Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Save the Cactus Cafe
An open letter to University of Texas President William Powers and The Texas Union Board of Directors:
To the Powers that Be,
It is with much concern and respect that I write to you this morning, having learned of the potential fate of the Cactus Cafe. I cannot imagine the degree of responsibility,expectation and pressure that must come with your position. I am a songwriter and a carpenter. My days are relatively simple. Spent by turns with a guitar or hammer in hand. I cannot and do not claim to know or understand the managerial inner workings and fiscal machinations of such a massive institution like the University of Texas. It must be daunting to be faced,on a daily basis, with decisions that will affect the lives of thousands of people in a myriad of ways. I do, however, know the affect that has already been had on thousands of people at the very idea of shutting down the Cactus Cafe. At this very moment, in cafes and clubs and living rooms from Austin to Amsterdam, from Tokyo to Terlingua, there are conversations and laments of concern, sadness and anger at the possibility. I do not know your personal passions or interests and I am sure that you must temper them by degree so as not to allow them to weigh in on policy and decision making regarding the interests of the University. But I would ask that each and every one of you listen deeply and consider greatly, the concerns of those who are in disagreement with this proposal. For a great wave of resistance is headed your way. The idea that a legendary venue like the Cactus would be reduced to a "budget cut" is staggering. The Cactus Cafe is one of the most respected and revered venues world wide by both audiences and performers. The table of our city and it's very image is supported by four main legs of industry. Education,government,hi tech and live music. The city is repeatedly sold to tourists around the globe as the "Live Music Capital of the World." Many believe the Cactus Cafe to be the very heart of it. I have toured for many years across this country and others and can tell you that the Cactus is a very special and unique place. What lies before you as a name on a list to be drawn through and marked off due to cut backs, is nothing short of sacred. What takes place in the space within those four walls transcends "entertainment."
There are many voicing concern over the exorbitant salaries of the coaches at UT and the extreme imbalance of finances between departments in general. I certainly can't claim to know how much of that ,if any, actually comes to play in all of this, but you must recognize the inevitable comparisons that will be made. And while I do not belittle the value and merit of the sport of football and it's provision of joy,entertainment and cultural bonding for the masses, I would call into question it's bulldozing,(whether blatantly or covertly) over the interests and passions of others, be it music,science art or history.
I realize that in the scope of hardships and tragedies that humanity has and will endure, by comparison, the loss of a musical venue is a paltry concern. But what is potentially being lost and fought for here is so much more than a piece of real estate or usable space. Broken hearts and homes have been healed through music and the sharing of the human experience through the medium, through the ages. People on the brink of stepping away from this world have been brought back to it through the power of song. Melodramatic as that may sound, it is the truth. Thousands of people through many years have been moved, comforted and recognized by a story or sentiment, sung or spoken ,with wit or sorrow, from that stage. I have been witness to that at the Cactus Cafe, both as listener and as a performer. The Cactus has been home to the exchange that happens in a darkened room full of strangers who have come together in anticipation, with all of their hopes,hurts,dreams and doubts. A shared experience through melody, word, laughter and tear. A community of spirit. The worth of that is immeasurable. For that reason alone the Cactus should be left undisturbed to remain the spiritual meeting place that it is.
So I ask you all, out of respect for the storytelling tradition, the legacy of the Cactus Cafe and the stirring of hearts and minds through song, please reconsider the proposal before you and maintain the honesty and integrity of our city slogan, "The Live Music Capital of the World."