Austin Musicians

The band Charlie Belle plays during a Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) event at Noodles & Company.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians held its eighth annual city-wide fundraiser on Tuesday, featuring live performances from over 200 artists.

From 6 a.m. Tuesday to 2 a.m. Wednesday, 290 local businesses, such as Whole Foods, Noodles & Company and Whataburger, participated by making a cash donation or by donating 5 percent of their day’s proceeds. The funds help provide access to health care for uninsured musicians.

“With Austin being the live music capital of the world, musicians bring almost $2 billion into the city’s economy, but the musicians themselves live on very low incomes,” said Carolyn Schwarz, executive director of the alliance.

Austin’s culture banks on the eight to nine thousand musicians residing in the city, according to Schwarz. These musicians have little to no health care, she said.

“Of the 3,000 musicians we have helped, the average income is about $16,000 per year,” Schwarz said. “On that income, you are paying your rent and buying your food, but not able to pay for health insurance.”

Founded in 2005, the health alliance partners with Austin area health care agencies to provide medical, dental, mental, hearing, vision and nutrition services to members.

The community can contribute by eating and shopping at participating venues and filling tip jars for performing musicians. Last year, the organization raised $312,000.

“It’s a beautiful city-wide event, where our musicians donate their time and talent, and the community gets to have fun while listening to music,” Schwarz said. “We are relying on this fundraiser for a third of our budget this year, so it’s very important to us.”

Erin Houser, an volunteer ambassador for the organization, said she is personally connected to the cause.

“My husband has been a professional musician for years and was a member,” Houser said. “Here in Austin, because there are so many musicians, it’s hard for a working musician to actually make a living wage.”

Several musicians performed near the UT campus, including alumnus “SaulPaul,” who played outside Texas Hillel.

“To me, the most fun and ostentatious part of this day is the fact that you get to see music in traditional and non-traditional locations,” Schwarz said.

Students dining in Noodles & Company listened to live performances by Charlie Belle. Biology major Karthik Raja said he enjoyed the entertainment and planned to learn more about the program.

The health care alliance set a goal of $350,000 for this year’s fundraiser.

“It’s a uniquely Austin kind of event,” Schwarz said. “And a uniquely Austin organization.”

Sims Ellison, the namesake for the SIMS Foundation, was the bass player for hard-core band Pariah before tragically dying by suicide in 1995. (Photo courtesy of The SIMS Foundation.

Austin is a city that cares about the preservation of its natural resources. Parks and nature areas dot the spaces between buildings and businesses and recycling bins line the sidewalks. However, the resource Austin cares for the most is its wealth of musicians.

There are several organizations within the city that are geared toward bettering the lives of Austin’s struggling musicians. One such organization is the SIMS Foundation.

The SIMS Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide musicians and their direct relatives with access to mental health care and substance abuse care.

Local musicians Don Harvey and Wayne Nagel founded the foundation in 1995. SIMS is named for the late Sims Ellison of the hard-rock band Pariah. 

According to Harvey, Ellison battled with depression for a number of years before tragically dying by suicide in 1995. This was enough to set the wheels in motion for an organization that could help musicians with any mental health issues they might experience.

According to Jennifer Vocelka, a clinical adviser for SIMS, there are very minimal stipulations that potential clients must meet to qualify for SIMS-funded care. Potential clients are screened for eligibility and must be a musician, partner of a musician or dependent of a musician who lives in Travis or one of the contiguous counties. Musicians must also currently be playing gigs or have some sort of presence in the city. This cuts out the thriving population of street musicians who can be heard on numerous street corners and sidewalks when wandering through the city.

Despite this discrepancy, there are plenty of musicians who reap the benefits that SIMS has to offer. Vocelka said that SIMS serves roughly 700 local musicians per year.

According to Layne Lauritzen, SIMS Foundation treasurer, the funds raised by SIMS are sufficient for such a daunting task. 

“We raise between $700,000 and $900,000 a year,” Lauritzen said. “I think we serve everybody that comes in the front door.”

Lauritzen said he would like to see more funding in order to better care for musicians suffering from substance abuse and addiction problems. Lauritzen said this sort of treatment tends to be more expensive, and board members are forced to be more selective when choosing eligible clients for such extensive care. 

While some clients contact SIMS directly through the provided Client Line telephone number, others are referred to the foundation by the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, or HAAM. 

HAAM picks up the bill for local musicians with physical health needs, but it refers those with psychiatric or substance abuse needs to SIMS. However, HAAM treats only musicians while SIMS also treats musicians’ direct relatives. 

Among SIMS’ clientele is Austin musician Nakia, who tells his story of battling bipolar disorder in a video displayed on the SIMS Foundation website. 

“I always had really good experiences with the service providers and the SIMS staff have always been very helpful,” Nakia said. “I have personally seen SIMS make it possible for Austin musicians to stay focused and happy. That’s such a key component of being a successful artist.”

Printed on Thursday, January 17, 2013 as: Local Austin musicians offered access to mental health care 

On Tuesday, more than 250 musical acts will be taking the stage at venues all over Austin for the seventh annual Benefit Day for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. HAAM Benefit Day 2012 will bring local businesses and residents together in support of the professional musicians that have given this city its unique musical flavor.

Founded in 2005 by the late philanthropist Robin Shivers, HAAM is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the working musicians of Austin with access to affordable health care. In addition to medical services, HAAM also provides access to low-cost dental, vision, mental and hearing health services. Now in its seventh year of existence, HAAM has more than 2,700 members, making up over a quarter of the city’s musicians.

“HAAM is a family,” said local musician Graham Wilkinson. “It’s a community within the music community, just caring for each other.” Wilkinson has been part of the Austin music scene since 2005 and has been a member of HAAM since 2007.

In a city made famous by its live music, many professional musicians are still struggling to make ends meet and often feel that they have to forego purchasing basic health care. “When I was looking for some kind of coverage for myself, I was having a hard time finding something that would provide for me,” said Kyle Artrip, singer for Austin punk band Creamers and a recently approved HAAM member. “I definitely don’t think it could exist anywhere else but Austin.”

“Austin’s 8,000-plus musicians bring more than $1.66 billion in economic activity annually to Austin, but the majority of them are among the ‘working poor,’ without health insurance or basic health care,” said HAAM executive director Carolyn Schwarz. 

This year’s Benefit Day boasts the participation of more than 240 local businesses that will be hosting musical performances throughout the day or donating 5 percent of Tuesday’s profits to HAAM. Music starts as early as 6 a.m. at Whole Foods Market on North Lamar Boulevard and ends in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Printed on Monday, October 1, 2012 as: Austinites support live performances

Top 20 Austin Musicians

Editor’s note: The following music and videos contains explicit content.

On August 29, 1991, Austin City Council members passed the resolution that named Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. Now, 20 years later, the music scene here is still booming, and arguably better than ever. To help celebrate the anniversary, here’s a list of the top 20 Austin musicians, including native musicians and non-native, notable artists who have help contribute to the burgeoning scene:

Erring on the side of weird, ArcAttack started using Tesla coils to literally make electric music in 2008 and hasn’t stopped producing nerdy, viral hits.

Formed in 2005, Balmorhea weaves dynamic post-rock melodies that pull you in and leave you feeling serene. The band plans to kick off their Midwest tour this month.

Ben Kweller
Although he was originally born in San Francisco, the folk singer-songwriter still happily makes music out of his home in Austin near Zilker Park.

The Black Angels
If you think Austin psych rock ended with The 13th Floor Elevators, think again with this Austin band that hit the scene back in 2004 and have gone on to play everything from the Austin Psych Fest to Lollapalooza.

Blue October
Yeah, we knew them before they got big. Originally from Houston, Blue October banded together in 1995 and then brought their rock to Austin in 2001. The band still frequently performs around Austin, including ACL Live this past April.

Bob Schneider
Despite touring nationally, Americana folk rocker Schneider has stuck to the small stages and is a regular at the Saxon Pub down on South Lamar Boulevard. According to his MySpace, he says he still has about 600-700 unwritten songs ready to be recorded.

Daniel Johnston
Going back to the late ’70s, Johnston has been an all-around Austin renaissance man from his music to his iconic Jeremiah the Innocent art that greets everyone with a simple, “Hi, How Are You?”

Explosions in the Sky
The term “post-rock” can’t capture the dramatic, self-described “cathartic mini-symphonies” of Explosions — a band that got its start over a couple of slices of pizza 12 years ago, according to their MySpace.

Ghostland Observatory
This contemporary Austin-based music duo, formed in 2004, brings the funk with a hip, contemporary electro twist. Ghostland Observatory continues to play music and has performed on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and at Coachella.

Guy Forsyth
The epitome of homey, Austin dive bars, singer-songwriter Forsyth oozes that bluesy rock sound that’s come to help shape Texas music. Additionally, he’s played Austin City Limits Music Festival twice and opened for the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles.

Janis Joplin
Before becoming the rockstar she’s still known as today, the Texan profiled her back in 1962. “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”

The Octopus Project
Described as a hybrid ‘indietronica’ band, Octopus Project has been entertaining the capitol of Texas since 1999 with everything from Theremins to electric plug masks. The band has even perked the attention of ’80s cult band Devo, performing with them at last year’s Moogfest.

Okkervil River
It’s been 12 years since indie rock band Okkervil River took the stage at Steamboat in Austin and have since gone on to release six studio albums and perform with other indie sensations, including The Decemberists and The New Pornographers.

Robert Earl Keen
Born in Houston and graduated from A&M, country musician Keen springboarded his career in Austin back in ’84, then moved back in ’86 because he was inspired by the Texas landscapes and residents, according to CMT.

An indie-rock perennial favorite, this band played the Austin scene for roughly seven years before they gained widespread acclaim for their album, Girls Can Tell.

Stevie Ray Vaughn
The late, great electric blues guitarist Vaughn, an Austin music epitome, honed his skills here in the ’70s and was one of the first musicians to help put Austin on the map. His statue still overlooks Lady Bird Lake.

The Sword
Since 2003, The Sword has rocked Austin, the Lone Star state and the world with their doom metal ballads. Often compared to Black Sabbath, the band recently wrapped up their North American tour.

Townes Van Zandt
Singer-songwriter Zandt is another Austin country folk favorite. Although he was already famous by the time he moved to Austin in the ’80s, he continued to build his notoriety as he battled depression, drug abuse and alcoholism in between writing songs.

Indie pop-rock band Voxtrot may have disbanded last year in June but not before garnering the praises of SPIN and Pitchfork over their seven-year career.

Willie Nelson
Acclaimed Texas singer, songwriter never hesitates to stop by Austin or be stopped for possession while on the road. Last year, Second Street was renamed “Willie Nelson Boulevard” and a life-size statue of him to be placed in front of the new ACL studios is in the works.

African penguin Howard carries a valentine heart written by a visitor to the California Acadmey of Sciences in San Francisco, Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

For those that are single, Valentine’s Day will be a day of bitter resentment and devouring boxes of chocolate, but couples that do not share such sentiment do exist. Yet, with hell weeks imminent for many a student, some couples may have had difficulty planning anything for Valentine’s Day. For those, here are a few last-minute plans in Austin to celebrate the romantic day beyond a hastily signed card bought at CVS.

Art Lessons
What: Painting Lessons
WHERE: Painting with a Twist
8820 Burnet Rd., Suite 507
WHEN: 7 p.m.
For the art-inclined, Painting with a Twist will be offering casual painting lessons tonight starting at 7 p.m. and costs $35. Each lesson features a set painting and this class will be painting a tree against a maroon background. Although no pottery lessons will be offered, guests can bring their own wine and snacks and share a dinner while painting. In addition, group seating can be arranged for the double daters.

What: Dinner Detective Austin
WHERE: Marriott Hotel at Austin
300 E. Fourth St.
WHEN: 7:15 p.m.
Of course, any of the many, many restaurants in Austin would be a good choice, but why not go for something a bit different for Valentine’s Day? The Marriott Hotel will be having a murder mystery dinner. Dinner patrons will have to solve what they call a “hilarious” murder prize. A special package allows you to choose your date to be a prime suspect, because nothing says true love than suspicion of murder. The base package at $59 includes a four-course dinner, a potential prize to be “Top Sleuth” and entertainment after the show. Mugs, T-shirts, wine and Champagne can also be added to your package at additional cost.

Drive-In Movie
What: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” showing
WHERE: Blue Starlite
2326 E. Cesar Chavez
WHEN: 9 p.m.
Austin’s drive-in theater, Blue Starlite, will be having a special Valentine’s Day showing of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at 9 p.m. Whether it is a nostalgic rush of high school days or simply being able to sing “Moon River” without any popcorn thrown at you, enjoying the film in the privacy of your own car with your significant other is a nice way to end the day. Blue Starlite is also offering a special Valentine’s Day package for $50, which includes gourmet popcorn, candy sweethearts, roses and soda pop.

What: Bob Schneider and The Moonlight Orchestra
WHERE: Moody Theater
310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
Also celebrating its first anniversary, Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater will be having a special Valentine’s Day concert featuring Bob Schneider and The Moonlight Orchestra at 8:30 p.m. An Austin local, Schneider tailored this concert for maximum romance and will be playing classic romantic staples, taking his traditionally acoustic sound and bringing in horns, strings and upright bass. Special guests Kat Edmonson, Danny Malone and Lex Land will also be on hand. To those who want to remember the night, a kissing photo booth will available. Tickets start at $25. And for the charitable kind, a portion of the ticket will go to Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.

Making a Love Button
What: Button making
WHERE: Fine Arts Library and Life Sciences Library
WHEN: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
If you are extremely crammed for time, just plain broke and none of these ideas sound applicable, don’t fret quite yet. The Fine Arts Library and Life Sciences Library will be having button-making in their lobbies from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today. It is a perfect pit stop between class. However, no guarantees that your significant other will at all be amused with a button that reads, “I Hearts Books and You.”

Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Last-minute Valentine's Day date ideas

The Greg Williams Quartet plays to the lunch crowd for HAAM benefit day on Congress St. Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Jono Foley | Daily Texan Staff

Without health insurance, many Austin musicians would be without work or the ability to support their busy schedules, said Nakia Reynoso of Nakia and the Blues Grifters.

He said that without the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians there would have been many days where he would be in bed, sick and unable to perform.

Downtown Austin was made into a music venue Tuesday as part of a day-long benefit for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The benefit included more than 170 performances by local Austin musicians, including Nakia and the Blues Grifters, Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys, Greg Williams Quartet and others at participating retailers, music stores and restaurants, said executive director of HAAM Carolyn Schwarz.

“It’s a way for everyone to get involved. You just go out and do what you normally do,” Schwarz said. “When you shop at one of the venues, 5 percent of all the sales go toward the musicians.”

HAAM provides affordable health care for low-income, working Austin musicians who live on an income of less than $27,000 a year. The benefit, which is now in its sixth year, is hosted by HAAM in hopes that it will reach a goal of $250,000 from business grants, donations and sales during the benefit. Participating venues included Whole Foods, Waterloo Records, Thundercloud Subs, Romeo’s Italian Grill and Bar and others.

“The benefit is for the musicians and the city,” said Waterloo Records manager Matt McCarroll. “We want to keep our Austin musicians healthy. This has been going on as long as I’ve been here, and it’s certainly going to be happening a while longer.”

Schwarz urged people to come out in support of Austin musicians, saying that $30,000 would come from sales at participating vendors alone, highlighting the fundraising ability of Tuesday’s drive.

“Every dollar counts — whether it’s $1 or $10,” Schwarz said. “It just really means a lot to us to get this message out to help our musicians get the health care they need.” 

Printed on October 5, 2011 as: "Benefit held for musicians' health care"