Amplifying Dissent with Buck Johnson
This week we interviewed Buck Johnson, musician and host of the Counterflow podcast.
We're excited to launch an interview series with artists where we discuss censorship and live performance in the current climate. Buck Johnson is a Lockhart, TX based musician, firefighter and creator of the excellent Counterflow podcast (f.k.a. Death to Tyrants).
Music For All: There seems to be a false conception that things are completely normal in "red states". I moved outside of Nashville, TN earlier this year in an effort to Escape NY™️ and was disappointed and surprised by how many venues were eager to push vaccine mandates and masks, despite no government pressure to do so. How would you describe the current Austin, TX music scene? Are you noticing the same — has it recovered at all?
Buck Johnson: So, for the most part, even in deep blue Austin, most club-type venues aren't requiring masks or vaxx cards. Some bigger ones like Moody Theatre are requiring the vaxx and masks both- which is illegal but oh well. You'll still see musicians who pretend to be "rebels" in years past now masking up but overall, it's all voluntary. It definitely gets better as you go outside of the big cities. Here in Lockhart, no place would dream of requiring the vaxx or masks. And if you hit up any of the old dance halls in small towns, none of them really even cared when 2020 was at peak mask-mandate. The old country music fans- almost all church goers- were the true rebels of the moment.
On Ep. 176: How Progressivism Killed Art, Beauty, and Culture of your podcast Counterflow, featuring Jack the Perfume Nationalist — y'all discussed "fear of atmospheric pollutants" in the late 80's and early 90's concurrent with smoking bans.
Jack described the theatrics of pretending to be disturbed by perfume scents as a way for upper middle class white people to signify class. I've been thinking about this a lot with how this sort of trendy performative hysteria relates to covid restrictions, especially in venues. As a musician, how have you been affected by this increased focus on safety and censorship in performance spaces and music in general over the past few decades?
This is an awesome question. Also, Jack is one of my favorite guests. He's great. Certainly, the smoking ban was big in this regard. It was all the rage in Austin. People were all of a sudden "scientists' when it came to diagnosing the dangers of secondhand smoke. I had discussions with bartenders who believed that privately owned bars were "public property" and therefore fell under the "public health" umbrella. Brilliant right? That ended up hurting some bars but not like the lockdowns did. I saw SO many musicians over 2020 begging bars not to open and pleading that they need welfare from the government to sit home and do nothing. One Austin musician I know posted a diatribe on FB explaining that we should all sit home and even then, if people shame you into learning a new skill or practicing or writing a new album, they are complete assholes and it's perfectly fine to just watch movies and play video games while you get government money.
Can you share any artists you know that are performing locally or touring without enforcing mandates?
Yes- Reverend Horton Heat, Dale Watson and Jimmie Vaughan are all excellent on this topic. I know them all and they don't back down despite some of the flack they receive. Unfortunately, people like them are few and far between. Also, the Oi band Hardsell is good and on our side. Oh- and of course Madball and Jonathan Joseph of The Cro-Mags- they're not only playing hardcore music, they're hardcore in their stance against this insanity. I love em.
Is there any advice you would give for a musician looking to book a tour without mandates? Do you think it's a sustainable solution for musicians to simply refuse to play markets (ie: NYC, L.A.) where they can't perform free of mandates?
My advice is to always stand strong. At some point, more and more folks will look back on these years and mock the idiots that were pro lockdown, pro mask and pro jab mandates. Right now, the idiots are the loud ones. There are so many who are on our side yet scared to say so. The tide is turning and the last thing you wanna do is sacrifice yourself for the sake of fools. Stay strong and play the places you can play. Mock the fools. Don't give in and you will weather this mess. People respect leaders and bravery. Good people do, at least. You'll end up better in the long run when you stand firm in your convictions.
Hernandos Hideaway in Memphis is owned by Dale Watson. They'll never require masks and/or vaxx passes.
This interview is part of a series discussing mandates, restrictions and censorship with musicians and music fans —read more of these interviews here.
Thank you for reading! Here's a link to the podcast episode mentioned above.