Music Festivals

Why there's a benefit tonight in Denver for victims of the drunk driving accident at SXSW

In the early hours of Thursday, March 13, 2014, a drunk driver injured 23 people and killed two at SXSW. There has been an outpouring of national support for the victims of the incident, and today it comes from Colorado. A benefit show called SXSW Cares is being held at the hi-dive tonight, May 30, featuring performances with Esmé Patterson, Emerald Siam, Straight Outta Luck, Dwayne and Calder's Revolvers, with a raffle for SXSW 2015 passes as well as numerous other prizes.

Josiah Albertsen was at SXSW hosting a panel on the subject of money and the music industry. The night of the incident, Albertsen was attending a Cheap Girls show at Red 7 with Joe Gittleman from The Mighty Mighyy Bosstones, who wandered off before the show was over. They made plans to get coffee the next morning.

"When I showed up for coffee he wasn't there," recalls Albertsen. "So I was shell shocked, because I woke up with voicemails and text messages asking if I was okay. I thought it was a terrorist attack or something. I called him and didn't get an answer, and then it flashed through my head, 'What am I going to tell the panel? What do I tell the company? Is he okay? What do I tell his family? Do I know how to get a hold of his family? Have I met his family?' I thought about all this stuff. He called me back at 11:30 and said he was still on East Coast time and that he was sorry. I was just grateful to hear his voice, and he was probably confused with how grateful I sounded.

"The next day I ran into Ben DeSoto," adds Albertsen. "Ark Life was playing the Colorado Music Party and I said, 'Ben, we should do something. We should do a benefit show.' He said we should do it at the hi-dive. From there I reached out first to the non-profit, the Austin Community Foundation, and they said no one was doing one in another city, and it would be great if we did that.

From there he contacted other organizations, including SXSW itself. "They were all really helpful. It really felt like a local music scene. There's political stuff between promoters, but everyone was willing to put it aside in a way and just do it. 'They're involved? Great, we want to be involved too.' And no one asked for top billing."

Some may know Albertsen from his stint as a booking manager at the Climax Lounge, where he worked from 2004 to 2006. During his tenure, he provided an outlet for many younger bands, mostly in the punk and ska scene. Prior to that, he had been politicized by punk when he met some people at Warped Tour in 2002 who told him about the now infamous protest against the Rocky Mountain Heritage Fest, which featured white supremacist bands. Burned out as a promoter in 2006, and not wanting to become a jaded middle-man who didn't care about music, Albertsen withdrew from the scene almost entirely to focus on getting his International Studies degree. After college, Albertsen worked in the financial planning industry and realized that his favorite clients were those that worked in the music industry. One day he was talking to one of those clients about what he might do related to music and money, and his client suggested he do a panel at SXSW.

In putting together the panel, Albertsen was one of the very few people who asked to talk to the panel organizers about what worked in panels and what didn't and what the best practices might be. For their part, the SXSW panel crew helped out Albertsen in a direct and practical way.

Albertsen was able to line up Andrew WK and former Denver resident Brian Joseph of the sadly defunct Achille Lauro, with whom Albertsen had interned at Dickerson's Suburban Home ten years ago.

Though many look at SXSW as something more commercial than its origins, Albertsen has a slightly different perspective on the issue about the festival's continued relevance.

"I think it still matters, because as big as they are, at least from my encounters with the people that run it, are still very genuine and not rock star-ish," says Albertsen. "They believe in what they're doing and in putting something good together. When you're down there, you can make it what you want it to be. It can be shallow and business-y, or you can have meaningful connections with people you might not otherwise hang out with. I think it matters in that sense that you might not see those people anywhere else in the country. And you can have random experiences just walking down the street and not just because it's SXSW.

"Does it matter? I don't know from an industry standpoint. I think it's brutal for bands to play six or seven shows. But I think it's a good logistical experience for bands. Every band I've talked to down there is exhausted but they've hard to learn where to park their band and who to be in touch with and learned how to get from show to show and how to get on stage quick and end your set on time. They're tired, but at the end I bet they're tighter than they've ever been."

In putting together the event, Albertsen found that he had to do no convincing of anyone in Denver to do a benefit for people in Austin. Instead he encountered a heartening show of support for the event, proof that musical communities and even scenes have ties that transcend what might superficially be considered local concerns. Even the financial firm for which he works has been supportive of his endeavors.

"I've waited for the jerk in my organization and I haven't found him yet," says Albertsen.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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