Brent Grulke (1961-2012)

On the morning of August 13th, Brent Grulke, Creative Director of SXSW passed away as a result of a heart attack after undergoing oral surgery. He was 52.  His sudden and unexpected death has shocked and saddened not only those closest to him and all his colleagues at SXSW, but the many, many friends and associates that he made in his constant travels around the World on behalf of the hugely respected and ever growing Austin, Texas, event.

Brent was a music man through and through - previously a writer and Records Review Editor for the Austin Chronicle, he also worked as a record producer, sound engineer, tour manager and record company executive, working in the marketing division of Spindletop Records in the early 1990s. 

He began working for SXSW as a stage manager pretty much on day one of the event in 1987, initially booking local and underground and then going on to become creative director in 1994 to help create the huge international reputation that it now commands.

Brent became an extremely well known figure at many of the European Festival and Conference events. An outgoing and friendly man with an insatiable appetite for music, people, conversation and the odd glass of good wine - or several – I have lost count of the number of countries in which we shared these things, and I, like many others, will miss his company. But he’d always check out the bands– that’s what he was there for and he never forgot it – and he knew which acts could make it in front of the highly choosy business and fan audiences in the Austin venues. I recall him battling his way up a storm lashed Brighton Pier, having flown in that day, to get to Horatio’s Bar where I was presenting four local acts – wiping the rain off his glasses saying, “ I told you I’d be here!” The following day he gave two of the acts the chance to play at SXSW and told me exactly why he thought the other two wouldn’t benefit from the trip.

His colleague, Managing Director and co-founder of SXSW had the following to say:

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 endeavours 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.”

Brent never made it to ILMC as SXSW usually took place within days of each other, but there was a definite link and a friendship established between the two events, and he did once write a piece for IQ.

It was for the second issue in February 2005, and it finished with the following words which pretty much sum up his approach to music and life: “My favourite south by Southwest memories still revolve around seeing Alejandro (Escovedo) on the Sunday night, playing like nothing matters but that show, that moment, and realising that the best and most foolish part of the music business is all based on capturing something as ephemeral and magical as that. That’s what makes this work so enjoyable. Which leads to the dirty little secret that’s neither especially dirty or secret: for the music business pros at SXSW, the business may need to justify itself in business terms, but nobody would come if it weren’t great fun….

Brent Grulke is survived by his wife, Kristen, and 6-year-old son, Graham, as well as brothers Brad and Brian.

The family has established the Graham Grulke Education Fund. Contributions can be directed to:
EMG, Inc.
6101 West Courtyard Drive
Suite 2-120
Austin, Texas 78730
Attn: Brad Grulke
Please make donation payable to the Graham Grulke Education Fund