One musical director, 6 days of rehearsal, 3-hour concert, 60 artists, 38 songs and 3 reasons to celebrate. It’s a labor of love for Austin’s musical roots, Kris Kristofferson and the life of beloved musician Stephen Bruton.
In 2007, an Austin audience was treated to a concert of the industry’s most respected performers who helped build the Live Music Capital of the World. The event, Road to Austin, was conceived as an opportunity to showcase that history while paying tribute to Kristofferson illustrious musical career. The resulting documentary, which is being screened at SXSW today (Thursday, March 13) is a celebration of the life of Bruton, Texas-based guitarist/singer and the concert’s musical director.
In 2006, director Gary Fortin and his business partner and friend, Bruton volleyed some ideas under the premise of creating a concert to pay tribute to their friend Kris Kristofferson. Bruton had been part of Kristofferson’s original band. As the idea grew, the two pulled together an impressive lineup with artists such as Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Ruthie Foster, Ian McLagan and, of course, Kristofferson. As it turns out, the performers also had a key, common thread. Bruton. He was a beloved musician who had performed with them, in one capacity or another, throughout his career.
The show was an enormous success, and Fortin gives credit not only to the performers, but to the unique Austin audience with sophisticated tastes.
“We set out to tell how Austin became the Live Music Capital,” says Fortin. And they do. The documentary offers a riveting look at the history of Austin’s music origins dating back to 1835. Archival photos point to German immigrant artisans who, in essence, built the musical community and started the seeds of what we came to know as the garage band movement.
“And the ‘60s Psychedlic movement began here with the 13th Floor Elevators, who later took it to San Francisco where it exploded. Janis Joplin was here. Rocky Erickson was here. Jerry Garcia was hanging out here,” says Fortin.
“The Live Music Capital of the World is not just a self-proclaimed slogan, and we set out to prove that with the facts. This is where raw talent lives," Fortin says, adding this is where touring acts come to find their touring machine musicians. “When Bob Dylan looks for his touring band, this is where he comes.”
“Austin is the oldest artist community in the United States,” he says.
Between the time the concert was conceived and showtime, Bruton was diagnosed with cancer, a fact that weighed heavy on the performers’ mind. The show’s energy changed, Fortin says.
“A show of this size is usually performed in an arena. We accomplished a lot of firsts, and the timing of the show of this magnitude and a million different moving parts was critical. There was a lot to choreograph to make sure everyone performed their two songs. The biggest challenge, though, was that our musical director, Stephen, wasn’t feeling well at all,” he says. “It was super human for him to get through the concert, let alone rehearsals. EMS was on standby and Bruton was hooked up to feeding tubes on stage.
“We told him he didn’t have to do this,” Fortin says, but “Stephen said, ‘I do have to do this. It was an amazing night.”