Ever spent so many hours in a live music venue it felt like home? You know, the patrons for whom the lure of leaning on the bar calls like a siren, and I don't mean the ones zooming down Red River on a Saturday night.
I've had the good fortune to call many local clubs home since the Seventies. As a teenager, before I arrived in Austin, I couldn't wait for the time when I could go to nightclubs. Club life seemed so exciting – the music, the trendy clothes, dancing nonstop, the smoky glitter of neon and bar glass – a world so far away to a suburban San Antonio teen like myself, alive only on the big and small screens and breathless syndicated columns describing nightly routines of divine decadence.
Then again, it was the Sixties, when rock & roll was the domain of youth, something it stopped being in the following decade when adults who'd started playing as kids didn't quit. Sam Kinsey's Teen Canteen was the mecca for kids in the Alamo City. In fact, teen clubs were everywhere then: community centers, pizza parlors, roller rinks, soda shops, churches. It made perfect sense since rarely did adults deign to rock & roll back then. What if you needed a license to listen to rock & roll over the age of 30, 40, 50, or 60?
Pfffft! A silly notion, although my sainted late ex-husband Rollo Banks decreed in 1993 that "No more music be made for three years so we can listen to everything out there." I was thinking about that last Sunday during the Chris Gray benefit at the Continental Club, watching the very U-18 band Residual Kid take on Radiohead and thinking how badly teens need their own clubs like the Teen Canteen. The Canteen wasn't special. It simply booked local and regional teen groups with an occasional touring act. It just so happened that the bands included those now considered Texas' garage rock kings: Billy Gibbons' pre-ZZ Top crew the Moving Sidewalks and South Texas fuzzbusters the Zakary Thaks.
Yes, I'm a walking cliché: "I may be old but I saw all the good bands." And yet, years after I stopped living in clubs, they're still alluring. Hearing that Emo's new Beauty Bar spin-off, the Beauty Ballroom, re-announced its grand opening weekend for January 27 and 28 is more than just another bellwether of local live music venues shifting from overpriced Downtown locations to something more affordable. And with better parking. Parking is pretty much what drove me out of going Downtown to clubs.
"Just give us those three scuzzy blocks on Red River," announced Pachanga Latino Music Festival founder Rich Garza, who sat next to me on the Music Commission a couple of years ago, expressing his frustration with the improvements along Waller Creek – imagined by some as Austin's future answer to San Antonio's River Walk. His words were guileless and eloquent and prescient: Emo's migrated east to Riverside Drive and Justine's became the hippest place east or west of I-35. That was around the year Shangri-La was voted Best New Club in The Austin Chronicle Music Poll. It is a very fun place, also east of the highway, one that doesn't host live music.
The blocks from 11th Street down past Eighth on Red River have been the heart of music in Austin for decades predating the rock era. That's best illustrated by the New Orleans Club bills of the mid-Sixties that featured lounge pianist and singer Ernie Mae Miller downstairs (see "The Miller's Tale," Jul. 6, 2007) and Texas psych architects the 13th Floor Elevators upstairs. And if you've ever traveled to a place where the very earth has meaning – the Alamo or the pyramids or Stonehenge or Barton Springs on the first baking hot day – you feel that gravitas within. I feel it standing at the corner of Eighth and Red River.
Before it was Stubb's, the One Knite rented space at that location in the early Seventies, a dingy little bar well-documented in the lead of my Doyle Bramhall cover story (see "Life by the Drop," Feb. 21, 2003). It was my first club home in Austin, at a time when those blocks of real estate held no value to anyone except those with their eye on the future. Other club homes came along quickly for me – the Soap Creek Saloon and Antone's – but the old stardust remained on Red River. It's worth pointing out that Emo's East and the Beauty Ballroom are actually reclaiming long-abandoned club turf on Riverside Drive.
Taking over the address, Emo's today conjures the Back Room – the pole that used to be in front of the latter's stage now guards the former's back corner bar – but even the version of the beloved hard rock club that closed in 2006 wasn't in its first location there. The original Back Room was a smaller space in the strip mall below, where the liquor store resides. More importantly, Mother Earth, the ultimate and rarely cited Austin rock club of the Seventies, also relocated to Riverside Drive after a fire burned out its 10th and Lamar location. Near it was the short-lived Cricket Club that featured blues and country, located in apartments then known so melodiously as "English air" and the scene of at least one interview in Jan Reid's seminal The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. Across the street on Tinnin Ford Road was the South Door, which catered to the student crowd with blues and rock.
Mother Earth thrived for a while before the Back Room took the space and owned the local hard rock and metal niche there much longer, but the rest of the scene died out in that locale after the Seventies, dominated by highly competitive Latino clubs and discos. Hip-hop fashion plate Theophilus London playing the first night of the 700-person Beauty Ballroom's grand opening next weekend is neither here nor there for me, but that the next night, Saturday, holds an Elvis Presley/David Bowie tribute night is poetically just because it gives the Ambitious Orchestra and members of the Riverboat Gamblers, Not in the Face, Flesh Lights, Quiet Company, Asylum Street Spankers, and more a chance to play at being the Thin White Duke or Fat Elvis.
Meanwhile, the benefits continue, worthy causes all. The sudden closing of Momo's last month put its employees in financial straits, and offering temporary relief at Antone's on Saturday are some of the club's stalwart players, including Dan Dyer, Ed Jurdi from Band of Heathens, Drew Smith, Little Brave, King Corduroy, Marshall Hood & the Bads, Graham Wilkinson, and others I'm betting aren't announced.
In the Name of the Dame II, the second of the fundraisers for Traci Lamar Hancock, happens Sunday, also at Antone's. This one ups the ante with a reunion of the Lost Gonzo Band and an appearance by the Flatlanders at the beginning of its 40th anniversary. Marcia Ball, Monte Warden, and the Band of Heathens are also onboard.
The fundraiser for Chris Gray sent his family home to Houston with a decent amount thanks to James McMurtry, the Gourds, the Allen Oldies Band, and Residual Kid, but it's a drop in the bucket against a tide of bills totaling well over $100,000. Spending those hours inside the Continental on Sunday felt good. It was my neighborhood bar years ago.
"Never had a friend that was a building before," ND at 501 Studios honcho Mike Henry wrote years ago when his beloved Electric Lounge closed.
It's good to count the Continental Club among mine.
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