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Brent William Grulke

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Brent William Grulke Brent Grulke-father, son, husband, writer, raconteur, oenophile, gourmand, Astros fan, road manager, sound man, Creative Director of South by Southwest, irresistible force of nature-died August 13 of cardiac arrest after undergoing oral surgery. Word of Brent's passing sped around the world to the thousands of people who knew him and counted him as a friend. As these people reached out to others, many of them realized that Brent was how they had met-he was their connection to much of what they knew and loved about Austin. Everything led back to Brent, a big bear of a man with a loud voice, a sweet manner, and a habit of making everyone around him feel happy to be there. Brent was born in North Platte, Nebraska, on January 25, 1961, a date he liked to call "Brentmas." His family lived in Omaha, Palatine (a suburb of Chicago), and Columbia, Mississippi. He began his record collection there when his mother allowed him to pick a 45 single and he chose the Beatles' "Come Together" b/w "Something." The family moved to Spring, Texas in 1974, right before he started high school. Brent was a tall, muscular kid and in high school he played tight end on the football team. He also loved reading and playing the guitar, and he would do both late into the night, until his mother told him to turn out the lights and go to bed. He was buying eight-track tapes and records and also making cassette tapes of himself playing his favorite songs and pretending he was a DJ. He could have gone to college anywhere, but after reading The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, by Jan Reid, a book that told of the richness of the progressive country music scene in Austin, he chose to go to UT, in 1979. Brent moved to Austin and became a student in UT's Radio-Television-Film department. He began his writing career, doing music reviews for the Daily Texan, and hanging around with young bands. Soon he was running sound for them in local clubs in the growing local music scene; by 1984 he was producing them in the studio. In 1985 he put together a compilation of 18 groups called Bands on the Block, one of the first attempts to chronicle the music scene. Brent (by then a writer for the Austin Chronicle) also wrote the liner notes; "It's rock n roll I like," he wrote, "Let me live how I want to." Soon he was going on the road with bands as they toured the US-Wild Seeds, Doctors' Mob, True Believers, the Reivers. Brent became as well known as the musicians themselves for his various enthusiasms, including mixing the bands as loud as he possibly could. He was passionate about music and loved staying up late, drinking and telling stories with new friends in new cities. In 1986 Brent's friend, the tattoo artist Rollo Banks, told him his eyes looked like those of a horse escaping a burning barn-so could he ink that on his right arm? Brent loved the idea as well as the resulting artwork showing a wild-eyed horse peeking through a circle of flames. He began working for SXSW in 1987, first as a stage manager and later as Showcase Production manager. Three years later he also became music editor of the Austin Chronicle. But he wanted a change and the next year moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for Spindletop Records. He moved back to Austin in 1994 and be became SXSW's Creative Director, responsible for arranging venues and booking bands for a growing music festival. Indeed, Brent put the festival into overdrive. His relationships with people helped bring in more great talent, while he also recruited a hard-working staff. Brent had a lot of faith in people; some thought he was overestimating their abilities, seeing in them better people than they in fact saw in themselves. In return they did amazing work. Under Brent's direction SXSW grew to be the most important music conference in the world, booking 2,286 bands this year. He also traveled extensively for SXSW-Singapore, Japan, Germany, Argentina, France. Brent was the perfect ambassador for SXSW-gregarious, jovial, funny, smart. He was as passionate about music in the summer of 2012 as was the summer of 1985, returning from Buenos Aires or Koln to tell friends about a great new band he had heard. Brent was proud of his role in helping build the deep, broad Austin music community, but he knew that music wasn't the only thing in life. He met Kristen Brock in 2002 and started dating; a week later he asked her to marry him. She told him he was nuts but the next day he sent out an Evite that read, "Kristen and Brent to wed." They married and they had a son, Graham, in 2005. Brent adored both Kristen and Graham and the family lived in a gorgeous home in South Austin, where he would play with his son, listen to his CDs, read his books, watch his Astros, make fabulous meals with Kristen, and drink exquisite wine. His appetites were well-known--for experience, for pleasure, for companionship. More than anything he loved to be with his friends, often at his favorite haunt, the Dog 'n Duck Pub, where he bought far more rounds for them than they bought for him. Brent loved conversation and would talk for hours about things he cared about. He made pronouncements and people listened; he laughed his thunderous laugh and people joined in. He was quite aware of darker twists of fate, pounding his fist on the table and shaking his head at some horrible tragedy. Brent would have been the first to appreciate the cosmic horribleness of the absurd way in which he died. "I mean," he would have said, shaking his head, "I go to the oral surgeon and then have a heart attack? Come on!" Brent loved to talk, but he also loved to listen. He was genuinely curious about the people around him and the things they knew. Brent would focus closely on what his friends were saying, tuning out all else. He made them feel special, important. Friends would seek him out with their problems and Brent pretty much saved the lives of several of them going through terrible life crises, especially divorce. He grabbed one of them who he knew needed to get out of town and away from a toxic situation-and took him along to a music conference in St. Louis to have some fun. Another he pushed to get a career-changing job. A third he drove with to the Texas coast (with a third friend) taking walks on the beach, eating, drinking, and talking long into the night. You didn't have to drive long distances with Brent to feel his love. He made everyone around him feel good to be alive. It's almost like that was his mission, though he would have scoffed at such an idea. He was just happy to be here, with people who loved him as much as he loved them. Brent was preceded in death by his parents Beverly and Lawrence Grulke. He is survived by his wife Kristen, his son Graham, his brother Brian, his brother Brad and his wife Laura and their daughters Jordan and Lily, and numerous aunts, uncles, and extended family and friends. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a donation be made to the Graham Grulke Education Fund, c/o Brad Grulke, 3601 Bee Creek Rd, Spicewood Texas 78669.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Aug. 15, 2012
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