When it comes to tastes in music, Gen Y members probably think of boomers as those outdated, crotchety cranks who keep all the buttons on their car radios preset to classic-rock stations. (And in fairness, in our youth we probably felt the same way about the pre-boomer generation that spawned our heroes Bob Dylan and John Lennon.) But either way, Brent Grulke certainly demolished the stereotype that hipness and an appreciation for the musical Zeitgeist has anything to do with when you happened to be born.
Grulke, who died yesterday from a heart attack at age 52, was a major musical tastemaker in his role as creative director of SXSW, the Austin-based annual conference and festival that served as sort of a spring break for the rock-music industry. Grulke, a former music editor of the Austin Chronicle, started out with SXSW as stage manager in 1987 and eventually rose to booking the acts that played at the festival. Over the decades, Grulke gradually expanded the bill to include nearly 2,000 acts each year, providing invaluable exposure to numerous musicians who might otherwise have struggled to be heard, let alone hook up with managers or record labels. This 2002 Christian Science Monitor article described SXSW as the place “where buzz is born.”
“It can be a very good place to meet like-minded people,” Grulke explained in a 2008 interview.
(SXSW also provides a huge boost to Austin; in 2009, the festival reportedly pumped $110 million into the city’s economy.
While Grulke’s musical tastes were astonishingly broad — he was fan of acts ranging from the political rappers Public Enemy to the late British singer Amy Winehouse — his favorite of all the musicians he booked was a local performer, Alejandro Escovedo, who appeared at the first SXSW in 1987, and who has played nearly every year since.
While Grulke gave props to big-name artists who are “brave, ambitious, and talented enough to show the whole world what they’re about . . . at the same time I have admiration for those artists who are just trying to figure out how to do what they do.”