Faster Than Sound: Gary Keller Now Owns West Austin's One World Theatre

Austin music benefactor adds One World to real estate portfolio, alongside Saxon Pub

One World Theatre (Photo by John Anderson)

After a year of rumors regarding changes at One World Theatre, a new landowner has emerged. Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams Realty, has purchased the West Austin venue known for renowned world, jazz, folk, and legacy music bookings. Nick Shuley, president of Keller's Austin Music Movement organization, confirmed the real estate magnate's involvement in the sale to the Chronicle last week.

Shuley said the team isn't ready to comment on specific plans for One World, but indicated its continued use as a performance venue. A major player in Austin music advocacy, Keller leads a far-reaching network of philanthropic efforts under the Austin Music Movement header, supporting over a dozen nonprofits including HAAM, the SIMS Foundation, and Red River Cultural District. Keller is known as a regular attendee and supporter at One World, frequently seated in the front row.

This isn't Keller's first purchase of a struggling music locale. In 2016, when songwriters' hub the Saxon Pub was slated to relocate from its original home, Keller stepped in to preserve the 1320 S. Lamar property. The billionaire funded renovations and allowed the business to continue operating indefinitely.

Music fan Gary Keller's in-office guitar collection as shown in a March 4 Keller Williams TikTok. (Via TikTok)

According to Travis County records, One World Theatre at 7701 Bee Cave Rd. was sold last September to a business entity registered to Valerie Vogler-Stipe, managing director at Keller Williams Realty International. The property was purchased from BCAC Acquisition LLC, registered to One World co-founder and Executive Director Hartt Stearns, which had owned the property since 2007. Stearns and wife Nada opened One World Theatre in 1999.

Stearns declined to comment on changes at the venue on a phone call in early March.

Currently shuttered, the last show to take place at One World featured Pat Metheny in February. The venue website says, "We are undergoing changes. No shows or private events are being scheduled at this time. Please check back later."

Last April, inaccurate reports floated that famed podcaster and new Austin resident Joe Rogan had purchased the West Austin music venue. (Rogan has since opted to launch his comedy club at the former Alamo Drafthouse Ritz location on 320 E. Sixth.) At the time, "Faster Than Sound" confirmed that no deal had been settled. Still, multiple sources said the Stearns were in talks with new investment partners following financial difficulties due to COVID-19.

The Stearns formed One World in 1993 as a youth education program, expanding to the theatre facility in 1999. Alongside booking world-class acts like Sérgio Mendes, Herbie Hancock, and Miriam Makeba, their 501(c)(3) nonprofit structure supported various music education programs and scholarships.

The Tuscan-style building packs a juicy Austin history. The 300-seat theatre was constructed by members of spiritual cult the Buddhafield, under instruction of their charismatic leader, known as Michel. No longer connected to the One World in any way, the Hollywood-launched group relocated locally in the Nineties, as featured in the 2016 documentary Holy Hell.

One World last shared a January 24 website update announcing dozens of cancellations "due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic." The post also shared: "We thank you for your patience & understanding as we strive to answer everyone's questions. We are extremely grateful for your patronage & support while we work together to help ensure the future of the live music scene in a city we all love so much."

Waterloo Records in August 2020 (Photo by John Anderson)

Waterloo Records Celebrates 40th Birthday With Two In-Store Performances

The return of South by Southwest wasn't quite complete without Waterloo Records' much-loved parking lot parties. The no-badge, all-ages lineups provided an accessible entry point during my own early voyages to the Festival as a San Antonio high schooler. Throughout the pandemic, Waterloo owner John Kunz has played it safe – inching from curbside to appointment shopping to reopening with book and record signings last year.

Finally, on the occasion of the legendary vinyl (and more) emporium's 40th birthday, Waterloo reintroduces live music for the first time in over two years. No joke, the shop opened April 1, 1982. To celebrate, Waterloo hosts two in-store performances by Ray Wylie Hubbard (3pm) and Heartless Bastards (5pm) this Friday, April 1.

"We used to have in-stores a couple of times a week and average 75 to 100 a year," says Kunz. "I always say, 'It's artists from around the corner to around the world.' It's a huge part of us being a cog in the local music community."

Masks are required at the limited-capacity performances on the store's indoor stage. Fans can receive one guaranteed-admission wristband for Hubbard's performance with the purchase of an LP or CD of the Texas songwriter's new album, Co-Starring Too. For Heartless Bastard's separate-entry set, the same rules apply with purchase of the band's 2021 album, A Beautiful Life.

Say you already bought one of the above? Just bring your receipt or record as proof to grab a wristband at the store. After priority wristband entry, others will be admitted as capacity allows. Austin's largest and oldest music retailer also offers "40 staff-selected top LPs on sale for $4 or more off," today through Wed., April 6.

Over four decades, Kunz's kingdom has shifted through cassette signings, the dawn of CDs, the dwindling of record pressings, and our current vinyl revival. From their original location to Waterloo's current corner hub since 1989, the store has hosted performances by the likes of Willie Nelson, Jimmy Cliff, Gary Clark Jr., St. Vincent, and so many more. Read more in-store stories from Kunz on our Daily Music blog.

COVID Concern Post-SXSW

Everyone in music circles seems to know a handful of people who caught COVID during the festivities of SXSW. As we've dealt with while reporting on live music and the virus for the past few years, it's difficult to nail down exactly where someone got sick while enjoying the joyful return of megafest events official and unofficial – and all the house shows and traveling and out-of-towner-incorporating hangouts that happen in between. While a few people requested reporting on this, surprisingly including the writer Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500, few bands expressed interest in confirming viral status for print, understandably.

Safe to say, the cases among musicians were enough to inspire conversations about the potential for COVID to interrupt the national tours artists have waited so long to reschedule and reschedule again. California's Sasami, who led five raging Festival sets under her current metal concept, posted soon after: "I fucking BEG YOU to please wear your masks at my shows. I am not a big band, if we get Covid and have to cancel shows I'm fully FUCKED if u love me at all please wear a mask and buy merch so we can keep touring squeeze," referencing her fantastic new LP.

Toronto-based Charlotte Cornfield, whose restless storytelling I enjoyed mid-Fest at the Ballroom, updated on Twitter last week: "Yes sxsw was a superspreader event and yes my entire band got covid, as did many others. We obviously knew there was a risk going in but really feeling for everyone whose tours/lives have been derailed by this thing."

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One World Theatre, Gary Keller, Keller Williams Realty, Hartt Stearns, Waterloo Records, John Kunz, Ray Wiley Hubbard, Charlotte Cornfield, Sasami, SXSW, South by Southwest, COVID, COVID-19

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