for singing rock’n’roll songs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, including music by a few bands who are playing ACL. Last year, as I wrote for Texas Monthly at the time, that meant songs by Muse and Wilco. 

But this year’s fest set upped the ante: Barton Hills music teacher Gavin Tabone and his charges not only performed songs by Belle and Sebastian, but were also joined by the Scottish group’s songwriter and frontman, Stuart Murdoch, for a few of them.

SXSW Wants More Control Over Downtown Austin Every March

Early October is the least SXSW-y time of the year in Austin. For one, it’s almost equidistant from both the previous festival and the next one. Meanwhile, the Austin City Limits Festival has the Texas music press focused on a different big event. And the kid-brother SXSW Eco conference that occurs this time of year? Well, while, it’s a useful meeting of minds on an important topic, it doesn’t exactly register as a cultural force. 

But in Austin today, SXSW is all the news. That’s because the takeaway from a new report created by Populous, an international design and planning firm—whose other clients include the Super Bowl, the World Cup, and the Olympics—includes a headline-grabbing bullet-point on its 8th page:

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