Music Amidst Used Furniture
The History of the Red River Strip
It's a warm, late August afternoon, and it's eerie to be standing inside the ghost of what was once Chances, hearing Michael Terrazas, age 30, eagerly explaining the plans he and his partners (Nathan Tate and New York City émigré Abigail King) have for the space they've just taken over. He's waving his arms around, animatedly indicating what's going where in what will be called Club DeVille by the time they're hoping to be in full operation (Halloween week). Meantime, it's not easy for a sentimentalist to see Chances reduced to a gutted edifice, with a pile of lumber near the back entrance, and rubble filling what was once the dance floor in front of the outdoor stage.
Although ostensibly a lesbian bar before its closing in the summer of 1994, Chances spent 12 years as a true "international palace of sweat and funk," a term one writer used in the early Eighties to describe certain cultural icons like San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom. Certainly by 1991, the low- ceilinged club with the outdoor stage beneath a cliff had developed what may have been the most open- minded booking policy of any Austin venue, and had become a place where anyone was welcome regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
One night, you might have seen the New York emigrant country & western of Jean Caffeine's All- Night Truck Stop, the next, you could catch a performance by the house band for Robbie Jacks' New Wave musical, Boy Problems. Then there were the evenings Power Snatch backed a Cher impersonator, the band costumed as Cher's various musician ex- boyfriends. Meantime, shenanigans were occurring in the club's various nooks and crannies, which could prove harmful either to the bathroom sinks of the world or else to certain reputations.
Terrazas snaps this reverie with the phrase "cocktail lounge," Club DeVille's definition to be. "But it's not a martini-and-cigar bar!" he insists. "There are other cocktails besides martinis. And if you want to smoke a cigar, you're more than welcome." The partnership is also not intending Club DeVille to be strictly an outpost for the Combustible Edison generation. They are well-aware of the space's history (especially Tate, the only member of the trio to have frequented Chances), and intend for bookings to be as eclectic as any which graced the Chances stage.
"One of the things I would like to do," says Terrazas, "is feature folks who don't have a regular gig to play, or really don't have a good place to start. Smaller and more acoustic stuff, too, solo acts." Mostly, though, they're looking for the Club DeVille to be a dark, smoky room where people can hang out, have a drink, and enjoy it either for the entertainment on hand or as a pit stop on the way to or from another show.
"[The building] has had many incarnations," Terrazas smiles. "We're hoping to add one more."
Pick a Brick, Any BrickChances isn't the only building on the block that's had many incarnations. Just over the hedge from Chances -- er, Club DeVille! -- lies a building which at least in recent memory was a drag bar called Auntie Mame's. Construction crews are currently reconfiguring it into a jazz club, reportedly to be run by the same people who brought you the dance club, Proteus. In reality, however, you can scratch the bricks and mortar of any currently standing structure along Red River and find some sort of history. The Club DeVille triumvirate, for example, stumbled across a flyer hyping one of Chances' previous incarnations, Don Politico's, promising "Alcohol and Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex!" ("Apparently, it was a big lobbyist/legislator hangout," says Nathan Tate, "a real dark, backroom- type thing.")
This entire stretch of Red River is an odd bird, particularly within the three or four blocks just north of Sixth Street. You get this weird mix of used furniture shops, historic buildings in various states of repair, Jaime's Spanish Village, and (especially at what John Scott of Stubb's calls "the intersection of Beirut and Lebanon," i.e. Seventh and Red River) homeless people, winos, junkies, small-time criminals, and drug trafficking. Come nightfall, another element further confuses the mix: The hard thwack of a drumstick hitting a snare drum, the warm blast of guitar amp vacuum tubes working overtime. Quietly, the Red River Strip has probably done more to nurture original live music than Sixth Street or any other concentrated area in town, and has done so at least since the early Seventies, when what is now Stubb's housed another international palace of sweat and funk, the One Knite.
Black Cat owner Paul Sessums, who's currently making his contribution to the Red River tradition with punkabilly palace the Split Rail, is in agreement: "There's hardly ever been any discos or any of that shit here. There's been some wild places, but it was wildy popular back in the Sixties with rockabilly, rock & roll. The first live music out of here was the Red Steagall Band, country & western. In fact, one of the drummers that plays in a couple of the bands at the Black Cat played here the first night Red Steagall played here -- back in the Fifties, I guess."
Margaret Moser, whose own local musical epiphany occurred at 801 Red River, believes "there have always been areas where things have just tended to congregate." And what's tended to congregate in these three or four blocks for at least the last 26 years has been (besides used furniture shops): Gay bars (the building now housing the Split Rail was once one of Austin's longest- lived gay spots, the Austin Country, remembered by some as "the drag bar/dance club, pre- disco"); drug trafficking (easily serviced, at least in the mid- Seventies, by a drug store at I- 35 and Sixth called Ferris Drugs, where it was possible to purchase syringes without a doctor's prescription); and fringe music clubs ("Most of these are off-music clubs, most of these don't feature the popular kind of music"). Doesn't all of this begin to resemble the traditional mix which fuels bohemia?
Mexicans, Mule Barns, and MormonsIt's doubtful when the community of Waterloo, which eventually morphed into Austin, was settled in the 1800's, that our forefathers would've approved of these heathen goings-on. They probably would've liked the furniture stores, however. The earliest known records indicate this area was indeed part of the city's initial grid.
Sessums, who grew up in Austin, claims the current Split Rail site used to be Col. Custer's mule barn during the Reconstruction. Upstairs at some point was an eight-room cathouse, with stairway access for the johns from the street. (The rooms are still intact in the Split Rail attic, the original room numbers still nailed onto the door facings.) John Scott of Stubb's claims they've been able to trace 801 Red River back to the 1850s, when the building was apparently constructed by Mormons. Certainly, the 1885 Sanborn's Fire Insurance Map of Austin depicts 801 Red River, and city records indicate it was occupied between 1895 and 1905 by a dressmaker named Mrs. Marguerite Skillings, who apparently also rented out some of the additional rooms on the property.
"Waller Creek was all Mexican laborers in little houses," explains Sessums. "Where Stubb's barbecue is, 50-to-100 workers lived in the buildings out back, and they worked for an old man named Chester Buratti. He ran the Mexican crews that did masonry and stuff like that. The building next door here by that large tree, if you look at the brickwork on it, that and the rockwork on Stubb's was all done by Burratti's Mexican crews. They all used to wash their clothes down in Waller Creek with scrub boards and stuff like that. That's when from First Street all the way to the water was Mexicans. There wasn't stabilized land like there is now. A lot of it sloped down, and you had floodings and stuff like that. So, all the Mexicans lived down there where it flooded all the time. And also on First Street through Congress to down past Liberty Lunch and that area was Mexican businesses, really thriving -- a lot of whorehouses and stuff like that."
Not a lot else looks to be developed on that 1885 Sanborn's map, which, admittedly, might as well be hieroglyphics at times for all its clarity. The block of Red River and Pecan Street -- Sixth Street, now -- did house G.R. Anderson's Wagon Yard, with what is now Emo's apparently being a dwelling of some sort. "The back of it was," corrects Sessums. "The front part was a steel forge. When I was growing up here in the late Forties, it was still a forge. There were still guys in there doing that thing where they throw wood in and pound things out, it had all that stuff in it."
This doesn't change by the time you reach the 1894 Sanborn's map, but there's a lot more stuff in the area, including a lunch counter in the parking lot across from Emo's, a grocery store in the modern-day Naked Grape, and a dwelling in what appears to be the Split Rail. Tellingly, across the street lies what the map calls a "Negro Tenement." Hmmm. By the 1935 Sanborn's Map, that "Negro Tenement" is a filling station, with the Split Rail/Hurt's Hunting Ground building housing various shops and a restaurant at the Split Rail's actual physical address, 705 Red River. The strip's reputation as Furniture Shop Central also apparently starts building in this era, with at least 24 furniture stores in place. 901 Red River is depicted as home of the Southland Ice Corp. It's apparently been frigid there for a long time, as it currently houses the Reddy Ice plant.
"It's funny," muses Sessums. "When I lived here in the Forties, it was a really neat small town. Most things were still intact. I moved away to California for 25 years, and I moved back here 18 years ago. And the first two years I was back here, everything was pretty much the same, buildingwise. The first two years I moved back here, three-quarters of Congress was gutted, but this area was still the same. The building here was owned by an old guy named Joe Branton. The building across the street was owned by Dutch Meyers. Both of 'em were old horse traders, and Branton had had the building since it was a mule barn, then Meyers had it. That's where all these people used to gamble and stuff like that. They gambled over there, and they gambled over here.
"Sixth Street was all Lebanese and Jews," he continues. "I used to shine shoes down there in 1947 and '48, and it was all Mexicans and Negroes and Jews and Lebanese. It was really colorful, 50,000 or 60,000 people down there on a weekend. Amazing. There was so much color, and there still is, just different color. If you just swapped years, it would be just as colorful then or now."
Whether the buildings remain in stasis or not, vast changes occur by the time we reach surveyor's photos of the area taken in 1980. The first shot you find is a vivid color study of the intersection of Sixth and Red River, staring straight down the latter. The Tropical Isle, on the corner of Sixth and Red River, isn't even a bar, much less a music club; rather, it's Shanblum Cafe Supply Co. The building that now houses Emo's looks to be abandoned: it's yet to be either Pootie's or Ravens, the pair of country & western bars it housed consecutively through the Eighties.
The smell of amyl nitrate has yet to hit the other buildings, either: A dark- colored van is parked in front of Rue's Antiques, with the mock Keith Haring mural marking the spot of what would become The Crossing in the distant future, and the Naked Grape in the present. Snooper's Pawn Shop sits squarely at Seventh and Red River; considering those walls now resonate with a racket built from pawn shop gear in the site's current life as the Blue Flamingo, the irony is rich.
One thing that hasn't changed on Red River since the Thirties: You still can't sneeze without some phlegm hitting a furniture shop wall. Only these stores are all now used furniture and antique stores, meaning some of the same chairs and sofas peddled here in the Thirties are probably up for sale a second time. Hurt's Hunting Ground is firmly in place at 712 Red River, and 705 boasts hand- painted letters above its shaded sidewalk announcing it as Snooper's Paradise Used Furniture Shop. A ghost sits at 801, however, next to a clutch of buildings still active as stores, their wares hawked by free-standing, hand-painted wooden signs: Books, Playboys, Comics, Records, We Buy Everything, Loans, We Buy Guns. The ghost is the clearly now-abandoned One Knite, a long way from its sweat-and-funk-palace days.
Give Us Your Tired, Rick Black, the designer/architect in charge of converting the old Chances
building into Club DeVille, remarks that, "The interesting thing about this
street, is that it's the first street that comes off of Sixth that you don't
walk uphill to. So, it's kind of a natural thoroughfare." Come Saturday night,
it's one bordered by police road blocks, erected to deal with the overflow of
traffic. You cross the street, get on the right hand side, and head north,
locomoting past the Tropical Isle. Your destination: Emo's, 603 Red River. The
only remaining evidence of its country & western past, commandeered by an
associate of Willie Nelson's, is a locked iron gate, which must have once
served as the bar's entrance, rough hewn block letters reading "Ravens" between
equally rustic/rusty stars.
"When I took the place over and walked in here," says Eric "Emo" Hartman, a big man in an Emo's bowling shirt, "there were dead animal heads stuffed everywhere and wagon wheels and all kinds of fun stuff!" Hartman, a Chicago native, had been successfully running Emo's in Houston, going into business for himself after working for a company that took over old theatres and renovated them into live music venues and dance clubs. He'd heard about 603 Red River from one of his Houston employees, rented it, and after opening it in a makeshift manner under a caterer's license during SXSW '92, had the Austin Emo's up and running by summer of that year.
Initially, the club ran under a fairly revolutionary premise: It presented top national alternative acts and a selection of local alternative bands for free, with drink sales subsidizing the operation. Sure, this led to local "hepcats" being forced into the unappetizing position of having to rub elbows with fratboys and straights of all types. Still, it was a delightfully subversive idea: After all, Boyd or Buffy may be coming in to get fucked up and maybe get lucky, but they were subjected along the way to several billion decibels of the Didjits or The Jesus Lizard.
Alternarock eventually became Big Business, though, which meant Emo's had to start paying bigger guarantees. On top of which, both Lovejoys and Casino El Camino opened, cutting seriously into pre- show drink sales. This resulted in people not showing until the headliner's slot; opening acts, local and otherwise, quite often found themselves playing to the Emo's staff. Drink receipts suffered. End of the free shows.
These days, to get past some of the friendliest and funniest door staff in town and enter this spacious room littered with colorful Frank Kozik and Al Frank paintings, you have to pay $2. Some have complained, not realizing bills of the quality Emo's has continued to display can cost upwards of $8 in most major cities. Too bad. Boyd and Buffy may never know the thrill of seeing Guitar Wolf mangling Johnny Thunders hits through the twin filters of being Japanese and suffering severe alcohol poisoning.
A Spiritual Window Leaving Emo's, turning north again on Red
River, past the urine-drenched alley, past the Naked Grape and its classy neon cluster of vine fruit, we reach the place where you can pogo right next to some guy in five-day stubble and an evening gown, the Blue Flamingo. The former pawn shop has housed a history of gay clubs through the Eighties, according to the club's colorful owner/operator, U.L. Moses -- aka Miss Laura.
"The people who had Marilyn's [its Cavity-era incarnation] owed me money, so I repossessed it," she laughs. The partial list of pre-Blue Flamingo names for the property includes Rupert's, Junior's, and Marilyn's. Patterning it after a "bohemian bar" she once frequented in new York City, where queens mixed freely with punk rockers (not as odd as it may sound -- read Please Kill Me, or introduce yourself to Randy "Biscuit" Turner sometime), Laura was approached by the Fuck Emo's Russell Porter to throw a party there featuring live music.
The Cavity had just died, and there was no place in 1992 willing to throw open its doors to loud, fucked-up, noisy rebel music -- not even Emo's. Dead End Cruisers, then in a much-despised incarnation called Bury Jenny, took advantage of this "give-us-your-tired/sick/disaffected" booking policy to play more gigs there than any other band, playing every Wednesday at one point and booting in the door for the coming crop of neo-punk traditionalists.
Things could (and can) be disastrous there: once upon a time you never knew whether anyone would take admission at the door, if a P.A. would be set up or not, and in what condition it would be if provided. The room's no bigger than an average kitchen, so no band is gonna make a huge payday. On top of all that, the location is hardly prime real estate, being right at one of the most drug-and-crime-saturated intersections in Austin.
Occasionally, some hosebeast will wander in looking to start trouble, thinking a punk rock club is a good place for it. Soon, he finds an entire roomful of regulars pounding the shit out of him and sending him running. Still, four years and many threats of shut-down later, the Blue Flamingo stands, still offering gigs to bands who might never make it out of the garage otherwise. On a good night, when the right three- chords- and- violence outfit (say, the Chumps or the Motards) is working out on the floor, thrusting their guitar necks into the kids faces and bringing the electricity to a boiling point, the atmosphere fairly crackles. Tim Kerr claims it's the closest modern day spiritual window to Raul's. He oughta know.
Of course, when the Blue Flamingo was still Marilyn's, the patrons were terrified one evening to see some shell- shocked kids running in from next door, covered in human shit and seeking shelter. Someone named G.G. Allin had been let loose next door, in this barn with a half- pipe out back that called itself the Cavity, and he was clearing the joint. Violently. By the time the notorious punk performance- artist- cum-jailbird was led off by the squadron of cop cars responding to the melee, the Cavity reeked of mace and fecal matter. ("It didn't help that G.G. had worms," grumbles Cavity owner Dave Herman.) The Chronicle, aptly, ran the police report as a "Live Shot."
Perhaps it was equally apt that the Cavity stank of G.G.'s shit that night (and long after), because hardly anyone would disagree: The Cavity was a shithole. A much- beloved, necessary shithole, but a shithole nonetheless. Herman had been running the Ritz, was talked into kicking up something new by a young neon worker named Staryn Wagner, and they ended up moving into the old Zendik Farm. Literally, they moved into it: Neither of the two could afford to rent apartments or houses since they were sinking all their money into the Cavity. What opened there in the fall of 1991 was an unspeakable pit, an enormous acoustic nightmare of a barn with loud and tinny sound, some sinister regulars, and all manner of sexual and pharmaceutical hijinks going on in the corners.
Like we've established, a shithole. But without that shithole, a lot of now- celebrated bands would have had no place to play. You can number amongst the Cavity's alumni the Fuck Emo's, Jesus Christ Superfly, Stretford, the Inhalants, and Gomez. Pork had been gigging for a few years, but it could be argued the trio really came into their own at the Cavity. Besides G.G. Allin, the Cavity also hosted some fairly high profile underground touring acts, including Bikini Kill, U.K. Subs, Beat Happening, Seaweed, and Eugene Chadbourne. Most important of all, because the Cavity was BYOB, minors could get in. As a result, there are many kids who got an early taste for this stuff.
"For me, that was definitely where I really got turned on," says Blue Flamingo employee John Monge, age 21. "`Wow, man! People are so unprofessional, and it doesn't matter! People are still getting into it!' I was scared, but I got out of the basement. I couldn't compete, but big deal. It didn't matter if I sucked. `These guys are getting a huge crowd, and they suck!' I miss that place." The ever- repeating story of punk itself, eh?
Ground ZeroPushing your way out of the sea of leather jackets and colored hair, you check the remnants of your beer with the Blue Flamingo's doorman and emerge out front. And no, you inform the rumpled old wino, shambling amongst the punkers, you can't spare a fuckin' quarter. The light changes and you cross over Seventh Street to the Split Rail, cranked old Fenders whining out the open grate owner Sessums has added during his tenancy.
Inside, past the lanky, ponytailed doorman in a Black Cat T-shirt, maybe 15 to 20 young punkers in various shades of bowling shirt/pomade/petticoat chic, are watching the Showoffs, who are onstage in classic cowboy drag, spewing out an agitated rethink of "Rocky Top" Owner Sessums, a compact, red-skinned gentleman, smilingly tends bar in a black cowboy shirt, straight dark hair, and salt-and-pepper chin whiskers, a can of beer in his hand, looking every bit like Lash LaRue gone to seed. He oozes a quiet, Mack the Knife type of confidence. Not a man to be trifled with."
"There seems to be a real resurgence in punkabilly," says Sessums, the man who's run the Black Cat for 11 years, of his booking policy at the eight-month-old Red River venture, the Split Rail. "All the best bands I've heard lately have been punkabilly. It's pretty good. I get a lot of audition tapes and stuff like that, and whatever society is going towards, I can accommodate.
"A big thing is young lesbianism right now. Probably three-quarters of the girls at the Black Cat right now are lesbians. It's not something that I would do, but it's what society is reflecting. That's what society is doing, and that's what I'm reflecting at the club. I've never had a concept of what a club should be. A club should be whatever a group of people are doing at the time. All I do is sell beer, and make it a place where people can go."
Well, how's 705 Red River as a location? "It's fairly difficult. If you advertise like Stubb's is doing, you can advertise and hire bands with a following and stuff like that. But I want to build it from ground zero. I don't want to take advantage of the advertising gimmick or the bands with a following -- things like that. I just want to let it grow. If it grows that way, you might have one bad year, or a bad three months or something. Then all of a sudden, it'll be fantastic, then it'll slack off again. It grows sort of like we do: We have good years, bad months. I'm sure there are months you've gone without even wanting to go out. I'd like the club to grow the same way, not fired by extraneous means."
Brad First must not have found Number 705 too problematic a location. After closing shop at Club Foot, First moved here sometime in the mid Eighties, transforming it from Snooper's Paradise into the aptly named Cave Club, which shattered neighborhood windows with the multi- decibel likes of Scratch Acid, Poison 13, and others. You might even be able to trace the origins of modern- day poster art to this spot, as well: this guy working the door named Frank Kozik designed some colorful flyers for the club, launching another career in the process.
What's memorable of the decor was that if First could have made the ceiling sprout stalagmites, he would have. The dressing room area featured a bar with fluorescent- painted animal skulls glowing under black light. Once, while playing hooky from studying journalism at Texas A&I University in Kingsville, I found myself back here, introducing Mick Blood, the singer for Australian Stooges worshippers the Lime Spiders, to the joys of Jolt Cola. He promptly redecorated the room with his stomach lining. I'm guessing antipodean stomachs can for some reason take the strongest beer in the world, yet go queasy at the mere taste of Jolt.
As the Sanitarium, 705 Red River mixed dance music with oddball migraine rock acts like Pain Teens. You could imagine what went on when it was Hip- Hop City; Kilimanjaro was the same management's attempt to meld that scene with the type bands getting featured at Blue Flamingo, but it committed suicide with its hostile bouncers. It was a gay honky-tonk for a time before it was the Split Rail.
Hell's Half AcreTurning away from the hi-watt Brylcreem noise of the Split Rail, spinning on your bootheels northward, you walk past Hurt's Hunting Grounds, still in operation (and expanded to two more locations across the street), past a gravel parking lot, and cross the street to the oldest building on the strip, 801 Red River, the former seamstress' house of the 1800s that later became the One Knite of the Seventies.
Although a biker bar in theory, the seeds of both Austin's white blues establishment and the city's invasion by the Lubbock Warblers Mafia were sown at the One Knite. People like the Vaughan brothers, Paul Ray, and Doyle Bramhall found steady work there in the pre-Antone's Seventies, within a residency format similar to the one currently employed by the Black Cat. Upon blowing into town from Lubbock, Joe Ely would ride his bike to the One Knite from his place in Mount Bernal with a guitar strapped to his back and would play for tips. Hard to believe now, but acts like these were as marginalized at the time as the thrash band making its debut at Blue Flamingo next Monday, screaming to be heard above the Kozmic Kowboy din of the Armadillo. The One Knite gave 'em a place to scream.
"For years, I kept passing by this place when it was an antique store," says Margaret Moser, "thinking it was a shame it was no longer being used as a music venue." The way it was being used fairly recently sounds positively medieval: "We bought this property in October of '94," says John Scott, president of the small corporation mounted to revive C.B. Stubblefield's legendary BBQ joint and music club, "and started working on it in May of '95. Stubb found this place at the same time we were looking at it. So, coming from two different sources, we both happened upon this place. Stubb had a way of knowing everybody and talking to everybody in town, so we couldn't tell him that we were actually in negotiations to buy this property.
"When we found this place, we didn't see all the shit that was going on in the back. It was basically Third World: there were chickens running around in there. There were probably 50 people living in the back area in two houses that were dilapidated and had no plumbing! There were bedspring mattresses that were set up kind of like tent structures, with cardboard insulation! You can imagine what this place was like, because you had Seventh Street nearby. People would buy their drugs over there, come right down in here -- half a block from the police station -- because it was dark and it was overgrown to where you couldn't see anything. There was crack, there was heroin, prostitution. There was this whole feudalistic society going on that was wacked- out! Nobody wanted to come down here, even the cops!
"So, we went to pick up Stubb to show him what we had done and see if it met with his approval. Stubb pulled up in his Cadillac -- he wouldn't drive anything else, y'know he was too big, man! He had a way of being real slow, cool, there was never a jerky move in his entire life. He let the whole thing kinda sink in on him, and instead of blurting, `Wow! This is a cool place,' he just kinda looked at it, and got the vibe. Then he gets out of the car, stands over that bridge and looks down over everything. And he says, `Boys, this is hell's half- acre. But it's the perfect place for Stubb's BBO.'"
Regrettably, Stubblefield didn't live to see the renovation of Hell's half- acre into his legacy, using much of the ancient materials already on-hand in the site and stripping the building down to its original beauty. Twenty or more years after he'd played behind the coffin- shaped doors of the One Knite for whatever was thrown into his hat, Joe Ely returned, his feet the first to mount the reincarnated Stubbs' stage. Since then, Alejandro Escovedo, Storyville, and many bands falling in the strata between Emo's and the Continental Club have played there to their respective crowds. The circle had been broken, and is now mended.
Chances of a Lifetime"Chances was very catholic, very across- the- board," a friend of mine remembered as I was researching this story. "Anybody could come in there, and anybody was welcome there. There was a similarity there with the One Knite. Not that the One Knite had a welcome sign out or anything like that." But it was a biker hangout that staged shows by white blues acts shut out of other venues for lack of fashionability.
"Exactly. And Chances was a lesbian bar that was basically a place where alternative bands could play. Because of that, you could pull in a lot of different people. To me, the most interesting venues in Austin have always been like that, and they've always been places where it seems they would have one kind of crowd, and they've actually had four or five different kinds of crowds. And I've always thought those were the most interesting and representative clubs throughout Austin's history."
Well, the One Knite lit the fuse. It just took awhile for the keg to explode and sprinkle a number of clubs amongst the furniture shops. It probably took Eric Hartman ignoring sage real estate advice and setting up Emo's exactly where he was told it would die a quick death. The Red River Strip may not boast the sheer number of live venues as Sixth Street, but what it has is certainly more open to free and original musical expression. Hartman agrees.
"There might something to say for Liberty Lunch and Austin Music Hall and La Zona Rosa and that little nook, but I don't think Sixth Street has anything to do with live music, other than when SXSW is here. Other than the Black Cat and maybe one or two others, it seems most of the clubs down the street feature cover bands." The Blue Flamingo's Miss Laura doesn't believe the Red River strip is Austin's true Live Music Capital, but she jokes that it might be "the weird music capital of Austin!"
Currently, the circle ends at Stubb's. Shortly, it'll be expanded to include Club DeVille, and the jazz bar over the hedge from the one- time Chances.
"There's a lot of old Chances people we still know," says the Club DeVille's Nathan Tate, "and we've been writing down things from the walls to save for them." Michael Terrazzas calls it "a graffiti anthology."
Tate walks up to a space of wall on the way out to the ghost of Chances outdoor stage. "This," he indicates of one obscured piece of graffiti, "unfortunately got covered up. This was one of the ones we really wanted to save, and they put the electrical box-- when we weren't looking -- on top of it."
The rough-hewn inscription is now hard to read, but the words still cut: "Everyone you'll ever know could come here and have a good time. All kinds of people could be together in peace." Terrazzas reads the last line aloud: "May there always be places like this, everywhere."
Or at least on the Red River Strip. Amen. n