Spike Lee

Michael Robberson, a Texas Union employee and musician, has worked at the Union since 1985. While working, he has met a variety of celebrities and toured with Tom Petty.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Since moving to Austin 35 years ago, Michael Robberson has performed with The Rolling Stones, met Spike Lee and set up the Dalai Lama’s mic. 

Robberson, a UT media support technician, started out at Texas Tech, where he received his undergraduate degree in music education and his master’s degree in double bass performance. He moved to Austin in 1980 to play bass for The Joe Ely Band, a country and rock group from Lubbock. 

Robberson traveled with the band for three years. They toured with musicians like Tom Petty and Linda Ronstadt. The band opened for The Rolling Stones in front of a crowd of 80,000 people. 

“I’m basically on a little adventure in this slice-of-life existence,” Robberson said.

Throughout his music career, Robberson has toured with various other bands in Europe, New York and Los Angeles. He’s played with the Austin Symphony and currently plays bass for the Mid-Texas Symphony. He still gets freelance calls to play with bands and performs with a tribute band called The Bee Gees Songbook.

When he decided he needed a stable job in 1985, Robberson took a position as a media support technician. During his workdays, he sets up sound equipment in the Cactus Cafe, wheels in projection screens and amps for lectures in the Union ballroom and puts on movies for students in the Texas Union Theatre. 

Robberson has seen all types of celebrities come through the Union, and he often chats with them while hooking up their microphones. He’s met Maya Angelou, the Dalai Lama and Gene Kranz, who directed the Mission Control efforts that saved the Apollo 13 crew. He’s spoken with film stars such as George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss and Spike Lee.

“No two days are the same,” Robberson said. “That’s one of the reasons I love this job.”

Director plays clips from latest movie, critiques BP’s response to rig explosion

The 5-foot-6-inch outspoken director Spike Lee made his presence felt on the stage at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Sunday and focused on the ongoing corruption resulting from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the more recent British Petroleum oil spill.

“We still forget [the catastrophe] wasn’t really a hurricane,” said Lee after screening a segment of his latest documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.” “It was the faulty levees and the work of the United States of America. The whole infrastructure of this country needs help. When you cut corners, people die. It’s the same with BP. People are going to die and get hurt? Fuck it. Make the money. There has to be some morals and ethics that go into capitalism in this country.”

About 600 members of the UT community attended the screening, which previously aired on HBO on Aug. 23, and a heated roundtable discussion featuring history and film professors as well as New Orleans native Camille Pluck, a psychology junior.

“Politics, class and racism will always permeate [New Orleans’] society,” Pluck said. “People always ask, ‘How can you love New Orleans if it’s so corrupt?’ And I respond, ‘How can you love America?’”

Lee filmed his latest documentary as a follow-up to the Peabody Award-winning 2006 documentary “When the Levees Broke.” Initially, Lee says, he finished the four-hour documentary before the BP oil spill but then went back to the Big Easy eight more times to follow the story. Both documentaries feature a plethora of first-person accounts that humanize the events.

“These aren’t documentaries — these are now part of American history,” said Douglas Brinkley, a noted history professor from Rice University who introduced Lee. “His Katrina and BP spill archives are important parts of documented oral history. I see him less as a filmmaker and more as one of our great truth-tellers, and we have so few of them.”

Included in his latest documentary are reports of BP initially blocking fly-overs and questions about the toxicity of the oil dispersants used.

The hour-long segment concluded with a montage of underwater oil leak footage from nearly every day of the three-month spill, followed by images of the blue and grey corpses strewn across the city after Katrina.

“I had no idea about the entirety of the problems in New Orleans,” said studio art sophomore Tara Alavi. “The rhetoric is so censored and his documentary is incredibly moving. I teared up during it. It made me want to take action and do what I can. I don’t know where to begin, but it opened my eyes to the magnitude of the problem.”