Brent Grulke, SXSW Music Creative Director, Dies of Heart Attack

Photo by John Anderson
Brent Grulke came to Austin from Nebraska because of a book about "Redneck Rock."
Brent Grulke, a former Austin Chronicle music writer and editor who rose to the head of SXSW's Music division, died Monday in Austin. The cause of death was a heart attack following oral surgery, wrote Raoul Hernandez, one of Grulke's successor as the paper's Music Editor, on the Chronicle's Web site.

Grulke had been with SXSW since its first year in 1987, beginning as a stage manager and rising to the position of Creative Director. He was in charge of booking the festival, which grew from a couple of hundred local and regional artists that played mostly roots and alternative rock to thousands of performers in almost every possible style of music practiced across the globe.

Grulke, who was 52, was a native of North Platte, Nebraska. In the early to mid-'80s, he attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he became Arts Editor at student newspaper The Daily Texan. He later became Music Editor at the Austin Chronicle, a position he held in the early '90s.

According to former Billboard Canadian bureau chief Larry LeBlanc's "Hot Seat" profile of Grulke that ran on the CelebrityAccess Web site (part of, a music-industry trade site), SXSW 2009 was projected to bring an economic impact of $110 million to the Austin economy, as it had long since branched out into SXSW Film and Interactive festivals.

Grulke told LeBlanc that he became Creative Director in 1995 after a year of booking panels. He wound up in Austin after deciding to move there after reading Jan Reid's 1974 book The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, Grulke added.

"I read it in high school and thought, "I am going to Austin," he said.

Another profile of Grulke well worth reading is an interview he did with Austin fanzine Geek Weekly for its Spring 2001 issue. This one was much more off the cuff.

"Well, the most horrible thing about Austin in the old days was that it was really hard to find a job," said Grulke, who also worked as a sound engineer in Austin bands such as Doctor's Mob, the Killer Bees and the True Believers, as well as the A&R department of L.A.-based Spindletop Records. "As a consequence, it was really hard for anybody to make any money at all. It was just really hard to make money -- job or pursuit of art. It was really cheap, but it was really hard to find any work."

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Brent was the best guy ever and, in his role at SXSW, always non-partisan in his bookings.  He worked diligently to produce the best that the festival could offer and to be as inclusive as possible.  We hung out a bit in the early days (mid-80's) and later when he was SXSW Creative Director - same humble person.  His wife Kristen is a real jewel, sending prayers her way.

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