Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide


Photo from Antone's.
photograph by John Carrico

Antone's opened its doors during the summer of 1975 with the jumping sounds of zydeco king Clifton Chenier and largely word-of-mouth advertising, and if there's any one reason that Austin has thrived as a blues community, it's because of this club. Now nearing the quarter-century mark -- a remarkable feat, but not unusual for Austin's established venues -- Antone's finds itself in its fourth location: back downtown, where it all started.

From early on, owner Clifford Antone brought in a dazzling array of names like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Albert King, and Fats Domino, often booking them for five-night stands in the club's original location at Sixth and Brazos. Local blues bands got the best education in the world at the feet of the masters, learning their lessons so well that the blues scene dominates Austin more than 20 years later. First came the Fabulous Thunderbirds, their Chicago influence well-matched to the sharp Texas blues they honed, followed by Angela Strehli, W.C. Clark, and Lou Ann Barton, all of whom also plied mean blues. It was the younger brother of T-Birds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, however, who transcended the ghettoization of blues and achieved that rarest of honors: true stardom.

The world remembers Stevie Ray Vaughan as a blues guitarslinger, but to patrons of Antone's, he was a hometown hero who broke out and succeeded beyond everyone's wildest dreams. His death in 1990 is still mourned and his memory is invoked often within the club's walls even today for good reason; he spent hours and hours playing onstage at Antone's before that big break came.

The Home of the Blues that Clifford Antone built thrives today with names like Maceo Parker, Koko Taylor, Dr. John, C.J.Chenier, Etta James, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Hometown heroes such as Doug Sahm, Lucinda Williams, Storyville, Sue Foley, and Jimmie Vaughan have all thrived there as well. While the Continental boasts a full house for Tuesday happy hours, Antone's is the place to be Tuesday nights with the Scabs, whose raunchy blues-funk is surprisingly at home on the venerable stage. On a good night, look for Antone himself, usually found at the side of the stage, just as entranced by the music now as he was as a boy. Blues, after all, is just a state of mind. --Margaret Moser