Returning the Favor to Debbie Rombach

Benefits, fundraisers, stunts, and a closing in local news

Debbie Rombach 2012
Debbie Rombach 2012 (by John Anderson)

Today's Playback is devoted to SXSW's Brent Grulke, who died Monday, but before that story broke, local happenings were stacking, including a two-night benefit for former Hole in the Wall owner Debbie Rombach.


When times get tough, you see who your real friends are. For Rombach, they're enough to fill two concert bills. The former club matriarch's friends are lending their talents for a two-night benefit in her honor, among them: the Gourds, Horsies, Sincola, Churchwood and more.

Bands are merely the outward expression of a music community. They're empowered by unheralded forces like venue owners, bartenders, booking agents, and fans. During her 21-year tenure at the Hole in the Wall, Debbie Rombach was all of those things. As a talent buyer, she supported local bands including Spoon, Fastball, and Timbuk3 in their infancy, giving them a stage to cut their teeth on before their national break-outs.

“Debbie gave so many people their start and a platform to grow on,” notes Hickoid and former Hole in the Wall employee Jeff Smith. “She has great instinct and refused to give up on the acts she believed in if they weren’t going gangbusters straight out of the box.”

Rombach's booking calendar provided a mainstay stage for underground bands like the Pocket Fishrman as well as Texas legends like Doug Sahm.

“Although she’s no longer active in the music business, she's left an indelible mark on the face of Austin music, and is one of the people responsible for shepherding what was a relatively sleepy scene into the mega-million dollar industry it is today," adds Smith.

In late May, Rombach underwent surgery to have a football-sized growth removed from her abdomen. While the operation was a success, she was uninsured and it left her with a painful stack of medical bills.

Hearing news of Rombach's woes, Smith organized a benefit, recruiting musicians she supported during her Hole in the Wall tenure. The owners of the ND, who Rombach threw a benefit for in the Nineties when a fire destroyed the bar inside their Electric Lounge, are donating the use of their venue. That's why the Friday/Saturday shows are being called Return the Favor.

"I'm very honored and in awe of the fact they put together what they did," reflects Rombach. "On days when I worry that nothing I did mattered, it reaffirms that it mattered to a bunch of people."

In Austin, what goes around does come around. It's called community. You can't deny the beauty in that.


Promising to be far less boring than the recent competitions in London, the minds behind Fun Fun Fun Fest are instigating a second running of the Aqua Olympics. The adventurous promotional event pits participants against each other in challenges like stand-up paddle jousting and a belching contest at Fiesta Gardens on Sunday, 4pm. Instead of worthless medals, contestants have a chance to win coveted passes to FFF7.

Calling the games will be KGSR's Andy Langer and 101X's Trevin on the Radio, while Mike Wiebe of Riverboat Gamblers and Ghost Knife fame handles the sideline reporting. Pros, too, will be on hand to skate a half-pipe and splash in the BMX Lagoon Launch. FFF7 blue stage performer Othry provides a soundtrack to the event with his Elysian electro-pop and I'll be lurking around trying to devise a way to steal the taco cannon.


Abbie Evans, daughter honky-tonk frontman John Evans, is the subject of a new documentary called Merch Girl. Abby lives with Epidermolysis Bullosa, lacking the gene that bonds her skin together. The documentary follows Abbie as she sells merch at her dad's shows and triumphs though the disease's hardships with inspiring attitude. The film is being funded though Kickstarter and has just one week left to reach its $30,00 goal. Get out your wallet.


Ruta Maya Coffee House will shut down on Sept. 1. In a letter detailing the coffee shop/venue's closure, owner Tim Sheehan wrote that substantial rent increases at the Penn Field complex on South Congress made business at that location unsustainable and he hopes to reopen somewhere by the end of the year.

He also broke news that a second Ruta Maya will open in the airport featuring live music and spoken word performances. A last hurrah at the SoCo coffee house is planned for Aug. 31 featuring music by Lyentte Brehm, Beto y Los Fairlanes, Jitterbug Vipers, CJ Edwards, and Kacy Crowley.

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