Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Saxon Pub

Photo of sign outside Saxon Pub.
photograph by John Carrico

"We've had everybody from Badfinger to Kinky Friedman," laughs Joe Ables, manager of the Saxon Pub. Since its inception in 1990, the joint with the giant knight out front has offered live music seven nights a week. Nine years multiplied by seven nights equals a bucketful of music and lots of room to roam. "We do everything from simple acoustic folk things to some pretty hard rock acts and all in between," says Ables, "and I believe that's attributed to some of our success. We appeal to a wide audience." Still, there are trends.

What began as a songwriter's joint -- Stephen Fromholz, Rusty Wier, Michael Martin Murphey, Monte Montgomery, and James McMurtry have all been Saxon stalwarts -- has evolved into more of a blues-rock club. These days, you're as likely to see W.C. Clark, Guy Forsyth, or Stephen Bruton holding court as you are McMurtry or Montgomery. And you never know who might drop in: Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, and a Wild Turkey-drinkin' Dan Rather have all put in stool time at the Saxon in recent years. Musicians brag on the Saxon for its good sound and friendly atmosphere, and Ables repays their loyalty with a slate of weekly residencies.

Once an act is established at the Saxon, Ables tends to keep 'em there, knowing he can expect a good turnout; Rusty Wier's been playing seven years in a Thursday night slot originally slated to run one month. "Once you have something successful," Ables says, "hell, we'll run it into the ground." Wier's one of a handful of holdovers from the original Saxon Pub, a legendary room that thrived in the late Sixties and Seventies on I-35 and 38th Street. The name is somewhere between "stolen" and "borrowed," says Ables: Call it a tribute.

At any rate, there's something of the spirit of the old Saxon at the new Saxon, where the peaked roof and wood walls give a dark and smokey home to the untold trysts, triumphs, and desires that play themselves out both on-stage and off. It's bawdy and intimate, blessed no doubt by the benign gaze of Rusty, the giant roadside knight that has stood watch over the Saxon for a full nine years. Built from "lawnchairs and aluminum cans," trailered in from Waco and painted silver, the beneficent Rusty (no relation to Wier) has become a signpost of sorts, a clarion call to South Austin. His message is simple: good music here.

--Jay Hardwig