Armadillo Christmas Bazaar Continues Its Nomadic Ways

Local shopping extravaganza moves from Austin Music Hall.

Van Wilks at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar<p>Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich
Van Wilks at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich

The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar has become a bit of a vagabond this year as it moves from its 12-year run at the recently upgraded Austin Music Hall to a small slice of exhibit space at the Convention Center.

Producer Bruce Willenzik is still in chipper spirits about the show, which is now officially without a permanent home. This, of course, is not the first time the show has moved. It started at the old National Guard Armory that became the Armadillo World Headquarters. At first, the show was a fundraising effort to take care of the "counterculture element" – read Austin's early hippie music scene – that took root at the Armadillo.

"We had 14,400 square feet. We had a live recording studio, a kitchen, a bakery. The very first bun for ThunderCloud Subs was made there," recalls Willenzik, who just turned 60. "The very first nonmilitary musical act in the old armory, back in 1954, was the Louisiana Hayride, featuring a little-known singer called Elvis Presley ... so the building already had a little magic to it."

But that magic wouldn't last forever. When the Armadillo was demolished in 1981 – it became the site of One Texas Center, and much of its memorabilia is now at Threadgill's World Headquarters – Willenzik offered to buy the rights to the show and take in on the road. First it was the old Rylander's grocery store on Man­chaca at Stassney. Then it moved up the road to the Austin Opera House. Then it landed at the Austin Music Hall for a lengthy run. This year, with the Music Hall undergoing renovations for much of this past year, the show moves to the Convention Center for its 32nd year.

Willenzik likes to describe the bazaar as a for-profit, community-based, counterculture business model, three terms that rarely exist in the same sentence. This year will feature about 100 artisans across genres, from music to furniture to art, and, as usual, each artist will take his or her profits from the show's sales. Willenzik takes the door receipts.

"Most of our artists have been with us 15 or 20 years. Some are second generation," Willenzik said. "The way we work on developing our artists, we try to keep a sphere of prosperity around the show. All we ask [is] that everybody grow and thrive and evolve. If you agree, your work is going to get better every year – better work, better presentation, better quality, better merchandise – you automatically get to come back."

Setting up the rather sterile space at the Convention Center is tricky, Willenzik said. He and his crew have always depended on the mood of the venue to get people in the shopping spirit. Without the ability to hang or nail, Willenzik will depend on trusses, lowered lighting, and art projections on the wall to set the mood.

One rather generous 500-square-foot booth this year is a partnership between co-founder Barbara Kooyman of Texamericana and Leea Mechling of the South Austin Muse­um of Popular Culture. Kooyman, formerly of the band Timbuk 3, will bring the music. Mech­ling and her crew from the Armadillo Art Squad will cover the graphic arts. The goal will be to present indie artists for indie media, Kooyman said. The space will feature local artists, including an autograph bar where people such as Kinky Friedman, Tommy Han­cock, Eddie Wilson, and the Texana Dames will be signing their work. Profits will go to Texamericana, which promotes local artists. "We're working really fast to put it together," Kooyman said. "It should be a lot of fun, creating something that will be a lot of fun for the community and the arts, as well."

The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar will be in Exhibit Hall 2 of the Austin Convention Center, on the Trinity Street side. It's open Dec. 14-24, 11am-11pm daily. Admission is $3 on weekdays before 7pm and $6 on evenings and weekends.

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Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, Bruce Willenzik, Barbara Kooyman, TexAmericana, Leea Mechling, South Austin Museum of Popular Culture

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