Backyard Wrestling

Memories from another dying Austin venue

Backyard Wrestling

It was announced last week that the Backyard, another venue that's made Austin a great music city, is closing at the end of this year's concert season. The Backyard we once knew hasn't been the same since it was invaded by a strip mall, and just getting in and out of the place has become a nightmare. Last summer, it took more than an hour to travel from the stop light at Bee Cave Road to the parking lot. Thankfully, the night's performer, Norah Jones, held up the show until most people could get in, then commented how bad things had gotten during her performance. When someone with the integrity of John Hiatt, who appeared at the Glenn in 2006, questions from the stage whose idea the parking lot surrounding the venue was, you know there's a problem.

In its heyday, the Backyard was as close to perfect as a music venue could be. On a night when the weather was right, the glowing oaks and a Texas sky full of stars were as much a part of the music as whatever was happening on stage.

Last week on the Statesman's blog, Michael Corcoran asked for favorite Backyard experiences. Here's five of mine. Funny how they all fall within a couple of years of each other. Let's hope that the promised "new" Backyard they've got planned comes to fruition. Keep in mind that when Liberty Lunch (R.I.P.) closed they announced plans for another venue and we're still waiting for its return.

1) Lucinda Williams, August, 2001: On her Essence tour, the love from the crowd was palpable. It came in waves and seemed to startle Williams, who could only respond with a mile-wide smile, but her band was ON. Opener Jim Lauderdale was the cherry on top.

2) Elvis Costello & the Imposters, October, 2002: Costello drew from When I Was Cruel, his best disc in ages, and mixed in some golden oldies. I'd seen him many times, but this was one of his most frantic and alluring, easily earning him three encores.

3) Widespread Panic, October, 2003: I found Panic mildly interesting before this show, but afterwards I understood what made Spreadheads fanatical. The second set was a blur, notes bouncing off each other, one crescendo after another. Everyone was just so damn happy to be there.

4) Bob Dylan, April, 2002: Surprisingly, Bob played piano throughout. His band, featuring guitarist Larry Campbell, won extra points just for keeping up. And you could understand what he was singing part of the time.

5) Phil Lesh & Friends, July, 2002: My Deadhead friend JT was always going on about how of all the splinter groups formed after Jerry Garcia passed away, Phil & Friends were the ones who got it right. Two sets of inspired jams and surprises stayed with me for days afterward.

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