UT graduate student grows music collective at Community First! Village

Bethany Vodicka, Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the October 8 flipbook.

Beating his hands against a cajon drum alongside Abbey Young, a Butler School doctoral student, Cody Wilson said he feels alive, watching the outside world slip away.

“I can’t fight people here. I can’t live that rowdy punk rock life. And to be honest with you, I don’t want to anymore,” Wilson, a drummer for the Pure Goodness Music Collective at Community First! Village, said Wilson. 

Bridging the gap between musical access and homelessness, the collective provides community members with a platform to curate their musical talents through outdoor concerts, weekly jam sessions and opportunities to collaborate with other Austin musicians. With her leadership in the collective, Young continues to touch the lives of members like Cody.

“When my husband and I first came to take a tour of Community First! Village, we were immediately mesmerized by the structure of the place,” Young said. “I knew I wanted to get involved.” 

After her first visit, Young adopted a new life in the village. When she’s not relaxing in her village mobile home or actively studying for her music performance degree, she helps organize the group and plays her clarinet alongside her neighbors. 

“We all want to feel heard. That is especially the case for musicians. I have been given outlets my whole life to express my talent — for my voice to be heard. Now it’s my turn to share that with my neighbors,” Young said. 

The collective, a musical subgroup of the Community First! Village, promotes purpose and passion within their members. The group’s signature event, a Tuesday jam session, brings together local musicians, bands and eager listeners. 

“I love coming here every Tuesday,” said Brain Bell, a vocalist for the collective. “It gives me the opportunity to learn a new song each week. A lot of us come from places of drugs, violence and criminal activity. A real community has been built through the collective and embraced through these jam sessions.” 

The Butler School of Music awarded Young the Rainwater Innovation Grant to accelerate the group’s growth and provide new instruments and opportunities for the musicians, ultimately allowing her to scale up the Tuesday jam sessions.

“I really wanted to do a live performance day, giving my neighbors something to work toward: performing for a live audience outside,” Young said.

Young used the rest of the funds to purchase instruments and equipment for the group. Cody said the new instruments allow the group to explore music as well as be unique and original.

Yet, Young’s unwavering support for the group doesn’t stop there. Lori Nava, another organizer at Community First! Village, said Young’s commitment not only spurred new opportunities but an increase in group membership.

“Many members of the Butler School of Music have come out to perform with our musicians, as well as professional guitarists at Austin Classical Guitar,” Nava said. “They have really filled the gaps of the collective.” 

The collective plans to have UT chamber groups come in November, a partnership providing  musicians with a means to get off campus and into concert halls.

For now, the group continues to flourish internally, blending their interests in blues, punk rock and gospel. 

“From a young age, my neighbors have been white noise on sidewalks,” Young said. “They’ve been ignored. Not anymore.”