Cactus Cafe Partnership with KUT Radio Announced

May 19, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Citing KUT Radio's experience in the music industry, the prospects for financial stability and support from student leaders for the plan, The University of Texas at Austin has created a partnership with the university's public radio station to continue and enhance the operation of the Cactus Cafe.

In making the announcement, Vice President for Student Affairs Juan González said the plan will preserve the "cultural legacy" of the Cactus Cafe.

"I want to thank everyone who shared opinions, ideas and aspirations regarding the Cactus Cafe with me during the past several months," González said. "I realize that this decision will not satisfy everyone. But I truly believe that this plan is in the best interests of our students, the community and the viability of the Cactus Cafe."

The decision was announced after nearly three-and-a-half months of discussion and public input. In late January, the Texas Union advisory board supported a recommendation to restructure the venue, which was underused by students and had been losing money for several years.

KUT will assign a full-time manager to oversee the Cactus Cafe operation and to develop year-round programming and a sustainable business model. KUT is a division of the university's College of Communication.

The daytime operations and bar will remain under the direction of Texas Union management, according to González. The partnership will take effect in August and include a year-round performance schedule of about 200 nights per year, comparable to the schedule the Cactus Cafe has offered.

González said the partnership has three important features:

  1. The Cactus Cafe will continue its year-round programming, live music performances and daily bar operations under the KUT-Texas Union partnership. KUT will contact artists, students, Cactus management and community members for input on its plan. KUT has set up an e-mail address,, where people can express their ideas.
  2. The partnership has strong student support and has benefited from student and community input. A majority of Student Government leaders and the Texas Union Board of Directors are advocates of the partnership, which will provide student-learning opportunities through internship and work-study programs. The plan does not call for continuing a subsidy from students' tuition.
  3. KUT will share the Cactus Cafe experience with broader national and global audiences through broadcast programs and online features. KUT will use its content production, fundraising, business management and event promotion capability to make the Cactus Cafe sustainable.

"KUT is honored by the opportunity to carry on the great tradition of the Cactus Cafe," said Stewart Vanderwilt, director and general manager of KUT Radio, which has a weekly audience of 250,000 and is credited with helping to establish the leading online music destination "We believe the Cactus Cafe plays an essential role in the Austin music experience and are committed to preserving and sharing that experience with the UT campus and beyond."

"KUT has the potential to create an energized, student-focused music venue at the heart of campus," said Scott Parks, president of Student Government, "and their plan is in line with the values that students have expressed to me from the beginning. It will respect and maintain the character of the café, it will provide the Cactus with a sustainable business model and it will involve more students in the space. I'm excited to represent students as we work with KUT moving forward."

Initial enhancements may include live broadcasts from the Cactus Cafe, sponsorship opportunities, the ability to reserve tickets in advance, introduction of credit card transactions and downloadable podcasts. This is not the first KUT-Cactus Cafe collaboration. KUT is now digitizing 10 years of "KUT Live at the Cactus" recordings from the 1980s for its musical library.

For more information, contact: Erin Geisler, KUT Radio, College of Communication, 512-475-8071.

27 Comments to "Cactus Cafe Partnership with KUT Radio Announced"

1.  Melissa Goodrich said on May 19, 2010

This makes it easy to leave UT out of my philanthropy. Nothing now and nothing later. The French Legation, The Animal House of Jamaica and several worthier groups will receive an extra check.

2.  Michael Scully said on May 19, 2010

Everyone's watching. Griff built the brand and got the shaft. Has anyone representing UT even thanked him publicly? Acknowledged what he did? As far as the music is concerned, I trust the cafe will be just as good or better. After all, we're getting "experience in the music industry" (of a sort). Speaking as one who has attended more than a few Cactus concerts, a 30-minute "from the Cactus" interview is not equivalent programming. Nor is a sudden abundance of open mic nights and student poetry readings. We'll see.

3.  Richard Lamb said on May 19, 2010

The decision is a WINNER for the university and Austin! Congratulations, Juan, on this great collaboration!

4.  Anne Feeney said on May 19, 2010

I look forward to working with the new representatives for the Cactus. I hope this will involve a greater outreach to the Austin community from the Cactus/KUT organizers!

5.  Bruce Pennycook said on May 19, 2010

This sounds like a good compromise. However, I hope that the Austin singer-songwriter genre will not necessarily dominate the venue as there are many other venues for this style of music. UT has many talented student musicians who would greatly benefit from exposure at the Cactus Café though broadening the audience will be a challenge.

6.  Henry Stopher said on May 19, 2010

Sounds good. Morning hours could be devoted to student internships and seminars on operating the sound, the bar, keeping records, handling publicity, and managing the venue and bookings. CDs of the evening's entertainment could be sold by subscription, or even right after the show, to attendees only, at a reasonable price, say under $10 to run off a CD from the sound board, slip it into a generic cover, and hand it to the patron. Broadcast the shows on KUT and online for free, with UT-oriented announcements and PSAs.

Much success!

7.  billn said on May 20, 2010

Yes, this makes a lot of sense to me. Way to go, I was hoping something was brewing in the background. This is a perfect match. Hats off to those who worked this deal out!

8.  MB Rogers said on May 20, 2010

As a UT employee and long time live music supporter, I am thrilled to hear about this solution and partnership. The thought of the Cactus Cafe closing was heartbreaking...collaborating with KUT is genius! Well done, thanks for making my day!

9.  Cameron Alexander said on May 20, 2010

So, is Griff out of the picture? Seems like he's the guy who's largely responsible for the Cactus' success. I've rarely heard him mentioned through all of this.

10.  Chris Edmonds said on May 20, 2010

Right. Who's operating the liquor vendorship? Who's the "chosen one" who then takes over in two years when it's "not working out" with KUT operating it? Do you think we're stupid? Obviously a sweet deal has been made and it will become apparent in time. We will not forget nor forgive. Good luck with that.

11.  John Woods said on May 21, 2010

I'm a member of Student Government (SG). And I think this release is incredibly misleading.

The 09/10 SG Assembly voted unanimously to support the Student Friends plan -- not the KUT plan. The 10/11 Assembly did not debate the issue at all. Graduate Student Assembly supported the Student Friends plan, if I remember correctly.

This statement that administration had support from a majority of student leaders cannot possibly be true. SG was surveyed -- informally, with a guarantee of confidentiality -- but only 12 people responded. That's only about one-third or fewer.

Many of those were not supportive of the KUT plan. The administration needs to check its calculations again.

As an SG representative. I'm tired of being scapegoated on the Cactus issue by an administration that practices extremely selective hearing.

The worst part is that the Assembly won't meet again until fall, and thus cannot possibly respond formally to these misleading statements by the Dean of Students.

Students do NOT support this plan. We are pleased we get to keep the Cactus, but tired of being manipulated for the purpose of press releases.

John Woods
Graduate School Representative
UT Student Government

12.  Matt Portillo said on May 21, 2010

I had an interesting conversation with Dr. González yesterday evening at commencement rehearsal. He expressed to me that, in one year, he believes we'll be looking at a robust, prosperous Cactus Cafe and applauding the decision announced on May 19. Dr. G is a great guy, and I truly hope he's right.

However, the fact remains there are countless loose ends and unanswered questions looming in the foreground of this issue. This KUT plan is vague at best and this is evident to anyone who has read the two-and-a-half page proposal describing KUT management. I appreciate the administration's optimism and I want to share the sentiment, but I really can't until the public learns what exactly is entailed in this new plan. As a student leader, I'm concerned about the ramifications of this new plan on UT's relationship with the community, but I'm far MORE concerned with the issue of student involvement. A couple weeks ago, I was quick to throw my support behind a detailed proposal put forth by the organization Friends of the Cactus Cafe because it proposed maintaining some continuity with the past Cactus tradition while at the same initiating about half a dozen well-described student initiatives, including student artists-in-residence and for-credit internships...and the whole operation would have run about $38,000 in the black. The KUT plan, as far as I know, maintains questionable continuity with the past, creates a few more intern positions over at the station, and suggests working with unnamed "student programming committees" business plan or numbers attached.

I'm not trying to be the pessimist here. Really, I'm not. I'm just concerned. I'd love some answers and some more details, but I don't know if they exist right now. I devoted my entire spring semester to developing an informed perspective on this issue by way of conversations with almost everyone involved in making this decision, and I truly want the best for our dear university and the Cactus Cafe (which is as much a community of people as it is a performance space). I hope that administrator and student leader decision-makers will follow the lead of Andrew Nash and make significant efforts to better understand the the venue (i.e. attend a few performances, chat with current management).

Please know that I am not simply resistant to any type of change. However, I do realize that there is good change and there is bad change, and sudden, sweeping, heavy-handed changes typically fall into the category of the latter. Careful and gradual changes, on the other hand, have great potential to see broad success, and THESE are the types of changes I hope that the administration will begin to implement.

My hand remains extended, as it has been for the past three and a half months. However, the pessimist in me can't help but worry that this is a runaway train bound for who-knows-what. I welcome input and discussion, and I welcome the administration to involve me in their efforts to move forward.

And then there's the statement about the plan having "strong student support," including from the Student Government assembly, which is a whole other conversation that I don't have time to address right now. Maybe someone else will take that one...

Hook 'em!

-Matt Portillo

University-wide representative, UT Student Government

13.  Wiley Koepp said on May 21, 2010

VP Gonzalez and Dean Lilly of Student Affairs requested input on the Cactus Cafe's future. They formed a "Conversations" group comprised of students, community leaders, and Friends of the Cactus Cafe. Their sole output was six guiding concepts.

The plan announced on May 19 does not even meet these six, very broad goals. The dearth of student involvement in the KUT plan is a shame. And there is no business plan whatsoever, much less one that shows the promise of a financial profit. These oversights make me question the decision-makers' commitment to both the UT student body and to the Austin community.

I am a proud alum and employee of UT Austin. But the handling of relations with the community, the current UT staff who are long-time Cactus Cafe employees, and misrepresentation of student support throughout this process, to me, is a large black eye on our university.

14.  Jo Ann Richmond said on May 27, 2010

Being a UT alum and employee also, I have to agree with John Woods and Wiley Koepp on this one. If you have been following this story from the very beginning, then you would see why this was just a mere compromise on the part of UT, and it really does not solve the underlying issue at hand: leaving the Cactus Cafe as it was and is supposed to be. Shame on VP Juan Gonzalez and UT.

15.  Carolyn Cates Wylie said on May 27, 2010

I'm curious as to where all these other good places to hear singer-songwriters are. Places where the audience talks continuously so that no one can hear the music don't count, and those are all I've found outside the Cactus.

It would be easier to support the KUT connection if there were any commitment there to keep the current Cactus staff, but it seems more likely that there is no chance that will happen. I stopped contributing to KUT last year when they cut most of Larry Monroe's programs. It's hard to imagine they plant to treat Griff and Chris and Susan any better than they did Larry and Paul Ray and John Aelli. I hope I'm wrong.

16.  Jimmy said on May 27, 2010

Last time I checked, the universal comment from the students was "meh." I've never used this place to the best of my knowledge, and it seemed like all of the uproar came from the people who like to play there to foist their second-rate music on students too lazy to go down to Red River.

17.  Ronald Santon said on May 28, 2010

Transfer Griff Luneburg to KUT which gives him the means to capitalize on the new mandate because he deserves the opportunity. Keep the Cactus team together and rehire Susan and Chris and the student employees. Not only is it great publicity and goodwill, it's a no-brainier. It shows that KUT and the Texas Union care about the UT employees who made the Cactus a success. This team is a recipe for KUT/Cactus success, and KUT can then say that they saved the Cactus.

18.  Priya said on May 31, 2010

I love, love, love KUT, and I'm so glad that the Cactus is not being shut down. However, I'm skeptical of a radio station's ability to run a live music venue successfully, and for the station to remain successful while doing it! This is a case of mission drift for KUT: it is straying from its core business. Best of luck to both entities.

19.  Mort said on June 1, 2010

This is fantastic! Thank goodness for KUT, or the Cactus would be toast. The Cactus is a legendary listening room, of which there are few left. I hope Griff is rehired, but even if he isn't, I think KUT is the perfect choice for keeping the spirit of this place alive. I look forward to more great shows!

20.  Ben Around said on June 4, 2010

Sounds to me like if KUT doesn't take on the task, no other body has the guts to take it on.

21.  james fowler said on June 5, 2010

People are talking about Griff, and his getting the shaft, and not getting recognized for the "success" of the Cactus. If there had been some success recently, it wouldn't be faced with closing. Think about this: Why can't a place serving both coffee and beer attract enough customers to be viable on a 50,000-student university campus? Because it was managed so well? While a student at UT, I went there very regularly because IT WAS ONE OF THE FEW PLACES ON THE CAMPUS THAT WAS NEVER CROWDED. Thank God, it's going to stay open. Give Chris a huge raise, spend some money on marketing, and let him run everything.

22.  steve englander said on June 5, 2010

We'll have to see how this turns out. If KUT rehires Griff and his crew, allows the Cactus to continue to do what they do best, it may be worth continuing to support UT. If not, there are plenty of other worthwhile causes out there.

23.  Brandon said on June 7, 2010

This is very exciting! Bemba Entertainment would love to take over the booking. It's time that the Cafe reached out to the many student organizations on campus and provide performances they would like to see.

24.  Ronald Santon said on June 11, 2010

@ James: Obviously, you did not attend the concerts because for the shows which I attended, the Cactus was packed. "Think about it"? 1) A Starbucks landed on the Cafe's front doorstep. 2) UT prohibited on-campus advertising of beer to those 50,000 students (only a small portion who are actually drinking age). That might make "recent success" difficult for any manager. It's unfair to blame Griff for a situation beyond his control.

25.  Jeff Miller said on June 17, 2010

No one but Griff should be booking bands/running this venue. How do you people think the venue became world renowned? GRIFF MADE IT THAT WAY!!! It didn't happen by itself.

I just love how some people are clamoring around this for possible opportunities. Shameful.

No Griff = No Cactus.

26.  Tomoko Ikeda said on June 20, 2010

I was too disappointed to say ANYTHING when this decision was announced on May 19. It's been a month now, and I think I need to add my voice here.

This decision is wrong in so many ways and at so many levels, but I'd like to focus on one thing: the university's inability to function as an educational institution of integrity.

It all started when Mr. Andy Smith (formerly Texas Union Director and currently University Unions Executive Director), who had more than doubled his income since 1997 and had given himself an approximately 8 percent raise from 2008 to 2009, proposed to Dr. Gonzalez to close the Cactus Cafe for a budget reason. Since the university announced the decision on Jan. 29 to close the music venue, there have been many versions of the story regarding the reasons for closing and then re-purposing the Cactus, its "deficits," etc. Thanks to the Texas Observer and others' efforts, we now know how the Office of Student Affairs worked hard to manipulate the way the information was transmitted. We also learned that the Texas Union Board as a whole never voted, as mandated by the Handbook of Operating Procedures, on the original proposal to close the Cactus that led to this whole debacle. The Cactus Conversations group was formed in response to massive outcry, but based on its participants' statements, we can safely say that it was merely a charade. Misrepresentation of student support (i.e., only the voices of a few students who supported what the university administration wanted count, and three major student organizations' voices were completely ignored) is beyond belief.

According to an Austin Chronicle article (June 18, 2010), the university is attempting to block the release of documents about how and why the administration decided to hand the music operation of the Cactus over to KUT. The same article mentions KUT manager Stewart Vanderwilt's remarks that there are still a lot of operational details they need to discuss and that they need to identify what are the core attributes that must be preserved. Apparently, contrary to the university's triumphant announcement of the KUT-Cactus partnership plan, there was no real plan whatsoever or even a substantial vision when the decision was made. Then, on what basis was this plan, which was not even among the original three options presented by Dr. Gonzalez, chosen?

Because of the current administration's inability to act logically and honestly, my faith in UT has died out. My diploma in a beautiful frame will remain in a box until the university will be run by people who are committed to its core purpose, values and honor code.

27.  janie said on June 30, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new. Let the whiners open their own venue.