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Playback: Heart Transplant

The future of Ray Hennig's Heart of Texas Music, Austin Vintage Guitars, and the HighBall called into question.

By Kevin Curtin, Fri., July 6, 2012

Ray Hennig
Ray Hennig
Photo by John Anderson

If you've ever hung out at Ray Hennig's Heart of Texas Music on South Lamar, you may have heard this story before: In 1974, Chris Geppert, who later won five Grammys as Christopher Cross (see "The Reluctant Celebrity," Jan. 20), showed up and traded in a beat-up Stratocaster. The next day, Stevie Ray Vaughan stopped by and took a shine to it.

"Damn, Stevie, that's the biggest piece of shit I've ever traded for," Hennig recalls telling Vaughan. The guitarist told him it had the feel he was searching for and took it home on loan. In time, that "piece of shit" became one of music's most iconic guitars: Vaughan's legendary "Number One." Hennig recounted the tale a couple weeks ago when I stopped in to inquire why he was having a moving sale.

"They're putting condos in," the elderly go-to guitar tech explained. "It's no big deal for us. After 50 years, customers will look me up."

Hennig first opened Heart of Texas Music in Waco in the early Sixties before relocating to South Lamar in 1973. At that juncture, the store's massive neon sign cost $17,000. It's now a local landmark that, in all likelihood, won't shine much longer over the South Lamar Plaza. The shopping center is involved in a sale that would slate it for complete redevelopment.

Elaine Garza of Giant Noise PR, who represents clients involved, confirmed that if the sale becomes final the site will be converted into a multiuse development with apartments, shops, restaurants, and enclosed parking. The Alamo Drafthouse will likely remain in the plaza as its sign is prominently featured in a rendering of the development on the website of Big Red Dog, a civil engineering firm. The new plan would, however, affect three important musical entities in South Austin: Hennig's Heart of Texas Music, Austin Vintage Guitars – a busy store with perhaps the most stellar selection of used guitars in town – and the Alamo's sister karaoke bar, bowling alley, and live music venue, the HighBall.

Hennig, who's already downsized to lower his rent, plans to find another home for Heart of Texas in South Austin, but has no particular property in mind. Steve and Leslie Fulton, owners of Austin Vintage Guitars, have found a centrally located building they hope to move to, but are waiting on permits and construction, which will take months. A manager at the HighBall indicated that the setup there would change drastically upon redevelopment, with bowling lanes exiting (buyers have already come in and looked at them) and its location in the plaza likely merging with the Drafthouse. He's been instructed to book entertainment through Fantastic Fest, which begins September 20.

According to the merchant's contacted, plaza renters were first notified last year that the property would be sold and they would be displaced. Recently, they were contacted again and told that a sale was expected late last week. It didn't happen.

Representatives from Greystar Real Estate and Stream Realty, two of the three partners hoping to purchase the property, declined to comment on what is holding up the deal. Garza says a current closing date has not been finalized.

The delays buy more time for Hennig and the Fultons. Steve Fulton says the worst case scenario for Austin Vintage Guitars is that they're evicted before their new building is ready. He hopes that the parties involved will consider their situation, but he's realistic about how things work.

"Once they get the bulldozers ready, there's no stopping them ... and if I were in their position, I'd probably do the same thing," says Fulton who's seen a lot of little buildings go down and big ones come up here in Austin since the Seventies. "That's just the way it is and you either survive or you don't."

Poodie's Quits Smoking

When I ambled into Poodie's Hilltop Roadhouse in Spicewood last Thursday, four of the 11 patrons had cigarettes dangling from their mouths. I lit one up and asked the bartender what he thought about the bar's new policy that will prohibit smoking indoors. "I'm glad," is all he said. Behind him, a chalkboard read: "July 4th BBQ All Out Smoke Out. Last day to smoke inside." Poodie's owner, Sharon Burke, has been contemplating the move for years, concerned about the health of her employees and performers. "I've had a lot of musicians who don't want to play there," she says. "A lot of people don't want to come because of the smoke." The other side of the coin is that a rural Texas honky-tonk is supposed to be smoky, and looking around, the signs of smoke are evident: An Austin Chronicle award for "Best Dressed Burger in a Cosmic Cowboy Honky-Tonk" is yellowed to the point that Lysol would be hopeless. Burke, who says her clientele is split 50/50 on the issue, plans to wipe down signs, change air filters, and clean the air-conditioner coils to ring in the nonsmoking era. Smokers could have it worse. Poodie's has a comfortable back deck that overlooks the Hill Country. Now we can watch the sun set as we poison our lungs.

Fire Fest Was a Blast

La Migra
La Migra
Photo by Kevin Curtin

Austin's concert market is so oversaturated with successful music festivals it's hard to imagine a new one finding an audience. But last weekend's Fire Fest did and it had little to do with fireworks and water balloons. On a slab of southeast real estate seemingly used for livestock auctions, bands from Austin and around Texas simply played round the clock – from 6pm Saturday through the rain showers early Sunday morning. Vibrant desert-surf rock from La Migra, hard-hitting metallurgy by Eagle Claw, and Black Pistol Fire's mainstage freakout, which compelled audience members to climb onstage and dance to the rumble, were three highlights. In terms of parking, camping, and grubbing, Fire Fest was hassle-free, bringing in some 2,000 patrons, and, despite a general air of inebriation, security guards confirmed that no one blew up their faces with fireworks.

Half Notes

• After a year and a half in business, Skinny's Ballroom is shutting down. The music venue and bar, located on the 100 block of San Jacinto near the Convention Center, simply wasn't making enough money. Owner Maggie Marcum cited a bad economy and venue oversaturation. "We were booking on our own against Transmission and C3 so it was hard to compete," she reasoned. "I also blame the parking situation. I saw a huge drop-off in business after the city changed the hours of free parking." Marcum says Skinny's July music calendar is one of its best, so see a show while you can. Last waltz: July 28, lineup TBA.

• In addition to Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison telling Rolling Stone online last week that the Austin-born quartet's recent reunion, which included a stellar Fun Fun Fun Fest set in 2010, was over due to "certain" band members' reluctance to cut new material, now comes news that the group's singer, David Yow, has been cast in High & Outside: A Baseball Noir, a film about an aging ballplayer desperately trying to make the pros. The Scratch Acid screamer (another reunion not likely continuing) can be seen in the trailer doing bumps of white powder and getting punched in the nose. The director's current Kickstarter bid hopes to finance continued shooting.

• The most bountiful Fun Fun Fun Fest leak thus far promises the first Austin performance of Against Me! since singer Tom Gabel became the transgendered Laura Jane Grace, along with comedian David Cross, Detroit rapper Danny Brown, and Mike Patton's Tomahawk, also starring Duane Denison.

Tom Carter, guitarist for Charalambides, has been in a Berlin hospital's intensive care unit since he caught pneumonia during the locals' European tour in May. Bandmate Christina Carter has put together a fund for his rehabilitation needs. Donate at www.helptomcarter.org.

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