6 p.m. Thursday
Tickets $10, $15 with Film Screening, Free for Ogden Members
8 p.m. Thursday
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org
Tickets $10, Free for Ogden Members
Nathan Christ is not a musician. But his efforts to connect audiences with Echotone, his wide-angle documentary centering on artistic and economic struggles in Austin, Texas, are not unlike those of his subjects. "We've had a very unique experience in touring with this film," Christ says. "We did the festival circuit in February, but we also packed the film into a van with some of the bands (Sunset, White White Lights, Dana Falconberry) and put it up on a wall in Portland. ... It's about the survival of musicians in Austin, so the fact that they're actually coming out to support it, and rally behind it, is really important to us."
The self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world," Austin has, Christ argues in the film, lost sight of the capital generated by its live music, all the while watching its downtown landscape dramatically altered by the erection of more than a dozen high-rise condos. Splicing images of skyscraping cranes and crowded clubs, Echotone zooms in and out, changing focus from the big picture of Austin's economy and the stake its 8,000-plus musicians claim (they're responsible for $25 million in annual tax revenue, yet 70 percent make less than $15,000 a year from their art) to the ongoing war of interests between developers and tenants and the venues that line the crisscrossing Sixth Street and Red River districts (played out in courtroom-like debates between the city-commissioned Live Music Task Force and the Sound Control Ordinances and Issues Subcommittee).
"We watched hundreds of hours of city hall footage: individual zoning laws, the neighborhood commission," Christ says. "It starts out as this debate over noise, music as noise, and then it really gets into the reality of the situation, where one of the old guys (Troy Dillinger), he quotes somebody as saying: 'I made the same money in 2006 as I did in 1966, except in 1966, that one night would pay my bills.' That's at the heart of that courtroom drama. It's not just about the noise. The thing that really is looming is these musicians getting kicked out."
Interwoven in these conflicting storylines are varying profiles of musicians at different points in the game, from money-shunning pop DIY-ers Belaire, who would rather just give their handmade CD-R's away, to retro soul man Black Joe Lewis, whose anthem is "I'm Broke" and whose increasing national profile is brought back to earth by days spent as a local fishmonger. ("Selling our sole six days a week," his shirt reads in a bit of rueful humor.) "The hypothesis in entering this film was that we could take the personal stories of the musicians, and how they define themselves and their careers, and kind of look at the city as a whole, and how the city defines itself," Christ says. "Is it the live music capital of the world, or is it the live condo capital of the world? If this is our marketing angle, what are we doing as a city to protect it?"
Echotone screens as part of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Film at the O series. Performing beforehand is Bill Baird, the singer/songwriter behind Sunset and the recently defunct Sound Team, and the retrospective conscience of the film. "People in the audience have said that his is like a hero's journey, in some ways," Christ says. "Bill would probably laugh at that, but it's true. It's a hard, hard road. Some people completely misread Bill and think he's this fragile, Kurt Cobain character. He was able to crystallize with us where he was at in his life. It made our job fun in the editing room. It's this guy going through this intense period in his life, but also being able to realize that his journey is what so many have journeyed through before. You've just got to keep going."