When James Moody opened the Mohawk in 2006, he didn’t expect his venue to become a symbol for Austin’s struggle to maintain its identity as the live music capital of the world.
Ten years ago, Moody cashed in his 401k and bought an old Mexican restaurant “that was a seedy disco where you’d go to buy drugs.” Today, the Mohawk serves as one of Austin’s flagship venues and an important check against commercial development, as well as the launching pad for a number of pro-venue initiatives to protect the city’s music clubs.
“One of the funny surprises about working in the live music capital of the world is that we didn’t have much of an infrastructure at all for venues,” Moody said over a beer at his Red River venue. In 2010, he founded Austin Music People, “a non-profit that specifically speaks on behalf of music as an industry,” he said. “Then, we developed the Red River Cultural District, which is a boundary around all these bars because this is one of the only contiguous live music streets in the United States left.”
He attempted to pass a state law to create tax incentives for music venues (the bill was killed by the state comptroller). Moody says he’s not against development and growth, “but let’s not build Holiday Inns and Chipotles at the expense of these rad clubs.”
In recent years, Red River has lost some great venues — Red Eyed Fly shut down a few months ago and the famous street has lost great venues like 710, Club de Ville and Jaime’s (not to mention Emos leaving in 2011). They’ve also gained a number of new venues like Sidewinder, Cheer Up Charlie’s and Valhalla. And Moody has found new success as an entrepreneur assisting with the sale of venue management software company Queue to Eventbrite (he was a shareholder and advisor).
Queue was developed by Greg Patterson from Ground(ctrl) and Wonderful Union — the software took venues’ club booking beyond Google Calendars and created something that wasn’t tied to Frontgate ticketing, which was run by a competitive company.
“I love the guys at C3, but we can’t give them all of our data, we’re starting a new festival,” he said.
Moody was mum on the new festival he planned to create, saying the event would be “food focused,” but he did talk about the new Sound on Sound Fest, which rises out of the ashes of the Fun Fun Fun Fest he ran through Transmission Events (he left Transmission earlier this year). Instead of a large park or field, Sound on Sound was held at Sherwood Forest Faire, a Renaissance site in Bastrop County complete with castle, jousting arena, and stockades.
“Sound on Sound was started by my partner Graham Williams,” he said. “I only do the branding for it (he also owns a design and branding studio). But the idea was to create something that’s not totally modeled around talent. Because, then the talent gets all the control of the budget,” he said. “The new events need to have talent be part of it, but it can’t be the only reason you develop an event.”
He also keeps busy running his two-stage venue and booking world-class acts, their names subtly monographed into several ceiling tiles about the entryway.
“We’re really proud of what we built here and the artists who have played the venue,” he said. “We also have another saying here that goes ‘All are welcome.’ Austin used to be all these niche scenes and you had to dress a certain way to be welcomed. Like before you went to see a show, you’d say to yourself “oh fuck, I gotta go get my Misfits shirt if I’m going to go to this bar tonight.”
The Mohawk’s mission was “to break that up. I was listening to as much Highwaymen as I was The Cure and N.W.A.,” he said. “Growing up, I didn’t see music as a particular genre and by the time I got here I just saw it as a fucking hot mess of whatever was good. That is where “All is Welcome” came from. We don’t want to be a scene. We just want to have rad shit of all types and see how it works.”