Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide


Though not a direct descendant, Emo's follows a long line of local punk rock clubs in becoming Austin's foremost purveyor of all things loud, nasty, and weird. Debuting for South by Southwest 1992, Emo's opened just as the the town's prime proponent of punk, the Jelly Club, closed. From Raul's to Club Foot, the Cave Club, Cannibal Club, and finally the Jelly Club, Austin's punk legacy landed on the broad, six-foot-something shoulders of Eric "Emo" Hartman, who had moved to Houston from Chicago at the close of the Eighties to found his first namesake punk club.

Photo from Emo's
photograph by John Carrico

A former soccer player who had given up the sport because of a bad back, Hartman next set his sights on the enormous, split-level wood 'n' concrete space near the corner of Sixth Street and Red River. Formerly the home of country & western dance bars like Poodie's and Raven's, Emo's opened into a space that accommodated two different stages separated by a spacious courtyard in the middle. Upstairs, the main bar quenches the thirst of between 200-300 onlookers, while the downstairs main stage holds an estimated 500 people and can cram a whole helluva lot more people into the room given acts like the Jesus Lizard and Tortoise.

In 1993, Hartman opened a third club, the Orbit Room in Dallas (which closed last year), and while the Houston Emo's still books live music, it's the Austin Emo's that quickly became the chain's flagship and something akin to a national punk landmark for bands travelling through Texas. To gaze up at the ceiling above the upstairs bar, covered with the poster art of Frank Kozik, Lindsey Kuhn, and others, is to record the punk rock revival of this decade. Then there's the stool that hangs above that bar, the hallowed stool on which Johnny Cash himself sat during a legendary SXSW showcase at Emo's that will forever eclipse any punk rock band whose name holds a piece of real estate on that ceiling.

And there are a few. From Don Walser (cow-punk?) to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Emo's has played host to the best bands of this decade and is considered one of the premier clubs of its kind around the country. Once free, the club now charges an outrageous $2 for local gigs and $4 for roadshows if you're over 21. Free shows for genre staples like L7 and the Lunachicks? Emo's has always done it their own way: Punk as fuck. -- Raoul Hernandez