Smoking Ban Kicks Off as Katrina Kicks In

Cigarettes are out at Austin’s clubs, but New Orleans musicians could be in

The Live and Kickin' initiative, a local attempt at easing Austin venues into the smoking ban by offering free publicity and cleaning services, has provided two music-oriented glimpses into Austin's nightlife future so far: a crosstown club tour Thursday evening as the smoking ban took effect, and a concert at Threadgill's World Headquarters Sunday afternoon that ended up including an unexpected cameo by New Orleans evacuee Cyril Neville. After reuniting with relatives at Threadgill's, Neville was coaxed into taking the stage with Austin star Malford Milligan and members of the country band Chaparral, before playing a few solo numbers.

Members of the Austin Music Commission joined the Live and Kickin' tour Thursday night, as two busloads of local music folk and community leaders crisscrossed town, surveying the first night of Austin's live music scene sans smoking. The first stop, at the freshly cleaned Saxon Pub, revealed a healthy crowd on hand to see James "Slim" Hand's happy hour honky-tonk set. Natalie Marquis, general manager of Habitat Suites Hotel, said she and her staff of eight had worked from 9am to 2pm, cleaning the smoky scent out of the South Austin live music fixture. Outside, Mike Crump, a longtime Saxon patron and smoker said he "won't come out as much," and that his "friends were saying the same thing." Crump said that when he does venture out, it will be outside of the city.

At the next stop, amid the First Thursday revelry on South Congress Avenue, tour members squeezed into the crowded Continental Club to catch part of a set by the jazz band White Ghost Shivers. "Having no [smoking] problems today whatsoever," reported Stephanie Seeley, who was working the door, just before 9pm. She said the club set up outdoor butt receptacles in the front and back and that smokers coming in and out between cigarettes weren't creating any problems. Inside, 54-year-old Nouzha Swimelar said she had given up on going out to see live music because of the smoke and, while out of the country, had totally missed the dicey smoking ban campaign and vote. Upon returning, she said she e-mailed 50 of her vegetarian and vegan friends, urging them to come out and support the musicians. "We're making sure we tell them we're coming because it's nonsmoking," Swimelar said.

Broken Spoke owner James White got no such words of encouragement Thursday night on the tour's last stop. "I haven't had one person come in and tell me 'I'm a nonsmoker, and I'm glad you're not smoking in here anymore,'" White said. However, Roy Munn, who says he's been dancing at the Broken Spoke since it opened in 1964, was in the parking lot late Thursday night smoking a cigarette next to his pickup truck. "I'm absolutely going to keep coming," he said. "People would be stupid not to keep coming out to their favorite place."

Sunday's Threadgill's show not only shared its spotlight with Neville but also with the plight of the untold number of displaced musicians, bar owners, and workers currently calling Austin home. Natalie Zoe, a singer and vice chair of the Austin Music Commission, said she's come in contact with at least 30 musicians and club workers so far during multiple trips to the Austin Convention Center. Zoe has been helping the Neville family since they arrived in Austin. "The Nevilles know everyone in New Orleans," she said, anticipating that the family will influence members of New Orleans' music industry who are looking for a new home. Event planner Jennifer Hamre agreed. "Austin is about to absorb a ton of musicians from New Orleans."

Prior to the Threadgill's show, Brandi Clark, an event co-organizer and initiative co-founder, visited the convention center to inquire whether any of the beleaguered evacuees wanted to take in the show for free. Hamre even arranged for a Cap Metro bus to transport them. No one ended up taking her up on the offer, however, because most of the hurricane survivors didn't want to leave the few belongings they had, she said. In addition to Milligan, Chaparral, and Neville, the show featured such acts as Beth Garner, Rajamani, the Pistol Love Family Band, David Murray, and Colin Gilmore. Neville, who said an old friend has been nagging him for years to move to town, told the Chronicle Tuesday that he plans to stay in Austin. "I've always had an affinity for Austin since my days playing with the Meters at the Shoal Creek Saloon and with the Neville Brothers at Liberty Lunch," Neville said. "When this tragedy happened, there wasn't much guessing about where to move, since I'm trying to sustain a career in the music business."

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