'It Was Pretty Magical': Documentary 'Lift Me Up' Follows Six Austin Musicians During The Pandemic Year
Musician and documentarian Chris Brecht created Project ATX6 several years ago as a way to promote and foster community among Austin musicians. Every year, the nonprofit selects six emerging local musicians representing different genres; those musicians then hit the road, performing together at concerts and festivals around the globe.
“It’s an export program,” Brecht says. “Designed to give them real-world experience performing at international music festivals, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last six or seven years now.”
The class of 2020 – Project ATX6 season 6 – included Alesia Lani, Mike St.Clair of Pocket Sounds, Kathryn Legendre, Evan Charles of Altamesa, Leslie Sisson of Moving Panoramas, and Jonathon Horstmann of V3CO and Urban Heat. Like in past seasons, they headed off to music festivals along with Brecht, who was filming their travels for the documentary Lift Me Up. But unlike in past seasons, the most recent ATX6 group found themselves trying to tour during a pandemic year.
They made a trip to Indie Week in Toronto toward the end of 2019, and then journeyed to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Jai Thep Festival in February of 2020.
“And then our third trip was going to be to go to the Great Escape Festival in Brighton, England,” Brecht says. That festival, scheduled for May of 2020, never happened.
“We made it to the first two [festivals] and had a great time, and everything was going as planned,” Brecht says. “[But] after the second festival, you know, we all were well aware of how this pandemic kind of changed everybody’s lives.”
Leslie Sisson says those first two festivals were wonderful experiences. “Chang Mai was like no other festival I’ve ever been to, ever, and I loved it,” she says. “It was pretty magical, and nobody there knew who we were… but the reception was really amazing.”
Project ATX6 made the decision to skip the Brighton festival just a few days before it was officially cancelled, and Sisson says though everyone agreed it was the right call, it was still disappointing to have to miss the third leg of the tour. “It was heartbreaking,” she says. “Because the reality of it set in. And so there was a small sense of relief knowing ‘okay, we’ll just hunker down here and ride it out.' But of course it was heartbreaking – some of us had never been to Europe.”
“Each trip adds to the complete experience of how [the musicians] get to know each other,” Brecht says. “They got through two of the three and… we were so ready to finish it up, put the final pieces in. And the film… the completion of this documentary that we have is kind of maybe what helps people feel that they’ve got a third part.”
The change in plans for Project ATX6 meant that Brecht ended up documenting a different story than he might have been expecting. “You never really know how the ending of the film is going to reveal itself,” he says. “As the film gets toward its end, I think what I wanted to show to the audience [is that] I wanted to allow them to relive the confusion of what it was like to be in the middle of this pandemic, and to see it through the lives of these amazing musicians. And also, the Black Lives Matter protests that followed. You know, we went through the George Floyd incident that was very heavy on America. And it’s hard to watch. I’ve watched the end of this film countless times now and it’s still hard for me to watch, because we went through a very traumatic experience as a nation.”
Though this group of musicians had their communal experience cut short, Sisson says she’s still hoping to do more work with the other five members of her ATX6 class. “I want to work with all of them again,” she says. “Because I do feel like we left so open-endedly, and there was so much we were excited to do. So I kind of feel like the door hasn’t been closed yet.”