ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, AUG. 30-31 – In this photo taken on Aug. 14, 2014, Nancy Coplin, right, poses for a portrait with blues musician, Paul Oscher, left, before a performance at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez) AUSTIN CHRONICLE OUT, COMMUNITY IMPACT OUT, INTERNET AND TV MUST CREDIT PHOTOGRAPHER AND STATESMAN.COM, MAGS OUT
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — “My brain is like a popcorn popper,” Nancy Coplin says. “Ideas just — poink! — pop up.”
Considering Coplin’s colorful history, no wonder her head spins.
A brassy bundle of compressed energy, Coplin married a worldly Dallas music promoter at age 19; started freshman orientation at the University of Texas on the day of the Tower shootings; later booked movies in New Orleans; sold industrial chemicals for years in the oil patches of Louisiana and Texas; wrote and sang “not terribly wonderful songs” in Austin; chaired the city’s first music commission; lost everything in the 1998 flood; and — capping her career as an industry insider — booked more than 7,000 acts as the music coordinator at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport from 1999 to 2013.
Now “retired,” Coplin currently serves as a music consultant for other cities’ airports; books music for the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar; manages bluesman Paul Oscher; works closely with TuneGo.com, an online platform for career development in music; buys talent for the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort’s songwriter series; and sells vintage music posters on the side.
“I’m not finished yet,” she is fond of saying. “There’s another thing .”
With Coplin, there’s always another thing.
Nancy Coplin, 66, was born in Saginaw, Mich., but grew up in North Dallas.
Her father, Frank Weiss, was a merchandise manager whose father worked for Henry Ford in Detroit. Coplin’s mother, Sally Weller Weiss, was a homemaker whose father, a defense lawyer, reputedly represented the “Purple Gang” of Jewish bootleggers in Detroit.
An unapologetic Texas tomboy, Coplin played football with the neighbors, climbed trees and explored wilderness areas. One of her favorite subjects at Hillcrest High School was social studies because she liked to find out how other people lived.
She also idolized music — soul, R&B, the British invasion — and musicians.
“I saw the Beatles,” she tells the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1qs5bGI). “Didn’t hear them. Because the audience screamed the whole time. I also caught the Rolling Stones’ first U.S. tour. I don’t remember much. That’s the case with a lot of concerts.”
Her first day in Austin, Charles Whitman shot and killed 16 people, wounding 32 others, from atop the UT Tower.
“Somebody came running into the room and yells, ‘There’s a guy in the tower shooting people,'” Coplin recalls. “I thought that meant they were shooting a movie. I went out: Boom! Boom! Boom! I raced back in and out the back way. It was surreal.”
The glamour of the music business — she hung out at Dallas’ Empire Ballroom, Central Forest Club and Soul City — attracted her to music promoter and manager Sam Coplin, several years her senior.
“Plus he had a Corvette,” Coplin says of the marriage that didn’t end happily. “He’s living, as far as I know.”
The one enduring gift of the liaison: Her adoptive daughter, Kimberly Brakefield, and two cherished grandchildren. Not for the last time, Coplin nurtured these personal bonds through decades of ups and downs.
“Nancy is the type of person who creates a lasting impact on people’s lives,” says John Kohl of TuneGo.com. “And that’s exactly why she is loved and adored by so many. Nancy will give you the shirt off her back to help you succeed. She’s the real deal.”
Young and divorced, Coplin never wanted for work — or memorable mentors.
Film industry veteran Sheila DeLoache hired Coplin to monitor box office receipts and bid out movies for Columbia Pictures, skills that took her to New Orleans, where she was hired away by Universal Studios.
“My life’s like that,” Coplin says. “Everything connects by another weird set of circumstances.”
In 1981, she met Lorraine Studin, a larger-than-life woman who still sells industrial chemicals at age 85.
“‘I’ll pick you up at three,'” Coplin recalls Studin telling her on her first day. “In the morning. We drove to Venice, La. A man there asked: What are you selling? I said: I just started in the job, but here’s something you might like. He said: I’ll take two drums. I went right from salary to commission, this Jewish girl from North Dallas.”
Sometimes, Coplin would sell to oil men at daytime bars.
“That’s where the fun began,” she says. “Guys getting off rigs, morning drinking. That’s where I learned to cuss really well.”
A bad romance delivered her to Austin in 1983. While selling more chemicals, she also met Austin leaders such as Martha Cotera and Carol Thompson while joining a local songwriters’ group, which led to friendships with the likes of Marcia Ball and the late Jean Partain.
In 1988, she was appointed to the Austin Music Commission.
“In the first meeting, they voted me chair,” she says. “Because Gary Bond miscounted the vote.”
“Nancy Coplin is a true Austin treasure,” says Saxon Pub owner Joe Ables. “Her incredible passion and dedication to our music community is only matched by her tireless volunteer work for those in need.”
Early on, Coplin wrestled with questions that still bedevil the Austin music community. How to protect band members unloading instruments into tightly packed downtown clubs? How to mitigate noise concerns from nearby residents?
Naturally, Coplin recounts her version of how Austin adopted its famous nickname. One night, before a public meeting, late blues singer Lillian Standfield arrived directly from a gig in Houston.
“We should have a sign at the city limits that says ‘Music Capital,'” Standfield told Coplin, who met with City Council Member Max Nofziger about the idea. After looking into the branding of other music cities, they refined the focus to “live music” rather than all music.
“Why not ‘Live Music Capital of the Universe’?'” Coplin recalls one suggestion. “Well, we don’t know what they have on Mars. So it was ‘the World.'”
In the late 1990s, Coplin took a detour to Johnson City, where she and a friend opened a cafe. It didn’t end well, so she went back to selling industrial chemicals. In 1997, she moved back to Austin, then lost all her household belongings in the big flood the next year.
“I moved into Bruce Willenzik’s laundry room with my dog and a computer,” she says of the friend who runs the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Her next project was a show, “What’s the Cover?” on the controversial Austin Music Network.
In 1999, she was hired part-time to book musical acts at the airport, part of a comprehensive effort to “localize” the space. For a while, she also organized art exhibits there. At times, she booked up to 23 acts a week.
“That’s a lot of musician chasing,” she says. “But I heard some amazing music.”
Among her proudest moves: Booking musicians who had fled New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Teaming with airport concessionaire Delaware North, Coplin exported the musical concept to New Orleans and has consulted with airports in Houston, Denver and Oklahoma City.
“It’s not like building a nuclear reactor,” she says. “But it’s a puzzle putting pieces together and figuring out how to make it work.”
Meanwhile, she’s shepherding the career of Paul Oscher, who played with Muddy Waters. She discovered him at a Manchaca barbecue joint and was blown away. She’s slowly changing up the acts at the Bazaar, bringing in more youthful acts alongside Austin longtimers. For TuneGo.com, she helps match acts with a panel of high-level producers, which can lead to showcases and placement on films and video games.
Single, Coplin lives in deep South Austin. But she rarely sits still.
“I love to connect people,” she says. “Somebody told me recently: You should simply put ‘connector’ on your business card.”