Austin’s Musical Bones
The music is still here. Even if the music isn't mine, it becomes mine. It becomes yours and as our hearts sync to the same beat and the vodkas and beers begin to change our consonants collectively, we are one person almost; a strange and gorgeous mix of gender, age, ethnicity wrapped in a blanket of melody, in unison, in one room. Our live music capital of the entire world birthing beautiful song-babies into each of us and once we get ourselves home, we dream with our local rockstars and the whole city of Austin is a lullaby.
The back-when: Antone’s on Guadalupe, when campus was void of Starbucks and café Les Amis was the place where students felt bohemian. Liberty Lunch in the warehouse district, when the warehouses were…well, warehouses! And that was when people rarely had the need to use the word “district.” La Zona Rosa when its only neighbor was the old Austin Music Hall (and I hear the new one is going bye bye). Momo’s on West 6th, when Katz’s never closed and when we rarely said “West or Dirty” before the number 6. These long-gone music rooms, now tombs beneath our skyscrapers are our bones, our beats, our nostalgia, our treasures.
It’s the year 2008 and I fight for a temporary parking space in the alley behind Momo’s in Austin. I take a quick glance at my watch to make sure I have time for the load-in. I click on the flashers, turn off the car. I open the door to Austin’s wet summer heat, strap my guitar to my back, fling my pedal board strap over my left shoulder, tuck my merch box under my left arm and then struggle with the weight of my amp pulling me down on the right side. The weather is so sticky that I have to hold on tightly and trudge up the back stairs to load in at one of Austin’s former relics of badassery in live music, Momo’s. Now it is a hip nightclub called, Rio. But those Momo’s stairs were like climbing to musical success, no matter what it took.
The artist community that built this music city mostly still lives here, even though the soundscape and the landscape have changed dramatically before our ears and eyes. (Do you remember when the cityscape was itty bitty behind the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue?) But the good news is that the legendary old Austin chambers, the Saxon Pub, the Continental Club, Stubbs, Threadgills and the newly reopened Antone's, continue, thankfully, to play host to many a passed-on ghost, the Stephen Bruton's, the Stevie Ray's, while thriving and established players like Patrice Pike, Guy Forsyth, Miss Lavelle White, Wendy Colonna, John Pointer, yours truly and many many more, keep our chins up above the long past town memories, and we perform proudly on these stages where we grew up and where we grew out. And we play new ones, too! Think Strange Brew, The Townsend, White Horse, Geraldine's and countless others flowering up downtown, down south, east side and beyond. But things change and some greats have walked away to more affordable places like Buda or Bastrop or to more lucrative opportunities like Dell or real estate.
What makes this ever-changing city so precious and unique is that it was once weird. Keeping it that way seems almost a daunting concept when we homogenize the sheet music of our streets and dot the bass notes and treble clefs with chain restaurants, hotels and condo buildings. But don’t get me wrong. I remember moons ago wishing Austin was more metropolitan with a thriving downtown and now we have just that! And I’m right in the thick of it. Hell, I throw the biggest Formula One™ race party in Austin, called Blu, and am opening a downtown lounge, too. I love the dazzle, but I also love the grit and the remaining weirdness. I love carrying guitars, applauding my musical colleagues and friends. And I love how we fight to keep the heartbeat of this city playing loudly in this new cocktail of today.
We lift thousands of pounds of amps, guitars, keyboards, drums and sweat into clubs. But we are not martyrs. We are musicians and we love it! And it's up to the noisemakers to keep it alive. It's up to the city to give us fair tools. It's up to the old-timers to keep supporting. And to those who have moved here from some far off land, we thank you for adding to our Austin fabric and it is with you that we will continue to bring you Austin. When you choose to step outside of your what-you-know, the new glass boxes and come out to listen, we are a city of newly born songs. Get into the down-home backbone of what mysteriously brought you to this city in the first place, even if you didn't know it, it was the live music.