Remembering Sarah Elizabeth Campbell Tonight

Friends, family to gather at El Mercado in memory of fallen songwriter

Sarah Elizabeth Campbell in 2006
Sarah Elizabeth Campbell in 2006 (by Todd V. Wolfson)

There’ll be no mystery at El Mercado’s Mystery Monday show tonight, for the news is already out: Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, who hosted the weekly ramble at the Mexican restaurant on South First Street for the past fourteen months, passed away Thursday morning. For now, the show cannot go on.

In its place, for this week at least, evening cohost Christine Albert told the Chronicle that evening organizers plan to hold “a spontaneous gathering in her honor,” one in which Campbell’s friends and loved ones will “invite people to get up to play or share a story” with little in the way of any defined agenda.

“It’s not her ‘official’ memorial, but we will remember her,” she wrote. “I can’t just play the gig.” A post on the residency’s Facebook page adds that instruments and microphones will be available for those who show up empty handed.

Campbell, whose presence has been felt around the local music scene since she moved to Austin in 1989, died Thursday morning after a long battle with liver cancer, but her health issues are well documented within this paper’s pages. In 2006, Chronicle staffer Margaret Moser wrote at length about the south Austin icon’s longstanding battle with hepatitis C, the disease that ultimately brought on her cancer.

Neither affliction did much to curtail her passion for performance or her ability to “make you laugh ‘till your gut hurt,” as Albert put it on Saturday. Together with Marcia Ball, she founded the much beloved Bummer Nights series on Tuesdays at La Zona Rosa in the early 1990s, eventually moving the weekly commiseration conglomeration to Mondays at Artz Rib House, where it remained until the South Lamar restaurant shut down in the middle of 2012. Campbell and Albert, who’d joined on by then as a cohost, shuffled a few blocks east to El Mercado and re-dubbed the evenings Mystery Mondays, wherein they sang for two hours and played host to a revolving door of unexpected musicians like Slaid Cleeves, Butch Hancock, Kimmie Rhodes, and Caroline Aiken.

Anybody looking to obtain an understanding of Campbell’s ethos in one quick photo should consult this 1987 shot from the Strawberry Music Festival outside Yosemite, Calif. That right there’s a picture worth more than 1,000 words.

Activities at El Mercado this evening commence at 7pm with words and music opening at 7:30. Bring a song and a story, and a full heart for Campbell.

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Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, Marcia Ball, Christine Albert, Margaret Moser, El Mercado, Artz Rib House, Slaid Cleeves, Butch Hancock, Kimmie Rhodes, Caroline Aiken, Strawberry Music Festival

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