What does a globetrotting former radio journalist do with his spare time in Austin? Curate a music series, of course! We caught up with John Burnett, creator of World Music Encounters at St. David’s Episcopal Church in this Mid-Week Intermision. Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, after all!

WME founder John Burnett interviews Mahmoud Chouki -- a celebrated oud player from Morocco, now based in New Orleans. Photo by Will Van Overbeek.
My name is John Burnett, and after spending 43 years as a daily journalist mainly describing how messed up things are in the world, I get to deliver joy.
I’m founder and curator of World Music Encounters at the historic, acoustically divine St. David’s Episcopal Church in the heart of downtown Austin.

I retired last year after 36 years as a roving national correspondent for National Public Radio. Yes, I’m that voice you used to hear on the radio usually talking about Tex-Mex border mayhem or hurricane damage or political polarization. If you catch me now as the emcee of our nine-concert world music series, I’m introducing and interviewing incredible musicians from West Africa, Ireland, Colombia, Morocco, Iran, Cuba, and Mexico. It’s good to wear a new hat!

Having traveled the globe a fair bit for NPR, I was always checking out the music scene in the far-flung places I was assigned, whether Kabul, Bogotá, Nairobi, or Tokyo. My wife, Margaret, and I are live music fanatics. (We also play and sing in two bands: WhoDo and the Panama Hats.) We kept discovering more and more fantastic foreign-born musicians, but they were sort of marginalized here in our Home With the Armadillo (sorry, Gary P. Nunn).

Ana Barajas and Cruz del Sur perform songs from their native South America at the October program of World Music Encounters. Photo by Will Van Overbeek.

I approached Father Chuck Treadwell, rector of St. David’s and damn good guitar picker himself, and asked, why do we keep renting out our gorgoeus, 170-year-old sanctuary to other concert producers when we can come up with our own awesome music series? That’s how World Music Encounters was born. The idea is to bring world music center-stage in the Live Music Capital, as well as educate and enlighten our audiences to the rich musical landscapes far from 512.

We call them Encounters because, as a journalist, I love to hear peoples’ stories. So I join the musicians onstage midway through the two-hour performance and ask them about their music, their muse, their instruments, and their journey to Austin. Most of our artists live right here in Austin, and the cool thing is that they moved here to the nation’s tenth largest city because we are a global musical mecca — with lots of venues, appreciative audiences, and a deep pool of talented musicians.

World Music Encounters at St. David’s has caught on. We had a sellout crowd of 300 at our inaugural concert in September. Our audiences have learned that once a month — Sundays 5-7pm — they will hear often unfamiliar music made by virtuosic artists, and the listeners will learn about the nature of this music. Last month, Ibrahim Aminou, a gifted kora player from Niger, showed us how the talking drum was used by his ancestors to mimic human speech and communicate messages between villages in West Africa. It was spellbinding.

Ibrahim Aminou, from Niger in West Africa, plays the talking drum at World Music Encounters in Janauary at St. David's Episcopal Church. Photo by Will Van Overbeek.

Our four remaining concerts:

Gabriel Santiago Project // FEB 11
An all-star Brazilian quartet. Gabriel holds a PhD in music composition from UT; JazzTimes described him as “a young master on both acoustic and electric guitars.”

Mariachi Las Alteñas // MAR 3
A 12-piece, all-female supergroup from San Antonio that wows audiences at mariachi festivals across the USA.

Sofrito y Su Melao // APR 14
A local Cuban ensemble that plays wide-ranging music from the Caribbean and interacts with the audience in innovative performances.

Oliver Rajamani // MAY 12
An Austin treasure who blends Indian, Flamenco, Romani, and Texas music.

Tickets are $35, $25, and $10 for students, available through Eventbrite.

All ages, family friendly, and free downtown parking!

John Burnett onstage at the inaugural September concert of the WME series that featured the world music supergroup, Atash, that is based in Austin. Photo by Tom Brand / St. David's Church


At the Long Center, we’ve always got a new partnership or something cool we know you’ll want to check out! Find and follow us @longcenter on your social media platform of choice, and we’ll see you real soon.

It’s… a… musical, a musical
And nothing’s as amazing as a musical
With song and dance and sweet romance
And happy endings happening by happenstance
Bright lights, stage fights, and a dazzling chorus
You wanna be great, then you gotta create a musical

It’s true, folks. That sentiment is more than just lyrics from Something Rotten! Nothing is quite as amazing as a musical. Being in one, watching one from the house, working on one behind the scenes. It’s all amazing. That’s why we and so many others across Austin, nay, the nation, nay, the world invest time and effort into musical theatre education programs. You may have heard about a little ditty we do called the Heller Awards for Young Artists, and its national counterpart the Jimmy Awards®… oh, you haven’t? Well, let us enlighten you 😁


Photo by Henry Huey

Imagine Austin’s version of the Tony Awards! Musical performances, bright lights, bobby pins, hair spray, shedding of tears… you get it. Each April at the Heller Awards for Young Artists (we call these the HAYAs), participating schools come to pay tribute to the value of arts education, collaboration, and creativity. They gather together at the Long Center to celebrate themselves, their peers, and their support systems with an evening of well-mannered frivolity and lots of singing. But hold up, we’re putting the cart before the horse here…

Each fall, Austin-area high schools have the chance to register their school to participate. And get this — there’s no registration fee. That’s right, it’s 100% FREE to participate! And if you know the Long Center, you know free is our favorite f-word 😉 After registration is complete, judges attend each participating school’s performance of that year’s musical and score them based on how well they lived up to their potential. You read that right; the schools aren’t compared to each other, but rather compared to their own resources and ability. 

After each school is adjudicated, the nominations come out! Check out 2023’s nominations livestream on YouTube for a little preview of what to expect in 2024. Next comes lots more hard work getting ready for the Awards, and then… the big day! Picture this: red carpet, camera flash, acceptance speeches, and evening gowns galore. It really is the best day of the year!

That sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s 100% worth it. From 2014 with 19 participating schools to 2024 with 35+ participating schools, we’re feelin’ pretty good about how tomorrow will look. Whether students’ futures lie in the performing arts, private sector, public service, or fields that don’t exist yet, the HAYAs are their onramp to a bright future. 


Photo by Dave Hawks

Aw, that’s so flattering that you want out hang out with us 😊

Here’s how you can join in on the fun:

  • Sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a thing.
  • Watch nominations! Catch up by watching last year’s livestream, then watch with us on Sunday, March 3.
  • Follow us on socials! You can find us on your favorite platform at @hellerawardsatx.
  • If you’re a parent or caregiver, talk with your student’s teacher(s) about how you can support their musical and any prep needed for the HAYAs. We’re willing to bet they’d love some extra hands.
  • Consider making a donation (pretty please)!
  • Wanna sponsor the 2024 awards? We’ll gladly take your money! Shoot us an email and let’s get talking.

This is usually where we’d make a joke about the curtain closing and taking a final bow, but we’re really just getting started! Break a leg to all the performers, techies, crew, and educators out there. It’s going to be a great year 🤩


At the Long Center, we’ve always got a new partnership or something cool we know you’ll want to check out! Find and follow us @longcenter on your social media platform of choice, and we’ll see you real soon.

Year-End Gift 2023 | Long Center
Your Support Today, Transforms Tomorrow

We’ve made it our mission to support creativity in all its forms, and we hope this season you’ll join us and do the same. Your donation doesn’t just support our work, it’s a declaration that creativity belongs to everyone


Become a LC member today and and get first dibs on RSVP before the public, early entrance into the venue for you and your guests, members-only bars, and other surprises!

Amplify Austin is here – and we need your help to provide free arts experiences for K-12 students through our Long Reach for the Arts program.  Because the kids need art!