Faster Than Sound: Concertgoers at Emo's Make Easy Targets for Booting
Lines of fans pay $100 in "parking problem" near Live Nation-owned venue
By Rachel Rascoe, Fri., July 1, 2022
The point of this column is really just to warn: If you leave your car in the shopping center near AutoZone at 2205 E. Riverside to attend a concert across the street at Emo's, you're likely very quickly going to get booted or towed.
Competitive parking in the area has made fans targets for $100 fees to get boots removed after shows at the Live Nation-owned venue. On nights of sold-out shows at the 1,700-capacity venue, Austin company Capital Parking ATX typically boots a large number of cars in the parking lot across Burton Drive, sometimes more than 50 vehicles. When Chronicle staff photographer Jack Anderson was booted there on April 15 during a Knocked Loose show, the attendant told him: "Emo's has a parking problem."
I witnessed the strange scene last Thursday during a sold-out performance of the Houston-born artist Keshi. Two Capital Parking employees calmly and methodically began booting and sticking red notices on cars around 9:30pm. When the show let out around 10:30pm, a group of some 50 bummed-out young fans and families waited in line in the middle of the parking lot to pay for boots on at least 30 cars.
One rowdy bunch had the attendant take their picture posing around their boot and sped off screaming happily. By 11pm, the Capital Parking team headed out with a pickup full of yellow and red boots. The process didn't go as smoothly in February, after a performance by Sullivan King, where Pflugerville resident Lanie Matula witnessed a fight break out between a concert attendee and a booting attendant.
She says onlookers called the cops, and the disgruntled driver ultimately had two boots placed on their car in the altercation. Matula, who waited in line for about an hour to get de-booted, says she didn't see any warning signage in the lot. Today, the shopping center has signs warning of towing and booting displayed at the main entrances, with two prominently placed at the exit onto Burton Drive.
"Emo's parking is a shitshow," Matula said. "There were at least 60 people standing in the parking lot, and the booting guys were not nice. It's a good venue, but I don't go to Emo's very often because it's so frustrating to find a spot and make sure that it's safe. I genuinely had no clue not to park there."
In response to the Chronicle's request for comment, a Live Nation representative wrote: "Emo's does not own or operate the parking lot."
Emo's management did not respond to requests for comment from the Chronicle. After launching locally on Sixth Street in 1992, the Riverside-relocated venue sold to Austin-based promoter C3 Presents in 2013. The next year, C3 Presents sold a controlling stake in the company to Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter – making Emo's one of many nationwide venues under Live Nation ownership.
Capital Parking has booted in the shopping center for a few years. Owner Joe Santiago says he has contracts with multiple businesses in the lot shared by AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, Kim Phung Restaurant, and La Michoacana Meat Market – as well as with landowners Leung Properties LP. Late-night parking spots are especially important to longtime club and Latin live music destination Club Carnaval.
Santiago says a large, 50-person line happens about once a month when Emo's has sold-out shows, pointing out that Capital Parking didn't boot anyone during a June 16 Dean Lewis show the night before our interview.
"It isn't really a big issue unless it's a big-name [concert], and I don't know if Emo's wants to pay a premium for more parking if they're only doing it maybe once a month," said Santiago. "We go down there if someone calls us and says, 'Hey, they're starting to park.'
"It affects all the businesses, because there's trash or accidents with cars leaving Emo's drunk. The issue though – I mean, come on – is that Austin's expanding. Almost everything now is paid parking, so parking's at a premium. If those spaces are worth 25,000 [dollars] a year [to a business], and someone's taking them in my prime hours – that's stealing."
Beyond the center with AutoZone, sold-out gigs drive traffic throughout the area, keeping other companies like J&J Towing busy in the nearby Dairy Queen lot. Neighboring plenty of new construction, the gridlock previews how limited local public transportation could hurt large music gatherings, because people won't be able to afford to get to them. The multibillion-dollar, citywide Project Connect includes eventual plans for a major transit hub at the intersection of East Riverside and South Pleasant Valley, a 12-minute walk from Emo's.
Under Texas law, towing and booting companies cannot pay the businesses or landowners who hired them, so Capital Parking provides a free service funded by towing revenue. Still, Santiago says he'd be happy to go without the staffing and transportation costs required during a sold-out show. "I do better on the smaller lots with less overhead – I actually make less money on a big night," said Santiago.
"Emo's is not telling people not to park there," he added. "I saw they had a map, and I literally laughed, because it was just Emo's and doesn't even tell you the businesses around it. When you buy tickets, I'd literally put on there: Do not park at Pizza Hut or AutoZone. If they could do that, it would make my life easier."
The FAQ portion of Emo's website does state: "If you do drive to the show, do not park across the street from the venue or your vehicle will be booted, and possibly towed," also encouraging "all fans" to use rideshare services. The same information is included in an email to fans prior to the event. Their parking map was uploaded at an unfortunately small resolution, indeed making it difficult to read the business names. Parking is allowed in the contiguous lot around and behind Emo's, aside from areas marked red in front of Pizza Hut and Taco More. Recently, the spaces in front of Taco More had signs taped up reading: "No Emo's Parking from 6pm to 10pm."
As for Capital Parking's website, the URL (capitalparkingatx.com) listed on their receipts has returned a blank 404 message for the past few months – which Santiago was not aware of until speaking with the Chronicle. He said the company is rebranding after recent May 19 changes to City Code allowing the use of self-release boots, one of Santiago's many lobbying efforts in the realm of state and local parking regulation. According to the city of Austin website, Capital Parking ATX is one of five authorized local booting companies, which are overseen by the Austin Transportation Department.
The recent action by City Council allows use of a newly developed 2-pound boot, which can be unlocked with a code after the car owner pays online. Santiago told Council the self-release technology won't decrease booting fees, but the charge for a lost or damaged boot will decrease from the current rate of $200 to $60. Soon enough, Emo's fans could be placing their boots in a nearby parking lot receptacle instead of waiting in line, but they'll still be paying $100.