SXSW Director Brent Grulke suddenly passed away from a heart attack yesterday morning, August 13. The SXSW family and friends are stunned and grief stricken by this loss.
Brent was a graduate of the University of Texas. He was the Records Review Editor for the Austin Chronicle, prior to a career in the music business where he was a record producer, sound engineer, tour manager and record company executive. In 1994 Brent became the Creative Director of SXSW Music and was responsible for booking the music festival. Under Brent's leadership, SXSW Music became one of the most respected and well known events in the world.
He is survived by his wife, Kristen, and son, Graham, as well as brothers Brad and Brian.
The family has established the Graham Grulke Education Fund.
Contributions can be directed through the button below or by mail to:
6101 West Courtyard Drive
Austin, Texas 78730
Attn: Brad Grulke
Please make donation payable to the Graham Grulke Education Fund.
I'm sure there's a funny, heart-warming story I could tell about Brent. I only wish I could go there in my memories right now. He was my friend and companion through countless adventures.
Someone asked me about the circumstances around deciding to make Brent the Creative Director of SXSW in 1994. There really wasn't much discussion. As I recall, I just said "I want Brent" and Nick and Louis said "Of course."
The thing that made our work together so rewarding was that our vision for everything SXSW could become was very similar. He and I were almost always on the same page when it came to the tough decisions. We didn't have to explain things to each other, or argue very often. We just knew what had to be done. Brent balanced a lot of my shortcomings. He was gregarious, while I was shy. He could strike up a conversation with anyone, while I struggled to get to know people. He had a big vision, while I tended to get caught up in details. He was my travel companion on hundreds of trips around the US and abroad. It was thrilling to see our work make SXSW thrive.
But it was Brent who put the music festival in overdrive. His relationships brought in so many of the artists that went on to greater success. And it was Brent who recruited the music staff that carried the work even farther than we dared hope. He was willing to let his staff take charge of their own efforts, and take on huge endeavors under his gentle leadership. He had a lot of faith in people and had the courage to let things happen.
I can't begin to understand how much I'll miss him. My heart breaks for his wife and son.
–Roland Swenson, SXSW Managing Director
More than 20 years ago Brent invited me to a simple poker game that turned into a rich, decades-long enterprise – weekly huddles around a card table with best friends into the wee hours. The lot of us would parse the meaning of life one book or film or album at a time. That proved to be the hallmark of his life – to invite you into his world and then make sure it was never dull. Brent Grulke was supposed to be the last man standing. The smiling guy with a glass in his hand and a story spilling from his lips. Once, in the aftermath of a very late party, my sleepy-eyed four-year old toddled into our living room and asked, “Daddy, why isn’t Brent leaving?” It was, son, because we weren’t ready for Brent to go.
-Mike Shea, SXSW Executive Director
I have so many great memories of Brent that it is difficult to single out just one. Not only did Brent know so much about music, Brent knew so much about a lot of things - art, politics, sports, culture and design to name few. Always with an opinion, but always willing to listen, sometimes mischievous and sometimes serious, Brent was a great teacher of life. I learned a lot from him during many a late night punctuated by his booming laughter.
When I think through the years, I was most impressed by Brent's fearless championship of artistry. I clearly remember a dinner in 1999 in Portland during North By Northwest where Brent stood up for every band playing the festival. It was a decisive moment - one that defined us all and, although difficult, the right thing to do.
Brent celebrated the music multiverse by bringing so many bands onto so many stages to play so many songs - always bigger, always better, never enough, always more. We are so sad to not have more of you Brent. Rest in peace my friend.
-Scott Wilcox, SXSW Director of Technology
The style in which Brent would introduce me to people he knew is something that always sticks in my mind. He would say something like "I've had the pleasure to work with him on many events and working with him has always been a great experience." It was a really nice way to quickly create a connection between me and him and the person he was introducing me to. Amongst the many unique skills and talents and interests and eccentricities that made Brent who he was, I will miss this effort-less eloquence he displayed on so many occasions.
-Hugh Forrest, SXSW Event Director
Brent ran the panels in 1994, the year I wandered into Austin and the SXSW office. In the deadline period for the directory (which is when the entire operation goes a little berserk) about a month before the event, Brent spent much time coming up with utterly unnecessary trivia contest questions to accompany each panel. He delayed the printing for this to everyone's consternation. I admired the folly of it and the challenge he presented. Brent was a pillar in my life. SXSW is a worldwide sensation in large part due to his taste and skilled judgment.
-Andy Flynn, SXSW Staff
Brent welcomed me right away when I joined the company. As a member of SXSW Senior Management, he was down to earth, approachable, respectful, kind & passionate about music and all things SXSW. Sometimes people with this much history in a worldwide popular event, holding the position that they do, are not like I just explained. But Brent was different. He was as unique and amazing as all the eclectic and life-changing bands he brought in for SXSW.
-Christian Mella, SXSW Staff
My fondest memory with Brent was a conversation we shared in a bar in San Francisco. The topic was why the trumpet was a superior instrument to the guitar and how he longed for more brass in modern music. As a former trumpet player and current guitar player, his opinion really resonated with me. I guess I can warm up with taps. Thanks Brent.
-Val Link, SXSW Staff
Last SXSW I had the good fortune to win the Bruce Springsteen ticket lottery. I ran into Brent walking out of the Moody. I said I was heading over to the Lil' Wayne show at the Music Hall. He said he was too and said he would join me. During our walk over, Brent effused about how great the Springsteen show was ... with the excitement and wonderment of a junior high school kid who just attended his first concert. It was midnight and the Creative Director of one of the biggest music events in the world who had been in the business for more than 30 years wasn't grumpy and complaining, he was fired up about going to see a skateboard-riding dreadlocked rapper half his age. That's the kind of enthusiasm Brent had for music. It was genuine and it was pure, and it was an undeniable force behind the success of SXSW.
-Dan Hardick, The Austin Chronicle
One of the first days I started with the company, it was football season so I had Nebraska's Husker "N" as my avatar. He messaged me jokingly about being from the Heartland also. Turns out we grew up in the same area and shared a love for all-things Nebraska, including Runzas. I'll never forget his approachable and joking demeanor. One of the last convo's we had was about frozen Runzas and him being stoked to take Graham to the Bug Festival. I have been reading a lot of past interviews he did and a few years ago, he was quoted saying, "People who don't love what they do quit and end up doing something else." It was so clear he loved SXSW. I'll miss our Husker chats this football season. The SXSW family & community suffers a huge loss. My heart is with his family.
-Kelly Krause, SXSW Staff
I can appreciate how small this planet is when half a planet away the people who had the privilege of meeting Brent united in sadness. Please pass on to Kristen how saddened and shocked his friends in Australia are today but in the time we got to spend with him down under how he impacted on us all.
-Paul Cashmere, Noise11.com (Australia)
The last time I saw Brent was when he visited Tokyo, and he as ever was gracious, kind, witty and infectious in wanting to hear every last bit of new music he could. He inspired us. Let the music play.
-Toni Pedecine (Japan)
Nobody would forget Brent. If you met him, you would remember him. He was a gentle man. He loved his life and everything in it. There were moments when he looked like a 10 year old boy excited about his new treasure. Everyone says he loved music, but he loved the music, the musicians, the production, and the show. There are countless hilariously frustrating moments with Brent as well. At the peak of stressful times, he normally looked calm. Maybe that was exhaustion, but just one of his grins and it was hard not to feel better. He'd tell me about a great band that was doing something somewhere and I would quickly forget what had me all bothered. He is so very missed.
-Mary Wilson, SXSW Staff
I first met Brent in March 1991 after a mutual friend introduced us during the visit to Austin and SXSW that prompted me to move here after I finished college. At our first meeting, we drank beer and talked for a long time, a scenario that will seem familiar to just about everyone who knew him. He was an honest, unpretentious and genuine man who mixed the rock solid values and work ethic of his Midwestern roots (he once told me that his generation was the first of his family to leave the farms of Nebraska and Iowa) mixed with an unquenchable thirst for music, food, drink, books, love, travel and other people’s company. He was generous, caring and an absolute joy to be around. I am fortunate to have been able to call him neighbor, co-worker, fellow school parent, and most of all, dear friend. Life can deal such cruel, unforgiving blows sometimes, and I guess I just assumed that like so many other nights when Brent was the last one to the leave the party, that he would outlast us all in life, too. I’m heartbroken that I was wrong.
-Andy Smith, SXSW Staff
I have so many sweet memories of Brent, I hardly know where to begin. Some of the most vivid pictures come from the incredible travel experiences — usually featuring great food and wine — but, more importantly, love and friendship — that we shared. Winding down from a near all-nighter in Buenos Aires’ nightclubs, exploring a vast wine library in Barcelona, braving a January chill in Rome to pose smiling with Roland, Una, Mirko and Mark in front of the Trevi Fountain. Brent’s appreciation for women should not be underestimated. It was an appreciation based on admiration, respect and affection. More than once, my spirits were lifted by his warm encouragement of my dreams and praise for my abilities. May he enjoy the best wine and music that Heaven has to offer — and stay in our hearts always.
-Tracy Mann, SXSW Staff
This was July 4th several years ago, right after I got shifted from seasonal to year-round employee. So, I knew Brent, but not very well at all.
I was at the Elks lodge for the 4th of July. I am a HUGE Astros fan dating back to the 70's and I was wearing my brand new JR Richard Astros Jersey. I had just gotten it and hadn't gotten any comments on it all day. I was starting to think I was the only real Astros fan in Austin. When I hear Brent say " Is that a JR Richard Jersey?!" To which I reply, "Damn Right!" I turn around and it is Brent and he says"You are not old enough to know who JR was!" I explain to him how my father had season tickets to the Astros since before I was born, and how JR was one of my childhood heroes. We ended up talking for the better part of an hour about JR, the Stros, baseball, and our experiences in the Dome growing up. This is when I found out Brent had grown up in Spring and was a huge Astros fan. After that day, we talked often about the Astros, and how bad they are.
-Gene Butler, SXSW Staff
One night during my first year at SXSW, in 2000, I burst in to tears in front of Brent after a confrontation with a pissed-off band manager where I had to get a security guard, the police and finally, Brent and Roland involved. Brent calmly and humorously reassured me that I'd done exactly the right thing and that he was proud of me. Over the years, I've taken his calm and good-humored way as inspiration when dealing with stressful situations and helping others do the same. Thank you, Brent, for reminding me that true strength is calm, level-headed and even humorous.
-David Rose, SXSW Staff
Anyone will tell you that Brent was a remarkable conversationalist, but what I loved was that he made you feel like an interesting person just because you were talking to him. Keeping up with a polymath like Brent should have been intimidating, but it wasn't, because he was so unaffected. He not only had a keen intellect, but incredible taste – in food, wine, music, you name it. I have so many memories – from selling him an extravagant wardrobe of well-made English dress shirts at my other job to rehashing what funny thing John Aielli said on the way to work to sitting in the staff suite late at night during the music festival reading out loud the names of all the bands we were missing because we were too busy working. My most recent memory was of making him laugh by busting a silly dance move at the office. If you knew Brent, you know the laugh I'm talking about. That's how I want to remember him, laughing and making even the most boring work day fun.
-Tammy Lynn Gilmore, SXSW Staff
Brent Grulke stood up for what he believed in. Whether that was music or art or the SXSW event or how to live a good life.
He was constantly excited about something, whether a band or a person or a cause or an argument. We were at the Roskilde festival last summer, and Brent came out the first day with a full sized camelback backpack, camera around his neck, and a giant grin. He had wanted to go to Roskilde for a long time and he was going to get absolutely everything out of it.
And he did. I think he sucked the marrow out of so many things in his life. But he gave so much more to all of us. I’ll miss you Brent. You did life right.
-Brad Spies, SXSW Staff
I've been going to SXSW since the early 90's. I also saw Brent yearly at MIDEM where we'd catch up in a less hectic environment, not to mention South of France. Brent was my first point of contact at SXSW and always friendly, very accessible and approachable. I literally watched Brent add more and more showcases from the intimate 500+ acts to the way it is today. We worked on so many showcases together - I brought him a lot of Hip Hop early on, too. He was always open and gave me a shot when nobody really knew me. He believed in me and always encouraged me to keep doing what I do. He was always surprised by my endless energy and used to joke about it. I admired his calm and cool manner. His knowledge of music was astounding. His love for music resonated and my SXSW wasn't complete without seeing him running around venues checking in on shows. Sadly I didn't make it to MIDEM or SXSW this year and now he's gone.
-Fiona Bloom, The Bloom Effect
In the summer of 1986, the Chronicle hosted a Sweet Jane contest at Liberty Lunch. At the time, I had played music with Brent some--nothing serious. Then, he came up with the idea that the two of us should play the show. I figured a big cane would yank me off stage, but what the heck. Without hesitation and much to my surprise, he wanted to name our band after me, because he said something to effect, "Well Richard, deep down, everyone is a Steinberg after all." We opened the show, I was too chicken to sing, but like a true Steinberg, Brent stepped up to the plate.
-R.U. Steinberg, The Austin Chronicle
Dear Brent, after twenty-some years of friendship, music, laughter, tears, weddings, shenanigans, poker, and love - it makes me proud that Wink Wine Bar was your hidey-hole. Missing you,
-Darcie Jane Fromholz
A great loss for SXSW and under-the-radar music for sure. The showcase I started at SXSW in 2005 would not have happened without Brent. He gave me full rein. He didn't check in constantly. He let me do my thing. And I suspect that's how he let a lot of producers get on with their work. He just wanted to hear so many different sounds and styles, and knew that his cast of curators would do the rest. An amazing and gentle man.
-Marco Werman, PRI's The World
Brent gave me my first shot at booking bands for SXSW 2001. Even though he didn't love a lot of bands I was into, he saw that I had an enthusiasm for music and let me run. He gave all of the other bookers the same freedom, and that is why SXSW grew into a festival with a rich diversity of talent.
Brent's eloquence in his speech and in his writing was second to none. He could explain why he liked or disliked music, art or food better then anyone I knew. He always championed art over commerce, admired honest artists, and despised pretentiousness.
Brent once came up to me after he watched a showcase of an artist he didn't know. "Did you book this act?" he asked. I told him I had, and then stared me in the eyes, and in his unmistakable, intensely deep voice, simply said "They were fucking great." It was about the best compliment one could receive, to get the approval from a man who loved and fought for art and creativity in the world.
-Darin Klein, SXSW Director of Special Projects
Yes, I will admit it. I spent a lot of time with Brent in bars, or in restaurants that provided an excellent excuse to drink while we munched our way through dishes we couldn’t pronounce properly. Often with a gathering of our closest friends from destinations afar, talking nonsense and laughing a lot. And then we would pop out for a cigarette, carry on laughing and drink some more. I actually thought we were going to carry on doing this for the next 20 years, but apparently this is not to be the case.
Brent was opinionated and stubborn, two qualities I readily identify with. Occasionally, we would have heated discussions, where it transpired that I had been talking crap after all. I’m going to miss that, because the frightening alternative is polite cocktails where everyone agrees with one another. He was gregarious, generous, fun loving, and the life and soul of every good party. The generic term for this condition is called ‘SXSW’, and I hope to God that some pharmaceutical whizzkid comes up with ‘Brentomine’ so that we can carry on living this dream.
But there were other elements that I also really respected and admired about Brent. He was an avid reader, and always had a list of books that he had just finished and which he suggested we really should read. The art of conversation was very much alive in his presence. Plus, he also had a knack for buying very small cameras that took absolutely fantastic photos. Although this made me incredibly suspicious [was he hiding a Nikon somewhere?], I do indeed seem to have a lot of photos on my camera of Brent photographing something in the sunset, way off in the distance. The artist at work.
I have no idea what the future brings, and what we will all be doing in one, five, 10, 15 or 20 years from now. But one thing I do know for sure. We will all look back in time and have some great memories of the time we spent with Brent. And for this, we should all be eternally grateful.
-Mirko Whitfield, SXSW Staff
Brent hired me when I started with SXSW. I remember being extremely nervous going into my interview, but once we sat down in the "sweat box" as we called it, I felt immediately at ease with his jovial laugh and his colorful explanation of all things SXSW. Over the years, I transitioned to many roles within the company and all of them allowed me to work with Brent in some capacity. He always listened to what I had to say, made time for me to come chat and greeted me every time we passed with a "helloooo Tami," and I responded likewise. It was our signature greeting to each other. I learned a lot of history about SXSW, Austin, people and life in general through the stories he shared with me over the years. I'll miss those. I'll miss the late night downloads after a crazy night on the streets. I'm glad he will live on in the memories of so many. There will be no shortage of great things that people across the globe will remember him by. He leaves a wonderful wife and son behind, whom I adore and I know that Graham will be so proud of his dad when he's older. Brent, you will be greatly missed.
-Tami Richter, SXSW Staff
In 1988 or 89, late July–Leos' Birthday BBQ–my house on 49th–Brent and my brother Adam decided to light the coals in that old stone fireplace/grill out back. Since I forgot the lighter fluid (I did remember the kegs), they found a can of heptane in Adam's truck. Heptane is used to start race car motors, LOL. Great thinking from two geniuses!
As Adam is backing away he warns Brent that Brent's spraying too much on the coals. I'm sitting at the picnic table with my back to the BBQ, yakking away, as always. I heard a big WHOOOMP and turn around to see a fireball straight up from the grill. Thank the gods Brent had sunglasses on, because his face got quite a burn. His hair was burnt off completely symmetrically and his eyebrows were flambeed. We shoved Brent into the shower and then slathered his face in Aloe. Brent stayed for a few more hours, before he noticed he wasn't feeling well. HA! We are all so glad nothing worse happened.
Brent went home and survived. A few days later he had to get a new Driver's License, so his 'haircut' and 'sunburn' were immortalized by the Texas DPS. Don't Drink and Light Coals, kids. Miss you Brent and all my Austin family.
It’s extremely hard to believe that Brent Grulke is never going to be one of the first people I see when I get to registration at SXSW. He was such a major part of that crazy week , which we all wait in excited anticipation all year , to participate in.
I met Brent about 19 years ago, when all of the SXSW folks visited Toronto, so that we could begin our partnership with them in the start up of NXNE. He struck me then as a very gentle man, soft spoken & thoughtful , He obviously had a great passion for music, and we bonded over our love of our mutual friend , Alejandro Escovedo, who Brent had tour managed during the True Believer days.
Brent has managed to leave many people, all over the globe , with very fond memories of him. Now that’s a job really well done !
Sincere condolences to his family , friends & his young son .
-Yvonne Matsell, NXNE
We were so incredibly sad to hear of the passing of the wonderful Brent Grulke yesterday. Not least because it was so sudden. But also because he was in London just a fortnight ago. Brent was a warm, funny, passionate, humble and mischievous man. I first met him a few years ago, unsurprisingly, at about 4am in the bar of the Queens Hotel in Brighton at the Great Escape. His passion for music was evident, even at that time of the morning. It was always a pleasure to see him at various events - he was always so enthusiastic to be amongst bands and artists and the wider music community. He'd started at SXSW in 1987 as a Stage Manager before becoming Creative Director and was one of the major influencers in making the festival what it is today. You'd never know that's what he did, though. He told me he was a janitor. A very big loss.
-Sybil Bell and Joe Edwards FM First Monday
Brent was a frequent traveller and relished experiencing new cities, different cultures and local gastronomy. He could manage a round the world trip with only carry on luggage. I have had the good fortune to travel regularly with Brent and Roland and my SXSW colleagues Mirko, Tracy and Mark in the past 15 years. Indeed I remember well meeting Brent for the first time in Cologne when Lisa Tinley and I first started working with SXSW in 1996. I thought him very quiet, polite and reserved and did not foresee that we would become such close friends and have such great adventures. How I enjoyed our regular trips to Cologne, Berlin and Cannes for Popkomm and Midem. We worked very hard of course, but we all enjoyed each others company along the way in a way that I will now cherish. My fondest memories of Brent will be around a dinner table with my SXSW friends, enjoying the food and wine and talking about life, the world and everything.
-Una Johnston, SXSW Staff
Like Brent's many friends in the Finnish music community, I am shocked and saddened by the news of Brent passing away so suddenly. SXSW, Austin and The World lost a guiding light, a great music lover and a gentle human being. He will be missed and remembered by friends and colleagues around the Globe.
Please pass my sincere condolences to Brent's family and relatives as well as to the whole SXSW community.
I was lucky to share some great moments in the presence of Brent. I wish there would have been many more to come.
Rest in Peace, amigo. You were a music man that made the World a better place.
-Tapio Korjus, Rockadillo Records and Finnish Music and Media Conference (Finland)
I remember inviting Brent to Buenos Aires for a brand related band competition. When we arrived (tired) we were told that we had to take a 4 hour cab to get to the coast where the gig was being held.
I knew Brent by this point, however the 4 hours talking with him, going through his career, sharing stories and enjoying the landscape were truly memorable. Even better – he let me know early on that it was his birthday on our last day! Of course we celebrated in style with good Argentinean steak and if I remember rightly the most expensive Malbec on the menu!
An absolute joy.
I’m really going to miss him, his enthusiasm and bumping into him on the smoking balcony at SXSW to share an American Spirit.
-Chris Prosser, IQ Magazine (UK)
Brent’s love and passion for music doesn’t need to be restated by me, he was absolutely, and without a doubt a champion of the music industry. But he was not one to let duty get in the way of a fine meal and a drink or two with friends either, and it’s the memory of those moments that I’ll cherish, his school-boy naughtiness, his gentleness, his fine stories, his bonhomie, his genuine openness and his generosity of self. I am grateful to have known him, and I will never stop expecting to run into him here or there in the world, to resume a conversation and share some laughter. My heart goes out to his wife and son.
Alia, Chris, Allan & the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) team (Australia)
Just to let you know the Nemoto-san, manager of the Japanese punk band SA (Samurai Attack), informed me that the band will be dedicating one of the songs they performed at SXSW to Brent at their next concert. Brent was so helpful and gracious in consenting to an interview for a documentary they filmed of their SXSW experience. The band hopes this will assuage a little bit of the desolation we all feel.
-Samurai Attack (Japan)
The last time I hung out with Brent was, appropriately, in a Dublin Pub at the opening night of the Hard Working Heroes Festival last October. He was in his element, talking to fellow festival organisers, enjoying the Irish hospitality, telling stories (he had many of them) and planning another night out in the clubs to discover some great new bands. I was always impressed with Brent's enthusiasm for music. And it never diminished, even with the ever increasing responsibility of programming the massive event that SXSW had become.
I got to know Brent in the summer of 1994. I spent a week in Austin learning the ropes from the SXSW team on how to organise a festival - a good idea as the 1st NXNE was happening in June 1995. Brent was the one to really step up and pass me his inside tips. And when the inaugural NXNE came around, he was there, on the streets of Toronto, working the doors, handling band issues, and maintaining calm during the first year festival mayhem.
I've enjoyed the past 18 years of hanging out with Brent at festivals around the world. He was so generous to me - always making introductions and connections to help NXNE gain recognition. He was also a tireless supporter of Canadian music and was personally responsible for dramatically increasing the number of Canadian bands who were invited to showcase at SXSW.
Thank you Brent - you are gentleman and a true music man. I will miss you - we all will miss you.
-Andy McLean, NXNE Managing Director
Brent prided himself on his midwest roots. If he found out you were from the midwest, he had an immediate kinship with you and wanted to put you to work. Part of his pride was in the work ethic but another side of it was just in being a regular person. He was loyal, genuine (whether good or bad), and had a tendency to be incredibly generous out of the blue. He loved hanging out with friends and watching sports at his local pub. He liked a good story and knew how to tell one. He had a sense of adventure and mischief that you grew to expect in him. He was somewhat quiet in his work and did it all in an understated way. The sort where you'd often wonder what he was working on and then he'd present you with his next big idea.
Beyond his roots and midwestern characteristics, Brent had special social sensibilities. He had a love of conversation. He loved banter and displays of wit. You could get away with talking about work for a few minutes and then he'd steer the conversation toward a topic that interested him at the moment. At first, you may have thought the topic was a little odd but he'd reel you into his fascination of it and off you'd go into the time warp. If you had a friend along, he'd ask them about their love life and loved giving advice on the topic (even if inappropriate). Brent was the kind of person who dug deep. He dug deep in everything. Traveling was a great love of his. He loved introducing friends while traveling and delighted in them getting along with each other. He loved to research what restaurant to share a meal at. He was so happy to see the world, share friendships, and try new things. His music knowledge was tremendous and you'd find him in Waterloo often sifting through the bins. He'd have a chat with whoever he knew in the store. He'd see a young band at a festival and they'd light a fire in him. He'd want to help them along and get excited about what made them great.
I've had the great pleasure of knowing Brent as a friend, boss, mentor, storyteller, listener, travel/show buddy, and dining partner. I'll miss him more than words can say. He did it and loved it all - a lot of it well as he would put it - without fear or hesitation.
-Lizzy Newton, SXSW Staff
I'm one of the handful of people who have had the pleasure of being friends with Brent Grulke for years, before becoming his employee. My essential experience with Brent, however, will be inexorably linked to time spent at the Dog & Duck Pub.
Though Brent was a well-documented and undeniable rascal, I wasn't a part of the many rock and roll hijinks that I adored hearing about from him (and Tim, Kent, Scott, Andy, et al). Looking back now, the reason I loved those tales (beside the fact that they were invariably hilarious and self-deprecating) is that they so resembled stories of my own, and that gave me hope that in time I'd have the confidence, clarity, and generally admirable perspective that Brent had. Maybe he already saw some of that in me.
I speak for many of my friends when I say Brent was a constant for us. As regular Dog & Duck barflies, it was understood that there was an excellent chance that if you needed to sit and vent or just had a case of soul-crushing boredom, he would be around. And if he was, it was guaranteed that he's be all ears, then take your mind off it with terse, sage advice followed with a wild story or sports talk or just a beer on his tab. The breadth of his loves - from Graham & Kristen to football to wine, politics, music and way beyond - made him the conversationalist we sought. But alternately, as quite often was the case, we'd say nothing. Not a goddamn word for stretches of time, except to curse at the TV when the Astros blew a lead or ESPN mentioned Tim Tebow out of nowhere.
It's ultimately these Seinfeldian "nothing" times that I'll remember most fondly. Almost never did we even mention work stuff. He'd change the subject quickly if I tried. Brent loved and appreciated craftsmanship, and sung its praises. Be it an incredible dish, a unique watch, his big dumb BMW, or most often, a properly poured and served Guinness (which, hilariously, he was usually too impatient to wait for, and instructed the bar to just straight-pour it).
Hot, cold, inside, outside, Brent would chat with anybody over pints at the pub. Anybody. Not that he couldn't be discerning in his company, but he'd willingly engage in conversation with anyone who plopped down, from close friend to intolerable stranger, presumably all in hopes that he'd catch a good story, a new perspective, a nugget of info - or to return the same to them. And just like in the office, not everyone agreed with him, and not everyone appreciated his often brash and overriding conversational candor, but those folks are far outweighed by the people who loved him for it.
Simply put: I just miss my friend Brent. I'll miss commiserating with him as an Astros fan, talking about badass new restaurants we should try, decrying the wimpiness of the political left, and good music, bad music, my music, all music. It changed me in very real ways, and I'll never forget him for it.
P.S. - I will, though, forever oppose Brent's assertion that you can't make a truly iconic rock record if you're over 30 years old. It's a mad premise that I'll happily engage anyone in as fervently as he and I did, far too often. :D
-Bobby Nall, SXSW Staff
We were at Kelly Ramsey & Miles Zuniga's baby shower at the Legion Hall. They had rented a karoke machine for the festivities. Well there were several accomplished musicians and singers in attendance (members of Small Stars, Fastballl, etc.) so it was quite intimidating and nobody was gonna go up on stage. Miles then pleaded with the group and said "come on we rented this and it is going to waste, anybody ready to volunteer"? After an awkward beat, Brent stands up and says "I'll go but it ain't gonna be pretty" and proceeded to belt out a tune, although loud and proud and heartfelt a little off-key and slightly painful. However, it did break the ice. After that "performance" we all looked at each other and went "well I can follow that!" and then the reluctants who were kicking their feet got up and the show went on. That was Brent, not afraid to make others laugh at his own expense. I'll never forget that, miss him so.
-April R. Litz, SXSW Staff
I met Brent on a speaking tour of Brazil that we were both on 8 years ago. Every other morning we would get up at the crack of dawn, take a flight to a new city, do a series of presentations, meetings, meals and then finally watch a few too many bands. At that time my connections to SXSW's organization were weak and after many hours of talking and traveling with him, he started talking about ways we could work together more. Brent was responsible for opening up the doors to SXSW to me. He took he under his wing, introduced me to many people at the company and spear headed ways that we could work together. SXSW has become hugely significant for my agency. Brent was extremely kind, and whenever I would think of SXSW from afar, I would think of him, his generosity, support and easy going attitude. All the best.
-Tom Windish, The Windish Agency
Brent Grulke had a pretty insatiable lust for life. He devoured it: music, books, travel, food, wine, friends, family, Guinness. That's why everyone loved being in his orbit. He was just engaged in life with an intensity that drew people to him like a magnet. There are so many memories that have been resurfacing this past few days. The time a few of us went to a tiny Italian restaurant in San Francisco and Brent, donning a huge bib to eat a steaming bowl of cioppino, still managed to spill it on his shirt. Dressed in a frilly Carnaby Street shirt and striped blazer to introduce his hero Pete Townsend for the keynote address at SXSW 2007. Toting a camera, wearing a tiny backpack and looking like an excited teenager at a Wannabes show. Waxing rhapsodic about expensive, rare Scotch and laughing when I said it tasted like peat. The man who was my boss, my friend, my go-to wine expert and who made me laugh so much was a gifted, smart, diplomatic, genteel and hilarious fellow. I will miss him terribly. We all will.
-Luann Williams, SXSW Staff
I'll never forget the impacting words Brent said to me during the last SXSW festival.
Brent, another coworker, and I were the only 3 remaining zombies in the staff suite in the Hilton Hotel after one night of the music festival. The night had gone into hours that I didn't know existed before I was a SXSW employee. We shared random stories of things we've been through. Funny stories & the kind of stories that people long for in a conversation. Stories that helped each other learn something new about the person presenting, no matter the age or background. I definitely heard my share of stories that could only come from Brent's mouth, and for that, I'm thankful.
After speaking about where I grew up, how I was raised, etc, Brent stopped me and said, "Elliott. I know WHO you are. That's why I hired you." He went on to tell me how he knew my character, work ethic, and ultimately, my goal to do something beyond my small-town roots. That's what he came from, and he recognized it in me. Those words meant a lot. He knew the value of his employees, trusted all of us with our respective duties, and he knew how and when to show his appreciation.
Brent gave me a chance that I wouldn't have had anywhere else. I jokingly told him once that I "owe him a beer" after hiring me, but in a literal sense, it's more. Much more. I was fortunate enough to have known Brent for just a few short years, but so many more people were fortunate enough to have known him longer. My heart goes out to all who were close in his life, including our SXSW Family.
-Elliott Usrey, SXSW Staff
I do remember my first trip to SXSW very well. Among many others I will never forget the show of Calexico in the year 2000 at Antone's. I was was deeply impressed by the atmosphere and music all over 6th. Street in Austin! Already on my flight back to Hamburg I was quite convinced that there is maybe only one street in the world with a similar music-history as well as a useful number of venues. Thank you Brent for your inspiration! I was very glad that you were visiting us last year and that we had the chance to talk about the source and the development of Reeperbahn Festival.
-Alex Schulz, Reeperbahn Festival
I learned of the sad and untimely death of Brent Grulke at the age of only 52 this week while I was on a family vacation in France, a country he routinely visited in his role as Creative Director of SXSW, the world’s biggest and most important music festival and conference.[briefbreak]
It was while attending MIDEM music industry event in Cannes, a few years ago Brent spotted a disheveled but charismatic British singer playing in a small board room and he decided he had to have her at his event. As a result I was lucky enough to see a then-unknown Amy Winehouse backed up by the Dap Band in a small, half-filled Sixth Avenue Club in Austin, Texas, an event typical of the music magic Brent and his colleagues regularly have created at Southby. This now-legendary artistic-free-for-all is unlikely to have achieved its world-beating significance without his steady hand. Hell, Winehouse probably wouldn’t have either, such was the magic this quiet-but-driven man was continually capable of.
Brent was one of the good guys, a gentle bear of a man with a lovely smile and blue eyes that were never afraid to meet yours head on. In an industry crowded with egos, Brent never let his own get in the way of the artists and the music he was so committed to promote. It would be easy to overlook just how important a player this unassuming man was in creating Southby’s unlikely success but his heartbroken colleagues in Texas sure know.
Like many of the Southby pioneers, Brent was part of the team that created the Austin Chronicle, the still independent alternative newsweekly in that rocking Texas town. In addition to writing for the Chron, he was a soundman on Austin’s talent-packed music scene and regularly working with bands no doubt helped deepen his commitment to their needs at the fest he helped create.
As a co-founder of Canada’s Northbynortheast (NXNE) festival I got to move my friendship with Brent from buddy to colleague as he led a team of Texans north to help us launch our event in 1996. Our gang came up with the slogan “It’s for the music” as our early credo but Brent would have directed us there, insisting that we always have the best backline for the bands, treat them with respect and for god’s sake make sure the gigs actually started on time. Brent and a Southby team worked directly at our side in Toronto for the first five years of NXNE. He always remained available for essential consultations and for the great pleasure of talking music together.
He knew that by treating bands well, they’d want to play our event and the audiences and industry would eventually show up too. But I think Brent wanted to do things that way, because, in his heart, it was the right thing to do.
The only thing he loved more than music was his family and I still recall the delight with which he shared the wonderful news of the birth of his son Graham six years ago to he and his wife Kristen.
SXSW has become a monster event, capable of generating headlines around the world and now even the planet’s biggest names clamber to play the event’s jam-packed stages.
But I will never forget the chaos of SXSW’s early days, when none of us, I am sure Brent included, could have imagined how big it was going to become. It was an all-hands-on-deck affair and though he never complained, you knew he was working 26 hour days to pull it off. Battered and bruised just from attending in the mid-80s, I skipped the Sunday exodus from town and stayed over on a Monday before heading back home. I dropped into Austin’s legendary Waterloo Records to grab some of the awesome music I had seen and heard over the weekend, the excellent tunes still ringing in my ears of bands I just didn’t want to forget.
Pouring through stacks of records, I looked over at a figure bent over doing the same as me, unbelievably it was Brent.
“What are you doing here man? Haven’t you had enough music? Don’t you need a break?”
“Hi Michael,” he said the words slowly propelled by that smile of his. He sweetly shrugged his shoulders and tucked back into the stacks of music, a pile of discs already jammed between his arm and his ribs. He was just doing what he loved, it had become his job but it was always his passion.
Adios amigo, long may you run.
-Michael Hollett, NOW (Toronto, Canada)