Hands on the Plow

Dear Friends of the Front Porch,

This awkward selfie of our former program director, Riley Webb and me, was taken in front of Abe Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois during a road trip we made to Columbus, Ohio, back in June. We had a blast on this trip, enjoying the chance to work on a book for the Front Porch, to find Riley a new home, and to debrief our last four years on the porch. We miss Riley terribly, but I’m happy to report that he is thriving and misses us too.

As I return from my sabbatical and now try to wrap my head around our next steps for The Front Porch, I find myself strangely energized and ready to put my hands back on the plow that so many of you have helped me to push.

During my rest time over the past four months, I’ve been lucky enough to take my son Tyler to Belfast to meet with peacemakers from all over, to work on that book just mentioned, to read much from French mystic Simone Weil and others, and to play and pray and rest as hard as I can.

There are some very interesting vocational possibilities with respect to the Front Porch that are winking at me right now, and some new things are fast emerging. While we didn’t achieve immediate success in last year’s effort to partner with the Episcopal church to upgrade and repurpose the mid-century modern building off Burnet Road, we’re not giving up on the vision!

In all my years of doing the Front Porch, I have learned that courage and confidence comes from hitting barriers that turn out to be new opportunities in disguise! I will have more to report on this in the near future, but for now, please know we’re exploring new ways for finding our home and for doing pub church and other singular events we hope to schedule this spring.

Gratefully yours,


The Front Porch: At a Fork in the Road

Dear Friends,

What a fantastic journey we’ve been on! I’m excited about both where we are and the future of The Front Porch. We’ve built relationships all over Austin and have a platform for connecting that begs to continue in one form or another. I’m utterly grateful for each one of you who have been such an essential part of this adventure.

Still, we are at a fork in the road. Since 2011, we’ve been able to fund our salaries and programs, thanks to many of you reading this newsletter and many others. We’ve achieved all that brings us to this point, all that has impacted so many. Yet, without a central space for doing what we do–a café/tavern/venue that provides earned revenue on a regular basis–it has become difficult to sustain the work at the level we’ve all come to expect. The time to blow on the dandelion, so to speak, and let the Spirit carry the seeds to new places where they can germinate and grow, has come. That being said, over the next few months, I will be taking time to reflect and explore where and how the Front Porch goes from here.

Already, an array of possibilities are winking at me. And the good news is, some seeds have already sprouted. As you’ll see below, thanks to Mike Adams, Billy Tweedie, Riley Webb and so many others volunteering their time, we’ll host a new series of Pub Church this Sunday (4/15) and a pop-up Yoga Mass on April 21st. The series theme for pub church will be “Money Talks,” and we’ll feature the usual caliber of brilliant guests and artists, including Dr. Steven Tomlinson (SSW prof and Wall Street advisor) and Austin legend, Eliza Gilkyson.

Watching friends pick up the baton at this crucial juncture has already sparked a vision in my mind’s eye of The Front Porch growing beyond me: an image that will continue to evolve in its own joyful way, I am certain. Indeed, as people step up to lead programs and support financially, we’ll continue producing these pop-up events, Pub Churches, Unplugged concerts, and, of course, the annual Easter Vigil. All the while, we’ll be keen-eyed and open-hearted as we wait for other seeds to find the churned and fertile soil so necessary for germination and new life.

Gratefully and Joyfully yours,
Stephen Kinney, Executive Director

Unplugged on the Front Porch with The Peterson Brothers (outdoor edition)

#Blues #Funk & #Soul with The Peterson Brothers Band at Unplugged on The Front Porch 12:00pm at All Saints’ Episcopal Church November 4th in Austin, TX.

This will be an Unplugged on the Front Porch like no other. We’re teaming up with All Saints’ Episcopal Church to host the Peterson Brothers Band for an early afternoon outside gig, on the church grounds. Suggested donation is $20.

Come early for the Bar-B-Q Cook-Off ($10 plates), which is from 11am-2pm, accompanied by Billy Tweedie and his Bluegrass Band. The Peterson’s start playing at 12:30pm. This will be an epic afternoon in Austin for all those lucky enough to attend.

The amazing Peterson Brothers are rising stars in Austin, Texas. Their self-titled debut album won the Living Blues Critics Award for Best Debut Blues Album of 2015.

In addition to holding a standing room only weekly residency at Austin’s famed music hall The Continental Club, Glenn and Alex are honing their chops daily, and are dazzling audiences playing gigs throughout the United States. The Peterson Brothers have appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival, Minnesota State Fair, Riverbend Festival, Austin City Limits Festival, Ogden Roots and Blues, and many more.

They have opened for the likes of Gary Clark Jr., Buddy Guy, the late B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Willie Nelson, and Los Lonely Boys, and gained the attention of the one and only Bootsy Collins, who has become a true mentor.
For More info: http://frontporchaustin.org/unplugged/

Finding Loro: a simple story about the contagious nature of love & service

by Riley Webb

above: female students at the Loro Primary School celebrate the delivery of their sanitary pads in early June, 2017, the first gift offered from Love for Loro. 

In November of 2016, Front Porch volunteer, Betsy Sammon, sat in on a youth Sunday School class at All Saints’ Episcopal Church. As the class pondered various topics that day, somehow the conversation turned to focus on one of the class’ leaders, a young man from northern Uganda named Edward Abili. The kids began asking Edward questions about life back home in his village: what kids over there did for fun and what their lives were like. But when Edward began to describe a life devoid of the luxuries that we know here in Austin, the kids’ gentle curiosity turned to concern. Eventually, one of them asked the question Betsy had been quietly hoping for: “What can we do to help these kids? Can we do something with The Window?”

Edward Abili grew up in Northern Uganda before coming to the US just a few years ago.

As the lead volunteer of our youth service corps, Betsy had been pondering what The Window could do all along. But she was overjoyed to hear that the kids themselves would lead the way on this quest. Immediately, she called me and invited me to sit in on the next class. It was this simple chain of events that sparked the journey of Love for Loro.

When I discussed potential plans of action with the Edward, Betsy, and the youth the following Sunday, the whole affair seemed rather ordinary at first. Edward explained that the options were wide open concerning what we might do to help—that the people of his village need everything from school desks to buildings to food to medicine. But, when we asked ourselves more intentionally about what we could do, somehow, we landed on shoes. Edward had told the class that most of the kids at the school in his village had to trek the African countryside barefoot to class and back every day. Soon, it was decided: we would by raise funds to purchase a pair of hard-rubber shoes for each student who attended the school in Edward’s home village of Loro, Uganda.

The pin represents Loro.

Mindz of a Different Kind help launch the program.

As we moved into December, the idea really began to crystalize. Betsy, Edward, and I held planning meetings all throughout that month, and then, in January, All Saints’ hosted a launch party for the first-ever Front Porch led fundraising drive, Love for Loro. The event featured hip-hop music from local outfit, Mindz of a Different Kind, and framed the event in the Epiphany spirit of spreading the good news far and wide, but with the Front Porch twist of getting outside of ourselves and learning from those of a different culture. We announced that, following the fundraising drive, we’d be implementing a pen-pal program to deepen the dialogical aspect of the program. 

When Edward explained the need for the shoes—that many of the kids who attend Loro Primary School must often walk upward of 10 miles a day, barefoot, just to get to class, through rural territory infested with worms and parasites—you could see the empathy spread around the room. Betsy also added caveat to the fundraising plan: we’d raise an extra $5,000 or so to purchase menstrual kits for the female students as well, so that they would no longer miss vital class-time or suffer public shame. By the time the presentation was over, positive energy and good vibes flooded the room, and 13 people signed up as individual fundraisers. In that moment, we began to see this as something that could actually happen—a real, viable adventure to embark on. We also began to see how it would work itself out—from person to person, one step at a time, as an emerging, co-creative, multi-faceted endeavor. 

Throughout the months that followed, we have seen so many different communities come together around All Saints’ and The Window to make this happen. From small groups like bible studies and office drives, to school clubs around Austin, to driven individuals who’ve held private fundraisers, we’ve seen so many do so much to raise this dough. Truthfully, this has been, perhaps, the chief beauty of Love for Loro: it’s provided hundreds of chances for friends and strangers alike to meet face-to-face and serve hand-in-hand toward a common goal. So far, we’ve raised over $17,000 toward our goal of $33,000, and we’re well on our way to earning the rest!

If you had asked Betsy and I how this project was going to happen in January, we wouldn’t have been able to tell you. We just trusted the people around us, and it paid off. This jigsaw puzzle of small fundraisers and bigger checks and Edward’s parents and friends on the ground in Uganda and store discounts from our partners there and folks of all ages coming up with unique plans to raise dough has been nothing short of Spirit inspired. Love for Loro has served as a reminder to so many of us that all it takes to make something incredible and good happen is a little initiative and openness to the people around us, and a willingness to work towards co-creating something new and beautiful as partners. To put it more simply: we just have to do it, and do it together.

The Window team relaxes after a day of hard work at the Love for Loro Garage Sale in early May.

As you may have seen in the video at the top of the page, we were so grateful to be able to deliver the menstrual kits and complete Phase One of the Loro program just few days ago. Now, we look forward to a few more weeks of fundraising as we attempt to raise another $15,000 toward the shoes. Many thanks to the following groups of folks—these people are the true heroes of this project! If you’re interested in fundraising individually or doing something with a group to help us meet our goal, please email me at rileyjacksonwebb@gmail.com. And don’t forget to join us at the Love for Loro benefit concert with Walt Wilkins at All Saints’ on August 24th at 7:30 PM!

Big Thanks to:

Betsy Sammon, for doing nearly everything that happens behind the scenes to keep this going.

Edward Abili & family for doing everything related to the delivery of our goods in Loro, and for being open to that vital initial connection across the world.

The All Saints’ Episcopal Church Youth Group, for all the hard work at the garage sales, bake sales, flower sales, and more, and for continuing to help us plan and implement the project.

Kelly Barnhill, for all of your ideas, encouragement, research, resources, and gifts.

Wini Wood, The Cornelius Family, and Mary Wright for being the backbone of the Love for Loro garage sale.

Carol Moczygemba, Karen Mountain, and Migrant Clinicians Network for hosting the amazing “Wine and Cheese” evening.

The Greendyk family, for hosting your incredible lemonade stand fundraiser.

Gullett Elementary School’s “No Place for Hate” program and “Camp Be The Change” for the garage sale help and lemonade stands.

St. Andrew’s Lower School for your “Change for Change” program.

Lone Star Family Market for donating goods and your space during the garage sale and much more.

Mike and Mary Hemby, Lucy Nazro, The Sammon Family, Austin Community Foundation, Cynthia Caruso, Beverly Pond, Mike Adams, Joanne Bruce, and many others, for your continuing and generous support.


The Easter Vigil: Doing Good Together

Trent Tate’s Fireflies out of the Bottle

Under the burden, the cynicism, and the pace of modern life, Passover and Holy Week interrupt us with timely “signals of transcendence” that call us to stand together, across our various political, cultural, and religious divides. We are beautiful, if broken and vulnerable beings with a profound need for liberation and resurrection—and each other.

The women who arrived looking for the dead body of Jesus on that first Sunday morning were told he was not there, that he had been raised, that he was alive and had gone on ahead of them to Galilee; there they would see him, just as he had said. Amazed and terrified, they fled from the tomb and told no one what had happened. In the original version of Mark’s Gospel, the story simply ends right there. It leaves the story open-ended, inviting the reader to wonder about and puzzle over its meaning. “He is not here, he has been raised,” we hear. He is not here; he is not where we think he is.

This is a story that tells us at the very least that God, the really real, cannot be captured by anything: not by death, not by a tomb, not by religion, not by technology, not by any philosophy of truth. God cannot be packaged and marketed for popular tastes and consumption, no matter how user-friendly and entertaining the purveyor of religion tries to make it. But because we live in a free-market world that has been constructed to satisfy our personal preferences, we begin to imagine that even God exists to satisfy our personal needs. In a world where we can customize our ring tones, our faces, our spouses, our children, and our religion, we come to expect that even God can be customized for our own purposes.

Whatever else it may be, however, this story of Jesus’ resurrection is not about maintaining our control and living with a positive attitude despite the stresses and strains of modern life. The women who encountered the empty tomb didn’t go home and take on a new attitude that things would turn out okay in the end for those who believe; they didn’t just decide to start looking on the bright side of things. No, they fled in terror and amazement and didn’t tell anyone about what they had seen. This is a story that interrupts our usual notions and expectations of the way things are supposed to be. We don’t have any control over this story, and the ending is left open.

The phrase “resurrection from the dead” literally means, “coming alive from out of dead things”. It’s the picture of one who “stands up from the midst of corpses”. It’s a coming alive, a waking up from sleep, a standing up to walk in compassion with others who are different and vulnerable. The story of the resurrection is a very particular gift to each and every one of us. It’s a gift we need. Without it, our lives can be dominated by fear of others, or intimidated by death, and this fear isolates and divides—it locks us up in our own notions and tribes, stifling our capacity to love and appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of each and every other.

This season of the resurrection is a powerful time to come together. The Front Porch offers a distinctive public celebration of the Christian tradition’s “coming alive” for all in the Austin community on Saturday evening, April 15th at 8pm, at Scholz Garten. HERE IS THE RSVP LINK. And here are just some of the artists: Sam Baker, Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Meesha Akbar, Shinyribs, Body Rock ATX with Riders Against the Storm, Jimi Calhoun, Sherry Gingras and the Djembabes, Gregory Eaton, Brant Pope, Chucky Black. There will drums, improv, slam poetry, singer-songwriters, dance, a 2nd Line jazz band, and more. Come celebrate with us and dance until midnight Easter Eve!

Can Beauty Save the World? Come and See

beauty-save-imageThe upcoming winter/spring edition of the Front Porch’s “Public House Church” (aka, Pub Church) explores Dostoevsky’s compelling, though enigmatic assertion that “beauty will save the world.” Beauty that takes our breath away opens our hearts. And once our hearts open — in that very instant! — we see the world and everything in it as beautiful. This is the beauty that will save the world, and we will talk about all this from multiple perspectives through the eyes of distinguished guests and artists over the next five months at Scholz Garten on Sunday evenings.

The kind of beauty we’re interested in “unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond” (Benedict 16, 2009). In our distracted world, where there can be much banality, boredom, and ugliness, we need beauty. To be cut off from beauty is to fall into egoism, desiccation, and cowardice. By transfiguring our own vision through the power of co-creative attention giving, we can begin to see as God sees. And God sees the world and each of us in it as beautiful. In the Genesis story of creation, the Hebrew word for good may also be translated as beautiful—“And God saw that it was beautiful.”

We’re thus creating the space for epiphanies of beauty to happen on Sunday evenings. We’re hoping to offer those of us feeling hemmed in by our overly instrumental and fragmented culture the chance to expand our horizons, to connect with others, and to transform our vision of the world. When Mother Teresa saw the mutilated bodies and souls of the dying poor in Calcutta as beautiful, she wasn’t being irrational or sentimental—her vision had been transfigured and she saw clearly, as God sees.

What is beauty? Well…it’s particular, dialogical, vulnerable, surprising, insightful, simple, complex, gracious, generous, alive, organic, transcendent, agile and nimble. Beauty connects, wounds, disrupts, overpowers, delights, terrifies, and heals. Can beauty save the world? I guess that depends on how we see. Come and see with us beginning January 15th!

Celebrating the Porch in 2016–Annual Report!

annual-report-graphic-for-postDear Friends,

As I hope you’ll see from our annual report, The Front Porch has grown by leaps and bounds and has made a measurable impact on the Austin community in 2016!

Our service to the community as bridge-builders has really blossomed this year, and we have emerged as Austin’s distinctive “Public House Church” with a unique model for engaging people from all walks and beliefs through our signature events.

In a divided and individualistic culture, the need for public spaces to talk and connect with our neighbors is skyrocketing. The Front Porch has been blessed to address this need for many years—the work of bringing together differing voices to build spiritual community in public spaces in the real world.

annual-report-image-for-blogAs we look towards 2017, we see unprecedented opportunities. To this end, we are now exploring social enterprise models to enable the growth and expansion of The Front Porch brand and message to communities all over the country.

But, the question remains: what can we do to support this continued growth over time? How do we make the Front Porch a sustainable mainstay of the broader faith community?

We are pursuing these questions with all we’ve got! Your support will give us the confidence and power to move ahead faithfully to address the pressing public need for compassionate communities outside the church walls.

We are so grateful for our Front Porch partners! Please encourage us in the work we strive to do by making a year-end, tax-deductible donation to The Front Porch…thank you!

Blessings and Peace,

Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, PhD

Executive Director

Becoming A Public House Church: How Sustaining Dialogue Helps Everyone Grow

Hey, folks! Here’s little update.

As many of you know, the Front Porch team decided to undertake a deliberate shift this summer when we began calling ourselves a public house church, rather than an events-driven, nonprofit mission. We took away duplicitous names for our programming tracks, simplified a bit, and ended up in much clearer place: everywhere we gathered would be “Pub Church.” In making this theoretical adaptation, we retained both our freedom to be spontaneous through “Special Events” and our pledged support for our city’s finest songwriters through a quarterly approach to Unplugged on the Front Porch. We would also further articulate the conversational nature of our events, which always strive to generate a true dialogue.  And, most importantly, this change would insist that we spotlight most what we do best: the dialogue based, live-music infused eucharist service that we now call Pub Church on Sunday evenings at 5:30 (currently at Scholz Garten and formerly called Parable). 

steve-preachThe longer we thought about this change, the more we realized what an amazing window we had opened up for ourselves and our congregation. The new intentionality of it all urged us to commit even harder and think even deeper. So, we did. We decided to organize the pub church happenings across central themes, and divide these by our traditional seasons, which usually run September to December and January to June. Next spring, we’re thoroughly pumped to tackle beauty. At the moment, though, we’re smack dab in the middle of a four-month dialogue about compassion with some of Austin’s most brilliant thinkers and doers, using Karen Armstrong’s powerhouse book, 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, as our guiding text.

In the weeks that followed, what we saw unfold was pure magic. Whether it was Lynn Goodman-Strauss–founder and purveyor of Mary House Catholic Worker in Austin– telling us an anecdote about finding humanity in Austin’s img_0947homeless through her common table, or Biointegrity founder, Chris Searles, gently warning us that our lack-of-compassion toward our forests and indigenous peoples may leave us in a weather nightmare and without oxygen, or Meredith Walker, co-founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, explaining the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion when it comes to our world’s young women, each of our guests achieved our mission in engaging and new ways by simply opening their mouths and adding their two-cents to our running dialogue.  While this was very similar to what we had done in years past with Parable, the sustained nature of the dialogue made it radically different. The conversation was continuing: we were still learning more about the same thing the next week, and that felt like tangible progress. Plus, the unique resources of top-notch Austin brains interacting together was opening doors each and every Sunday, allowing new ideas to emerge and flourish.


Talk about what feels like a home run for us as we consider our mission to get Austin folks talking and coming to their own, new and personal understandings of Christ’s continuing work in our world: this invitation to all of us to partner together and connect in celebration of each person’s perspective, despite a 2016 reality that feels increasingly divided. To us, this coming together of minds is the purest form of church out there–especially when it’s coupled with Front Porch director, Steve Kinney’s, take on a radically open communion to sum it all up, and mini-concert from some of Austin’s finest troubadours sandwiched in the middle.

Thanks to this new approach, we feel like we’re all co-creators of a new, Front Porchy model for compassionate living that we’re building in dialogue with Karen Armstrong’s model. Starting with my boss and partner, Steve Kinney– who reminded us all at the start that compassion, more than anything, is based in offering the perspective of another human being “provisional authority“– and finishing with our final guests this season, Tifini Jones Blakes and Bavu Blakes–who will be tackling “loving your enemies” in the wake of this election, increasing racial disparity in the United States, and more– and including all of our hearty co-questers in the congregation who pass our roving mic and join in the dialogue as we go, this new model is and will remain uniquely informed by the people of The Front Porch in Austin, Texas, to be examined by the people of the world.  And that feels pretty cool, too.

flyerNow that we’re channeling this approach on Sundays, learning about compassion has overflowed into our other events as well. Steve couldn’t help but touch on compassion during his interview with Matt the Electrician during our Unplugged on The Front Porch concert in October, and our Post-Election Detox– now less than a week away– is defined by compassionate thinkers and liturgy. In short, clarifying through this over-the-weeks approach deepens all of our programming–not just Pub Church.

We hope you’ll join us in upcoming weeks as we welcome international bestseller, Corban Addison, Police Chief Art Acevedo, legendary Texas architect, Larry Speck, and others in November and December. We’re also so happy to welcome some AMAZING Native American spiritual leaders to the Porch later this month for our annual Bailey Lectureswhich will focus this year on restoration and healing across that particular divide, and we hope you’ll attend that happening as well. So much is happening on the Porch, and none of it could happen without all of you. In the meantime, if this dialogue has caught your interest, go check out our SoundCloud. All of our Pub Church conversations up until now are currently posted there, and we’d love for you to hear what’s happening, even if you can’t be here with us in Austin physically.

I look forward to seeing you all on The Porch, when you can make it! If you want to get involved on a volunteer level, please email me! I’d love to hear from you.

Riley Webb

Program Coordinator, The Front Porch


Laying a Viable Path Forward for Music in Austin

The Front Porch convened a high stakes conversation about the plight and possibilities of music in Austin on September 15th.  We were joined by a panel of key stakeholders and about 200 in attendance who care deeply about the direction of music in Austin, yet tire of the handwringing over whether the city can sustain its posture as “Live Music Capitol of the World.” We were feeling around for viable solutions. We were also doing our best to avoid beating a dead horse.

KUT, Views & Brews, Ted Gioia, Austin Music, Live Music Austin, Unplugged on the Front Porch, The Front Porch, dialogue

Click here to listen to the podcast of Ted’s Talk on KUT’s Views & Brews! Do it now!

The Front Porch added a few secret ingredients to this “Special Event” to help make it a true dialogue. First and foremost, we brought bestselling author and top-notch music historian, Ted Gioia, from Dallas to guide us in the first portion of our quest in a keynote speech. Second, we designed our panel discussion to allow fast input from key locals who spend their days deeply invested in Austin music. And, third, we invited EVERYONE back for an informal reception with pizza and drinks to finish it off and keep the gears moving. We hope that everyone who wanted to chat with Ted, Mayor Adler, and our other distinguished panel members got a chance to do so.

We want to give major credit where it is due: to local drummer, Philip Marshall, who dreamed up this event, launched us into action, and helped run the whole thing; to Heather Wagner Reed of Juice Consulting, who got the word out for us and got all of those key folks together, in one room; and, of course, we also want to thank our whole volunteer team from Unplugged on The Front Porch. If you haven’t joined us yet for one of our Unplugged concerts, we hope you’ll join us this Thursday (10/20) for an evening with Matt the Electrician! Full event details can be found here.

live music Austin, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Jennifer Houlihan, AMP, Nicole Bogatz, Ted Gioia, NPR, John Burnett, Views & Brews, Unplugged on The Front Porch, The Front Porch, Will Bridges,

Click here to listen to the podcast of Part 2: The Panel Discussion from KUT’s Views & Brews! Ignore the fuzzy microphone at the start!

While using the word “crisis” in the event’s title set off alarms, Gioia’s message was actually incredibly thoughtful, positive, and forward thinking. In his keynote, Gioia addressed everything from the history of pop music and record labels to today’s youth, YouTube, and Kendrick Lamar. He talked about Fortune 500 companies and the poorest of blues musicians. But, in everything, Gioia’s primary focus was the future viability of music itself.  

Gioia began by surveying what other music cities are doing. The Chamber of Commerce in New Orleans, for example, touts their city as the “birthplace of jazz,” yet the value placed on nurturing their music ecosystem is found wanting, according to Gioia. He made the point that we should beware of symbolic gestures and said, “If you want to have a vibrant music scene, symbolic gestures will kill you in the long run. It feels good to put up the banner at the airport, but what you need to do is actually understand what is going on in the music ecosystem and support it and nurture it.”

Gioia, who has written 10 books about music, then explored the music ecosystem in economic, technological, and cultural or artistic terms. Discussing the economic crisis in music, Gioia claimed that most people will no longer pay for music and that musicians are under pressure to give their music away as content in order to gain exposure. He pointed out that this is not the case with HBO, video games, or the NFL. HBO, for example, hires the very best talent for top dollar, focuses programming towards adults, and gets top dollar for it. He asks, “What do these folks know that the music industry doesn’t know?” 

He then explored the impact of technology and the Internet on the music industry, making the case that Silicon Valley has taken over the music business. The iPhone has made Apple the largest music company in the world, though it was not designed to play music but to sell phones faster than the competition. Gioia believes this constitutes a dangerous shift in the music industry, as there are now people controlling the downstream distribution of music who don’t really care about the music itself. “The tech companies have taken control of music but they do not love it or understand it… They have degraded the music experience,” he says.

And yet, he notes, with different technology this effect could be reversed. If musicians and tech groups can get together on this and problem solve, perhaps both could partner their way forward. It must to happen in a great music city that is also a great tech city. Gioia asked to great laughter, “Do any of you know of a city that meets that description?”  He then made the claim that Austin is the only city that has the music base and the technology base that could create a different technological experience that would upgrade the experience.

The real crisis in music, of course, is that whole areas in arts culture have been co-opted by the profiteers of the digital world. Gioia made a compelling appeal for why. “You need to solve the artistic crisis if you want to solve the musical crisis. You cannot just view music as entertainment that brings in the dollars. You must nurture the artistry.” To preserve and nurture a sustainable music ecosystem, Gioia insists that we must discern the distinction between entertainment and art: “Entertainment gives us what we want, whereas art challenges us, pushes us, opens up new horizons. When you deal with a work of art, you must adjust to the artist. We have to expand our minds to grasp it; we have to get out of our comfort zones and learn to think and look in new ways.”

Gioia sums it all up by telling us what he thinks is going to happen over the next 10-15 years in music. He calls the wisp he glimpses of this new movement “the birth of artisan music… It’s a respect for craft. It’s a respect for the heritage and tradition, but it’s taking music into new places… It requires a community of real artists who can play. It requires a tech base that can work with the musicians. It requires a community that has a vibrant economic base and a community that loves music. Austin is positioned to make this happen. Let’s work to make this happen for the good of all in the city.” To listen to the whole talk on KUT, click here or on the photo at the top of the page.

When the event moderator, NPR’s John Burnett, asked for panelists’ responses to the address,  most had more questions and comments than we had time to take. Here are a few takeaways and quotes. 

Mayor Steve Adler said, “There are lots of conversations that we could have this evening about music and what I loved about what you [Ted Gioia] said is that it was almost entirely forward looking and that’s the conversation that we have to have in this city right now. We are where we are.”  So the question is begged: where do we go from here, and how do we get there? How can we support the music scene and make it stronger?


from left to right: Will Bridges, Nicole Bogatz, Dr. John Mills, Jennifer Houlihan

Harold McMillan, founder and director of DiverseArts Culture Works, noted the irony that, while Austin is the “live music capitol in the world,” the big money music business could do better to celebrate the roots and vibe of the local Austin music scene. Eve Monsees, co-owner of Antone’s Record Shop, felt that the Austin music community has been stressed out and spread thin by its many challenges and that we need to pull together to support each other’s efforts to thrive.

Will Bridges, local entrepreneur and new owner of Arlyn Studios and Antone’s nightclub, accented the need to support our music ecosystem by providing more music education for kids. He also reminded us that Austin’s live music scene is often driven by the live music experience, and not by the record industry. Nicole Bogatz, the secretary/treasurer of the Austin Federation of Musicians, argued that the community could do a better job of giving musicians the livable wage they deserve.

Dr. John Mills, professor of jazz studies at UT’s Butler School of Music, recognized the pressure musicians feel to give away their music on YouTube and elsewhere, and that this makes it difficult to make a livable wage. Jennifer Houlihan, the director of Austin Music People, sees that the challenges to the Austin music community represent the challenges that folks all over Austin will be facing sooner than later. Jennifer hopes that as the music community addresses these problems—affordable housing, public transportation, health care, etc.— and asserts that it can lead the way to helping Austin solve some problems.

The festive reception following this conversation–courtesy of the Philip Marshall Trio, Salvation Pizza, BookPeople, and Black Star Co-Op’s beer–reminded of the power we all have when we all come together, across all our divides: to think, envision, and act as the caring, creative community we are.

The Front Porch is planning a follow-up event for this spring to consider solutions. As Ted Gioia suggested, these problems could very well be solved by  collaboration between new-wave techies and old soul musicians. Out of Austin’s 140 music-focused nonprofits, creative juices are churning right now, and the support for these folks isn’t going away. People are interested in finding solutions, but the key to solution finding must be through a common vision, openness to new perspectives, and partnering across our silos.  

Too many questions linger; we can’t possibly ask them all. But, what we can do is continue this dialogue, in attempts of finding those solutions more readily and being a viable part of this shift towards new horizons in how we look at music both locally and globally. We at the Front Porch readily admit that we are not the music experts ourselves; we are, rather, hosts to this important series of conversations about our city’s pride and joy, music. We hope you’ll all join us for our next music forum, which has yet to be titled. For now, mark your calendars for the evening of April 20th! And join us for our other happenings in the meantime!


FP PageDear Friends,

In the mid 1990’s I served one summer as the interim Vicar of a small parish church in the village of Great Horkesley in Essex County, UK. 10-15 people at most attended the church service on Sunday mornings.

Most of my time as a minister there was spent in the local village pub. The Anchor Inn was the public house—the gathering place to meet friends after work, to cheer the occasional victory of the local cricket team, to listen to area leaders address topics of interest. Families met there to celebrate birthdays and there was always lots of singing and music. I was invited to lead discussions and teach an “ethics class” two times per week. I became part of that public family.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the summer. It’s time for us on the porch to become more intentional about who we are and what we do. This fall, the Front Porch is thus becoming a do-it-yourself public house; in fact, we’re declaring ourselves to be Austin’s Pub Church that meets Sunday evenings at Scholz Garten.

So what we used to call PARABLE is now, simply, “The Front Porch’s Pub Church.” Each week we’ll be exploring Karen Armstrong’s very fine work on compassion–12 Steps to a Compassionate Life–as a curricula of sorts. We’ve invited different guests to help lead our more extended conversation. We will continue to host some of Austin’s great singer-songwriters and offer a very focused act of communion to pull us all together.

Join us some Sunday and bring a friend. I hope to see you soon in our public house!


(Executive Director)