At least the Legislature is okay with the music. Can Texas honky-tonk at middle ground?


Last month, on stage at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, singer-songwriter Guy Forsyth closed his performance with a sweeping proposition.

“Why don’t you meet me in the middle, where we can put ourselves, you see me, I see you, on common ground,” he said to an audience sitting at half capacity and a virtual spectator watching online.

A place in the middle is more and more difficult to find these days. Not just the metaphor where right and left work together for the common good, but the very real one where Forsyth sat with guitar to his knees.

Iconic sites across Texas have closed, including Threadgill’s in Austin, Fitzgerald’s in Houston, and The Roxy in Laredo. Future music legends made their debuts in these places, including Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Bun B and Selena.

Even though battles raged in the Texas Legislature over abortion, guns, voting, equal rights, and access to health care, it turns out Republicans and Texas Democrats can agree on the importance of saving concert halls. A bill creating the Texas Music Incubator Rebate Program passed both houses and was enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott last week. The senatorial version of bill was written by State Senator Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) with State Representative Geanie W. Morrison (R-Victoria) leading the way in the House.

The program returns up to $ 100,000 of the tax collected on the sale of beer and wine to bona fide venues that pay their musicians.

A similar bill came close to being passed in 2019. The struggles of Texas honky-tonks and other live music venues preceded the pandemic. The tribulations of 2020 have piled up on misery. The performance venues were “the first to close and the last to reopen,” said Edwin Cabaniss, owner of the Heights Theater. The near-winning experience in the legislature left advocates ready to make their case in Congress. US Rep. Roger williams and Sen. John Cornyn, both Republicans from Texas, joined US Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to invest $ 16 billion in a Save our Stages program that was part of the Relief Bill of the coronavirus of December 2019.

Although beset by delays, this federal aid will help thousands of theater owners, and therefore artists, this year. But the appeal of what the Texas legislature did at the end of the 2021 session is that the Texas program, while on a smaller scale, will be ongoing.

With this new rebate, the government is doing what it does best: providing targeted assistance to the people and businesses who really need it. In this, it couldn’t be more different from the $ 10 billion Chapter 313 program, which gave tax breaks to large companies investing in Texas – whether they needed help or not. In fact, as the Chronicle’s Unfair Burden series showed last month, the program often paid companies for investments they had already committed to and, in some cases, had already started working.

After the show revealed how little Texas got in return for these freebies, the legislature appears to have let Chapter 313 die. It’s good news.

The new music hall program has garnered support from lawmakers and the public, Sen. Alvarado told the board, thanks to the venues’ combined cultural and economic appeal to Texans. “People like to see where George Strait or Willie Nelson started. It stimulates the economy, ”she said.

Other bipartisan bills have been passed by the Legislature with bipartisan support. As it turns out, representatives can agree on preventing cruelty to dogs by banning chain tying (SB 474), requiring nursing homes to publish data on communicable disease outbreaks (SB 930), preventing homeowners’ associations from banning religious events (SB 581), allowing the sale of alcohol to take away (HB 1024), by removing racist names from geographic areas (SCR 29) and the provision of disaster recovery loans to small businesses (SB 678).

If Texas lawmakers can come together on these issues, can they come together in the middle on the bigger ones? Perhaps a thriving music scene can provide the necessary physical infrastructure.

“It’s old technology, people get together in groups to share music,” said Forsyth, the singer-songwriter.

Big challenges, however, require more than sharing a drink and a choir. Forsyth’s song, co-written with Jeff Plankenhorn, imagines a “good place to stand” but also conditions the meeting on a shared belief in “freedom for all” and “justice for the smallest of us”.

It will likely take a few more turns, but the good news is that the Legislature has come together for a handful of smart moves this session, and the site help is just what we needed to make sure we can all spend more. time in the company of each other, listening to music.

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