In Downtown Austin, cranes, condos, and new hotels aren't the only sky-high dwellers. So are rents.
The platinum value of property in our central business district doesn't bode well for music venues in the area. Case in point: neighboring Seventh Street clubs Red 7 and Holy Mountain are fighting to renew their leases in the face of rent increases. Two of the scene's most popular clubs being forced to close when their leases end October 1 remains a very real possibility.
Online real estate listings price the Holy Mountain property (617 E. Seventh) at $8,000 per month, compared to its current rent of $5,500. Similarly, Red 7's building (611 E. Seventh) has been offered at $14,000, up from $9,000 monthly. Those figures represent base rent, to which a hefty "triple net" fee of real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance are added.
Holy Mountain partner James Taylor characterized the increase as "completely unsustainable." Holy Mountain/Red 7 partner Jared Cannon simply says "impossible." Upon viewing the price-per-square-foot rates of the listings, one real estate executive with experience in Downtown retail leases confirmed, "That price is definitely on the high end. What we're seeing happening is someone from out of town will come in and pay an extraordinary rate for a property in a certain neighborhood, then it sets a high benchmark."
The properties have been listed since early April and new prospective tenants have toured both buildings. Owners at Red 7 and Holy Mountain have presented landlord Jim Daywood with requests for lease extensions and counteroffers – one as recently as last week – but no middleground has been reached.
If you didn't see this coming, it's because neither business is struggling. They're among the most popular places to see rock, hip-hop, metal, and punk in town. It's understandable when underachieving clubs such as Headhunters and Infest bite the dust, but for that to happen to successful venues would necessitate coining a term for the current millennium: victims of the new boom.
And they tied their own nooses with the best intentions, adding value to all the structures standing between a homeless shelter and police station by transforming both bars into nightlife destinations, Red 7 effectively since 2006 and Holy Mountain since 2012. In 2013, Taylor worked with club owners and city officials to honor the surrounding music corridor as the "Red River Cultural District." Real estate listings now use that designation to entice Holy Mountain's potential replacements.
"The issues that the cultural district has addressed are to make that neighborhood more desirable to everybody," says Taylor of RRCD public works projects like fixing sidewalks. "Is it frustrating to think those things could be part of our demise? Yeah, but I don't regret tackling those issues. They're important."
Mohawk and Transmission Events owner James Moody, who helped establish the RRCD, says the cultural district status can't preserve a club's lease. All the organization can do is write a letter to the landlord. Moody's well aware of the impact the venues' closures could have on the area.
"These are great stewards of Austin music and also good, rent-paying tenants, so we want them to stay," he says.
Red River remains vibrant, he stresses, pointing to growth at Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlies, and noting Elysium owner John Wickham taking over Red Eyed Fly. Beerland owner Randall Stockton sympathizes with Red 7 and Holy Mountain.
"Beerland doesn't have the income to sustain a big rent increase," he admits. "Music venues aren't the most profitable endeavors to get into. My involvement in other businesses is what allows me to keep Beerland open. I do it because I love Beerland.
"But you can't blame a landlord for making the most of their property," he continues. "They're not in the business of being a charity. It stinks, but as long as the market supports it, that's the reality."
That reality remains the biggest threat to Austin's vaunted live music scene. Will skyrocketing real estate prices threaten the live music capital's golden goose? Will our prosperity price out our cultural identity?
Austin Psych Fest rebranded as Levitation, partnered with Fun Fun Fun Fest producers Transmission Events, and booked its most expensive music lineup yet. Last weekend, those enhancements paid dividends for the local gathering, which doubled last year's attendance, attracting 10,000-13,000 patrons, many of them white guys in newly fashionable dashikis.
What could well have been a rainout instead yielded a mostly idyllic festival. May showers soaked the earth in advance, causing a last-minute reconfiguration of stages to avoid mudslides. Then Mother Nature showed her sweet side, halting downpours for the duration of the event to defy every weatherman in town.
The Reverberation Appreciation Society's eighth annual outing, returning for a third visit to the Carson Creek Ranch, delivered a potpourri of modern psych (Black Angels), radio rock (Tame Impala), festival faves (Flaming Lips), Scottish bands (Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream), and punk (Thee Oh Sees). Throughout the weekend, festers witnessed positively un-psychedelic moments (Mac DeMarco's lunkheaded Coldplay cover) and unexpected celebrities (Cult singer Ian Astbury hanging backstage).
Still, the uncontested guests of honor, local psych-rock originators the 13th Floor Elevators – performing for the first time since the late Sixties – created the strongest vibration. Their Sunday night set exceeded any reasonable expectations for senior citizens who hadn't jammed together in 45 years, elevating remarkable reproductions of their "artyfacts" as frontman Roky Erickson howled heroically. Afterward, jug-hooting philosopher Tommy Hall faced the audience while tapping an index finger to his temple as if to say, "Unlock your brain."
Full Levitation coverage at "Earache!" at austinchronicle.com/music.
Johnny Gimble, one of the finest fiddlers to ever hold a bow, died Saturday from stroke-related ailments at the age of 88. A trailblazer of Texas swing, his career extended from the late Thirties into the new millennium, touching on fellow titans including Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. Granddaughter Emily Gimble, currently tickling keys for Asleep at the Wheel, noted his magical touch: "Every person he played for or met, he sparked something in them." One such individual, local fiddle scion Warren Hood, remarked, "It's impossible to play Texas swing and not be influenced by him, no matter what instrument you play. His sound was unique and capable of capturing every human emotion." Revisit our April 5, 2002, cover story on Johnny Gimble, "King of the Swing Fiddle."
Metallica has been added to the X Games lineup, providing heavy contrast to previously announced headliner Nicki Minaj. The thrash-metal-gone-hard-rockers' first Austin gig since South by Southwest 2009 happens June 6.
ST 37 celebrates a homecoming Friday at Red 7 alongside blistering Japanese freak-out rockers Acid Mothers Temple. The local drone veterans are deep into a relentless 31-date tour (with only one day off!) of the U.S. and Canada with Makoto Kawabata's guitar-burning psych gang.
Berkshire Hounds are breaking up. Considered by at least two Chronicle writers to be the best undiscovered band in Austin, the lively rock & roll gang, led by alarmingly talented guitarist and vocalist Jim Campo, plays its final show Friday at Lamberts with the similarly excellent alt.country-ists Harvest Thieves. When found day-drinking at Spider House last week, Campo admitted his bandmates abandoned him because they're "sick of his shit."
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