By Barb Cooper
Like many high-school sophomores, Katherine Cooper is passionate about make-up, the mall and music. But unlike many of her peers, Katherine spends most of her weekends playing live music with her band, The Red Tent, at a variety of venues around Austin as part of an arts organization named 18Below. “Without 18Below, The Red Tent wouldn’t have these amazing opportunities to perform live and connect with people in such a meaningful way,”said Katherine.
Although Austin has long held the reputation as the “Live Music Capital of the World,”until now, there’s been little organized effort put toward developing young talent. Meet Melissa Graham-LaMure and her husband, Michael LaMure, founders of 18Below, an organization dedicated to providing safe and nurturing outlets for musicians and other artists under the age of eighteen.
“18Below really was born after my son, a drummer, had a toxic experience playing live music in an adult environment. As I talked to people about that experience, I heard many similar stories, and it became clear that young musicians needed a safe outlet to nurture their talents,”said Graham-LaMure.
The organization officially began in October 2012 with a show at the Spider House Ballroom. Spider House Ballroom co-owner John Dorgan partnered with 18Below for the first shows—a monthly series of rock-and-roll shows sponsored by Maine Root.
“It was our February show that was the blow-out show, with our first ‘after party’in the Outdoor Chapel at Spider House, complete with an under-18 DJ and a photo booth,”said Graham-LaMure. “As we progressed, our audience progressed. It became apparent that we could not stop this movement of talented under-18 musicians and their fans. We started to hire fire-twirlers for our ‘after party,’and under-18 DJs started showing up asking to DJ future shows. Under-18 bands started showing up asking to play future shows. Parents started showing up thanking me for creating 18Below. It was a train, and we couldn’t stop it!”
The LaMures recognized the potential of the organization to do good in the community. “In 2013, we collaborated with Stubb’s, Be Kind To Cyclists and Big Stage Music Fest for a fundraising event that raised more than $25,000 for local firefighter Colin Camp, who was a victim of a hit-and-run driver while on a bicycle ride. This year, we’re partnering with Austin Music People, Austin Music Foundation, Transmission Entertainment, Black Fret, C3 Presents, HAAM, The Sims Foundation and Sigma I Fraternity (UT) for a fundraiser that benefits SXSWCares to directly help those affected by the tragic event of SXSW,”said Graham-LaMure.
The LaMures, who have run 18Below since its inception without compensation, have a big vision for the future of the organization. “We’d like to reach more and more underage musicians and other types of artists, as well as the Austin community at large. We are in the process of working to incorporate as a non-profit organization under the guidance of Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts (TALA) in hopes of expanding the numbers of underage artists we can help, and in order to be able to seek corporate sponsorship as our program grows,”said Graham-LaMure. “We’re interested in talking to any artists—musicians, poets, dancers, filmmakers, visual artists—who are under the age of 18, and anyone who wants to partner with us in helping these kids make their dreams into a reality.”
Michael LaMure, an Austin firefighter, talked about the challenges of finding venues that support underage musicians. “We all know how bars make their money,”said LaMure. “So, to find a place that will support under-18 music can be challenging. But it’s been so great, because the Austin community has really stood up and said, ‘We support this. We support Austin musicians who are underage and trying to make their dreams come true.’”The list of supportive venues is growing, including Stubb’s, the Irie Bean, Red 7, the Austin Ale House and more. Volunteers, sponsors and interested artists can contact 18Below at 18BelowATX@gmail.com.
“For me, the joy is watching them progress as the months go on. You see how they grow and develop on their own in this loving environment,”said Graham-Lamure.
As for Katherine Cooper, she’s particularly grateful for the opportunity to connect with other young musicians, and for the experience gained by playing live shows. About her work with The Red Tent, she said, “I’ve always wanted to be a part of that band that came along at just the right time, you know, when you were fourteen or fifteen, and just changed everything for you. Like, maybe it was the lyrics or maybe that it was just something new and different from what you used to like, but nothing spoke to you like this band did. Maybe you were sad, or maybe you’re still sad, or maybe you’re in recovery from whatever plagued you in your past, but you know you can always count on that band. We play for the kids with static hearts and electric souls, and I hope someday we inspire others to do the same.”Follow The Red Tent at facebook.com/theredtentatx.