Mike and the Moonpies had just finished their gig at Antone’s in Austin last Thursday when the city began to freeze. The country band had plans to rendezvous at their producer’s studio in Wimberley, about 45 minutes southwest, to work on a new album.
All five Moonpies, along with their tour manager and merchandise seller, made it, but conditions quickly deteriorated over the weekend throughout much of the state of Texas. A sold-out show they had scheduled for Saturday in Luckenbach was scrapped, and soon the power at the compound went out. A frozen valve at their well pump robbed them of running water. Those who didn’t leave for their respective homes north of the approaching storm were stranded. By Monday, producer Adam Odor and the group’s guitarist and steel player were flushing toilets with water from the nearby Blanco River and stuffing towels underneath the doors to block frigid air. A wood-burning fireplace kept them warm.
“When the deep freeze came, that’s when we were like, ‘OK, it’s not just cold. This is going to go beyond that,'” says Odor, calling from the studio on Thursday, where electricity has been coming back on in waves and a slow melt allowed his marooned bandmates a brief window to gingerly make their way home. “We’ve had power on and off. We would get it in two-hour blocks — off for four hours and on for two. Then yesterday we didn’t have power from 2:30 in the morning until roughly 8 o’clock last night. By this Saturday, probably all the snow will be gone, but that’s when everybody’s really going to find out the damage. We don’t know how water is going to come back.”
All around Texas, major cities like Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth have advised residents who still have water to boil it before use. Nearly 12 million people are under a boil advisory after water-treatment plants went offline. As of Friday morning, 192,000 customers were still without power across the state, down from more than 4 million, a result of Texas’ largely deregulated and privatized power grid. While the unprecedented arctic weather and its aftereffects are threatening all of the state’s citizens — except perhaps vacationing senator Ted Cruz — the catastrophe is just the latest blow to Texas’ vibrant music community.
After nearly a year without regular live concerts, the state’s hearty music scene was slowly starting to come back to life. Artists like Mike and the Moonpies, Joshua Ray Walker, and Jamie Lin Wilson were returning to the regional circuit to play Covid-safe concerts, both outdoor and indoor shows with limited capacities, socially distanced seating, and mask mandates. Billy Bob’s, a massive Fort Worth honky-tonk, has shows on the calendar ranging from local favorites like Koe Wetzel and Stoney LaRue to national superstars like Miranda Lambert.
“I hope that all the clubs and their property are intact after this, because we’re all so vulnerable right now.”
The Vandoliers, a Dallas-based band known for a wicked live show that mixes punk anthems with a Tex-Mex vibe, were gearing up to play their first gig in a year at Dallas’ Granada Theater on February 26th. The group’s singer Joshua Fleming is unsure if it’ll happen.
“We were supposed to rehearse this week, but I don’t know if we have power at our rehearsal space. I hope that all the clubs and their property are intact after this, because we’re all so vulnerable right now. Everything’s holding on by a linchpin or a thread,” says Fleming, who, with his wife and three-month-old daughter, fled to the house of a friend after the power went out last week at his home.
Fleming remains optimistic that post-Covid concerts will be able to resume soon, but worries about the new fallout from a weather anomaly that has killed at least 47 people nationwide. “I’ve had that ‘mourning my career stage’ of the pandemic last year,” he says. “We are all ready to go back to normal, and I think that’s a lot closer than people think. But at the same time, when you have that light at the end of the tunnel and then something like this happens, that light gets pushed back a couple of weeks or a couple of months.”
Singer-songwriter Joshua Ray Walker has slowly been returning to the stage, supporting his latest album Glad You Made It. Walker decided to cancel a pair of shows in Lubbock and Amarillo this weekend because of the storm. While the clubs are open, he couldn’t risk the five-hour journey west from his home in Dallas.
“It’s just not safe to try to drive in the ice right now. I can barely get to a grocery store,” Walker says. “I probably could have gotten up at 8:00 this morning and slowly crawled my way to Lubbock, but I don’t necessarily trust everyone else on the road not to crash into me.”
Walker, who in a bit of tragic irony has been living in a hotel for the past few months after a non-weather-related burst pipe flooded his home, says Texas government’s failure to prepare and respond to the weather crisis is “just another kick.” He questions the state’s commitment to “rugged individualism” — the idea that you’re responsible for yourself and that the government should remain hands-off.
“That’s what Texas claims, and that’s true. There’s a lot of great stuff that’s come out of that and I am proud that I’m from here. But when ‘rugged individualism’ starts to hurt people, I don’t believe that speaks to the values that we should all try to uphold,” he says. “I don’t think your typical energy consumer in Texas was aware of how energy purchasing works. Now it’s one more piece of infrastructure that you realize is failing because of the choices of people that have been voted into power. And it’s just disheartening.”
Fleming echoes Walker’s take. “America is individualism and exceptionalism. That’s what we do, and that’s why capitalism is fucking rad. But when it’s broken, you’ve got to take care of people,” he says. “Hopefully out of all this snow stuff, the people who don’t feel that way will [realize that] infrastructure is needed, and regulations are there to help people.”
Kim Finch, who owns and operates three clubs in Dallas, including the Double Wide, where Walker and his band Ottoman Turks got their start, is contending with the state’s failed power and water infrastructure both at her home and her businesses. While dealing with a frozen pipe at her house, she received an urgent call that the Double Wide was also flooding — for a second time. All three of her venues closed because of the storm, further decimating a bottom line that was already suffering during the pandemic.
“If you took the revenue of all three bars right now, it’s not even making what the Double Wide was making last year [pre-Covid],” Finch says. “Even when we were open before the ice storm, we’re still at reduced capacity. People are still scared to go out. We’ve been dead in the water, barely making ends meet.”
“She’s fixing broken pipes at a bar that she can’t have open,” Walker says of his friend Finch. “Everyone is so frustrated.”
Texas singer-songwriter Jamie Lin Wilson is also feeling the pinch, both financially and in terms of career momentum. She was supposed to play her first headlining concert at Texas’s oldest operating dancehall, Gruene Hall, on Saturday. The show has since been canceled, and she’s not sure when it’ll be made up.
“It’s the loss of a show we’ve been so looking forward to. Having some sense of community and normalcy and seeing people,” Wilson says. “We’ve been doing online shows, and that’s great, but it’s nothing like seeing and hearing and feeling a reaction of your crowd.”
Wilson lives on a cattle ranch about 45 minutes west of San Antonio with her husband and kids. Their freezer is stocked with beef and they’ve been storing water. She says she’s never been more happy not to live in a city.
“I can’t imagine living in an apartment and being dependent on if somebody didn’t leave their [faucet] dripping,” she says. “I’m hearing from people in Austin that can’t find food, they can’t get warm. My tour manager was stuck in her apartment for something like 30 hours of no electricity.”
According to the Austin American-Statesman, 90 percent of the city’s customers had power restored by Thursday evening. But Austin residents like musician Jesse Dayton consider this week’s events a black eye for “the energy state.” “One of the wealthiest states with more natural resources than most is still using the exact same power grid that it built in 1930. We’re intentionally the only state that’s not connected to the federal government’s power grid,” he wrote on Instagram. “All of this faux macho ‘rugged individualism’ John Wayne libertarian horseshit sounds awesome until 4 million Texans are stuck freezing in their own homes.”
The Moonpies’ producer, Odor, is finally venturing out of his Wimberley, Texas, studio. He made an essentials run to a nearby convenience store the other day — a liter of vodka and some five-gallon jugs of water — and he’s going to check on the band’s singer in north Austin. The band has a show to play at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth next week. But he’s left wondering how a state with such prepared responses to floods and tornados failed so spectacularly with its power and water.
“Ever since the Memorial Day flood we had in 2015, we’ve had all these great emergency services, but we didn’t have anything alerting us to when electricity was going to go down,” he says. “And that’s when you realize how ill-prepared we are and how messed-up the whole operation is.”