The possibility of the Cactus Cafe closing is deeply saddening [“'A' Is for Axed: UT Chops Cactus, Cuts Classes
,” News, Feb. 5; “Off the Record
,” Music, Feb. 5]. Déjà vu. The larger Armadillo World Headquarters succumbed to make a parking lot. Thanks to survival-minded manager Eddie Wilson, AWH still “exists" today as Threadgill's. But a nostalgic treasure like the Cactus, where more than just students make an effort to drive down, isn't a spruced-up armory. It's heartening that the newly formed Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe say they'll “preserve and sustain [its] culture and history” so early pioneers like Bill and Bonnie Hearne and Willis Alan Ramsey, who relish quieter settings, can return to visit with their many loving supporters.
Something more could have been lost than when AWH closed. Elvis, Bruce, Van Morrison, Lost Gonzos, Doc & Merle Watson, Bill Monroe, Uncle Walt's, Frank Zappa, and more went on to greener pocketbooks. We had great times! But legendary local-vocals that most may never know planted caring seeds that helped Austin grow into the “live music capital of the world,” which started in smaller settings. The Hearnes at Rome Inn. Willis Alan and John Hartford on I-35. Freda and the Firedogs at Split Rail. Cedarwood Whackers off Bluff Springs.
When AWH doors shut, local pioneers scattered. Sweet Mary of Greezy Wheels ("The only way to Heaven is a good
life") teaches fiddle. Where's Big Rikki, Guacamole Queen of the kitchen/beer gardens? Freda and the Firedogs spawned Marcia Ball and Johnny Reed. The Crow brothers and Herb are still around! Artists Jim Franklin and Micael Priest make AWH annual reunions.
Music capitals should preserve all original music venues possible. Soap Creek should be out on Bee Caves with an SRV historical marker. It was noted recently, "Austin of those days had a charm and sense of community that's revered by many, but it's largely missing today." I'd like to think not.