As the self-proclaimed “Music Capital of the World,” Austin, TX has such a vibrant music scene that it’s almost as if something’s been added to the local drinking water. At the very least, thanks to the efforts of Austinite Dean Wolfe and his company Texas Music Water, the simple act of drinking water can now benefit local music.
In what Wolfe refers to as “the greatest decision I’ve ever made,” the native Midwesterner moved to Austin 27 years ago. In 2010, he started Texas Music Water as a way to generate funds to help struggling musicians. According to Wolfe, the concept was simple: Every live show he went to in Austin, musicians and audience members alike were always drinking bottled water. He reasoned that if a portion of the proceeds from every bottle went right back to them – with many local musicians lacking access to basic health care and services – it would add up to make a big difference. He launched Texas Music Water soon afterwards and partnered with organizations including Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), which provides health care for uninsured musicians, and the SIMS Foundation, an organization lending mental health support and addiction recovery services to musicians and their families. Taking a holistic view of the music ecosystem in Austin, Wolfe soon expanded Texas Music Water’s focus to service underfunded music programs in local schools and also formed a partnership with Anthropos Arts, a nonprofit that brings professional musicians into local low-income schools.
As Texas Music Water continues to expand, with organizations from Austin City Limits to Utah’s Sundance Film Festival ordering it by the case, Wolfe eventually hopes to bring the product (and its positive benefits) to other cities in the US with the launch of American Music Water. In the meantime, he’s helping to keep the local music community here in Austin thriving, one bottle at a time. Twenty thousand bottles and counting, he’s off to a pretty great start.
Tell us about Texas Music Water and how it came about.
Well, it all started with one homeless musician. There was a band that was playing at a friend’s house. At the end of the party, the guitarist asked if could hang around, and then eventually asked if he could stay over. It turned out he was homeless, living in his van. So he stayed overnight. When I got up, I went over to the stage – which he had built – and picked up all the bottles and beer cans, and I saw water bottles all over the place. And I realized that everywhere I go in Austin, the bands are always drinking water. So I thought, “What if the musicians had their own water, which they could promote to the fans while onstage that would come back and help them?”
What about your own background? Are you a musician?
I’ve loved music all my life – rock n roll, classic rock, some blues, jazz, country. But I can’t play any instruments. I tried to play guitar once, but my fingers just wouldn’t do it. I did decide to dedicate my life to the music community, and I’ve given it everything I have to build this brand. From the beginning, it was about giving back to the musicians. The thing we always have to remember is that the more we sell, the more musicians we can help and the more instruments we can put in schools.
How are you working together with the local schools?
We just started donating to low-income public schools, to use for private music lessons. We’re going to start donating instruments, too. We started at Webb Middle School, and we donated enough for 37 music lessons. The kids were so happy, the principal was so happy. I heard about one school in town where the music budget for the year was only $500. They’ve cut all the funding for the arts.
The effect of a kid having a shiny, newly refurbished instrument can be huge. Put a guitar in his hands instead of a gun. Keep him off the streets. That’s a big deal. The environment they live in is rough, but if they can fall in love with music and stick with it, then they have a chance to go to college.
What is it about this city and community that you love?
The music. And the cleanliness of the city. It’s a beautiful place. Austin is one of the greatest cities in the country, even the world. The people are super friendly.
And the water’s produced right here in Texas?
(laughs) Yeah, it has to be! Apparently they have good water in Arkansas, but we didn’t want that. This is Texas water! This is the best water ever made and produced entirely in Texas.
What are some of your goals moving forward?
To be in every major market. We want to have both coasts covered, along with Texas and Chicago, and then work our way in. If we can get the top 25 music cities covered, I think that would be a natural fit. You can’t ask for better advertising than to have your product in the hands of musicians that people love and respect. That’s so awesome for us.