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Cactus Cafe Blues

December 11 date above is only to position this article on my archives. Real time is Spring Semester 2010. Bob

Keep the Light Shining on UT & Cactus Cafe

The twisted spirit of the late University of Texas regent chair Frank Erwin filled the inside of the sumptuous conference Room 4.118 on the top floor of the Texas Union Wednesday afternoon May 19 when the union board held an invitation-only press conference to detail how Union administrators Andy Smith and Juan Gonzalez intended to “repurpose” our beloved Cactus Café.

As I write this on May 19, Erwin is applauding the Texas Union administrators who artfully obfusticated and continually rewrote the script for months until a freedom of information request by two Austin media forced UT to cough up their machinations.

Erwin, who also squirmed under the gaze of the same Texas Observer and Austin American-Statesman publications mentioned above, tried to quash 60s student protests against the Vietnam War and his close friend Lyndon Johnson,  personally led with a hard hat and a bullhorn the bulldozing of a creek for expansion of the UT football stadium where students had chained themselves to the threatened trees, and brutally fought for more power over the faculty until he fired Arts & Sciences Dean John Silber (much like how regents fired UT President Homer Rainey 20 years earlier – remember to read about this chapter of UT outrage at end of this blog).  Smith and Gonzalez et al waited to announce their detail-less plan to join with KUT radio in managing the Cactus until the Café was into its customary last half of May vacation, finals were finished, dorms were closing that afternoon, and parking spaces across Guadalupe were almost plentiful. Don’t worry about details, folks, since “we bring a lot to the table,” said KUT manager Stewart Vanderwilt.

all Bob Kinney photos


Hayley Gillespie and Cactus Fan Tiffany with Professor Thomas Garza outside closed meeting May 19

Hayley Gillispie, co-founder of Student Friends of the Cactus Café, and Dr. Thomas Garza, former union board member and new faculty adviser to the student Cactus group – both active members of the ongoing Cactus discussion – were refused admittance.

Student reporters from the Daily Texan and the Horn were stopped at the door. Someone higher up no doubt worried about the administration’s tenuous transparency taking a nasty publicity hit and let them in. Why weren’t student media invited first? Frank Erwin can tell you.

“The only thing transparent about today’s events were the glass doors of the conference room separating us from the press conference,” said Gillespie who was standing near the conference room atop a cushy carpet. She disputes the administration claim that “A majority of Student Government leaders and the Texas Union Board of Directors are advocates of the partnership” with KUT Radio. With construction beginning on the new College of Communications building across Dean Keeton from the present KUT complex, raising money to pay for the construction will take fund-raising precedence over the Cactus Cafe … especially during a university-wide hiring freeze.

It’s important to honor the folks who got you here.

In an editorial in the May 13 issue of the Daily Texan newspaper,  student government representative Matt Portello – who founded Cactus Student Friends with Gillespie – emphasizes the importance of keeping the current experienced and respected Cactus management in place. KUT has yet to affirm that Griff Luneburg, creator of the Cactus and close friends with hundreds of musicians and managers, will keep his job. Read Matt’s op-ed on the need to keep Griff as manager with his long-time staff at dailytexanonline.com


Cactus Friends unfolding scroll of petition signatures April 21

I cringe to think of what will happen to the Cactus Café with KUT manager Stewart Vanderwilt reshaping it. He simply has ruined KUT Radio by clogging its airways with incessant commercials that destroy the wonderous flow of music that used to flow through decades before he came to Austin. What was uniquely Austin about KUT is gone. In its place is a mix of too-trendy music shows and canned public radio programs that can be heard most anywhere else. On-air hours of knowledgeable dj’s were hacked in half, benefits reduced and playlists introduced. I stopped my generous support of KUT in 2006. When its non-commercial federal radio license comes up for renewal soon, be sure to comment. What part of “non-commercial” doesn’t Stewart understand?

When I came to Austin in 1978, KUT was one of my two favorite radio stations – the other being KVET during its Doug Sahm/Kicker mid-70s years. I enjoyed calling Larry Monroe late at night to talk about a song he had just played. We both remembered watching Johnny Ray singing “Just Crying in the Rain” during a 50s music show on a b&w televison. We shared roots in the Midwest, Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons. I got to know John Aielli in the mid-80s when I began publicizing the Seminary of the Southwest a few blocks north of UT campus. I suggested and then arranged John’s first not in-the-studio-interview by phone with theologian Matthew Fox who was giving a lecture at the seminary back then. I have listened to Paul Ray from the stage as well as on the radio for many years. His knowledge of music is deep, respectful and enthusiastic. Memories of my son now 23 hopping up and down in his crib when he heard “Waltzing with Bears” on KUT still brings a smile. His mom or I or both of us would pick him up, turn up the volume and dance around the house – “wa-wa … wa-wa … -waltzing-with-bears.” He later graduated to  “Workin’ on a John Deere Tractor” by the missed Don Walser from here in Austin.

Friends have suggested over the years that I give KUT another listen. I try but usually can’t last 15 minutes. I am a Prairie Home Companion fan and can be found Saturday evenings when I’m home turning the sound down as the clock approaches 6 and then 12 so most of the flood of catch-up commercials can’t be heard.


Cactus Friends enter public hearing April 21

My May 19 visit to the Union was not my first Cactus decision protest. I showed up April 21 to help hold the scroll of Save the Cactus petition signatures outside the Cactus and later spoke at the public hearing. What I said is posted at the end of this blog. I have been adding to my Cactus web-blog since I created it in January. You can trace the ongoing developments, follow the shifts in administration rationale, read my thoughts and follow links in that article at the end of the second page of this web blog.

I am going to be closely watching how the New Cactus will unfold over the summer. I hope you will be, too.

Communication from UT & KUT to the Austin community must be more imaginative and welcoming than just providing an email address. All of us have been writing way too many Cactus emails since late January.

Let’s also hope that the first show we attend at the Cactus this fall does not have stage-close seating reserved for “preferred donors” or that the following chirpy-voiced message is not played on the Cactus sound system after every two songs performed onstage – “Support for the Cactus Café is brought to you by Wendy’s – who invites you to stop by for a burger after the show.”


VP Juan Gonzalez conducting April 24 public hearing

Text of Bob Kinney comments during the April 21 public hearing about the Cactus Café’s fate.

“The late Episcopal Bishop John Hines was a good friend of Dr. Homer Rainey, who was president of the University of Texas from 1939 to his firing in 1941.

“Bishop Hines founded St. Stephen’s School in West Austin and the Seminary of the Southwest – a few blocks north of here along Duval – when he was bishop of the Diocese of Texas after the Second World War. He later became Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church during the Civil Rights years of the 1960s.

“Hines returned to the seminary in 1986 to preach at the twentieth anniversary of its chapel.

“During his sermon, Hines condemned how University of Texas regents tried to pressure Rainey to fire four full professors of economics for their alleged New Deal views. Rejected by Rainey, the regents then fired three untenured economics instructors – a move that drew a nine-year censure of the university by the American Association of University Professors, Phi Beta Kappa and university accreditation groups. Most galling was the regents’ removal of John Dos Passos’ book, USA, from the English Department’s reading list. And then they fired Homer Rainey.

“Standing in the pulpit of the seminary chapel, Hines pointed toward the University of Texas and proclaimed “It all happened at that university a few blocks south of here – that institution without a soul.”

“Nearly twenty-five years later, the same can be said about university administrators who are slipping through their callous and not necessary decision to close the Cactus Café. It’s shameful that the Freedom of Information act had to be used to pry open the administration’s machinations that led to the January 29 so-called public announcement of the Cactus Café’s closing at the University of Texas – the institution that still lacks a soul.”

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