Michael F. Scully

Michael F. Scully's earliest musical tastes were shaped by two culturally formidable forces - The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Hearing his older sister's records in the late '60s, Scully "didn't understand them," he says, "but recognized that they were cool in some mysterious way."

That early exposure to rock and folk would prove formative. Decades later, after sojourns through classic rock and electric blues, Scully dove back into folk (now rebranded as "roots music"), inspiring both a book (The Never-Ending Revival: Rounder Records and the Folk Alliance, University of Illinois Press, 2008) and regular visits to the Cactus Cafe, Austin's iconic music venue. As he puts it, "the sounds of the Cactus are where I began and where I've ended up." 

An Austinite by way of San Francisco and New York, Scully was a trial lawyer for 15 years, after earning his BA in Political Science from Binghamton University and his JD from the University of California at Davis. In 1995, his family moved to Austin, where his career took a different turn – this time, as an author and academic. He earned his PhD in American Studies in 2005 from the University of Texas at Austin – the same school that both gave him the Cactus Cafe and attempted to close it in 2010.  

"When I read that UT was closing the cafe, I was absolutely blindsided. It seemed so wrong and so stupid," says Scully. "I loved UT for giving me a slot in its graduate program, and was always grateful for that. But when it announced the end of the Cactus Cafe I was heartsick. I wasn't alone, either - very quickly, a movement to save the Cactus sprang up and mobilized." 

Those transformative months in 2010 – when a beloved, musical landmark was nearly forced to shut its doors – inspired Cactus Burning: Austin, Texas and the Battle for the Iconic Cactus Cafe. Scully applies his historian's eye to the cultural forces that gave rise to the Cactus, the artists that made it what it is today, and the Austin activists who ultimately saved it.

"I hope readers of Cactus Burning realize that people can fight city hall and sometimes win," says Scully. "I also hope these events are a lesson in nurturing what's important to us, and in pushing our governing institutions to do the same."

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