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How Austin Got Weird
March 15, 20199:26 AM ET

Joe Nick Patoski

Austin is a lot more than just the annual stampede of South By Southwest currently enveloping it, which the event has done with ever-increasing intensity since 1987. But how did this city, one that has such an ineffable but palpable personality and spirit, become what it is — for better and worse? Joe Nick Patoski’s recent book, Austin to ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers & Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas, answers the question both empirically and spiritually, tracing the many people and the many places they built along the way towards establishing this weird, idiosyncratic, flat little planet. Patoski’s book covers a lot of dusty ground — too much for a simple excerpt. Instead, we’ve put together a series of smaller pieces from the book that, taken together, help explain what went on, and is going on, down there. — Andrew Flanagan

Land, cattle, oil, and gas built Texas.

The creative mind and a strong sense of place made Austin Austin.

It was always an outsider’s city, contrarian and tolerant by nature, a refuge apart from the state surrounding it.

Physical location had everything to do with it. Austin was about as pleasant as Texas could be in its rugged, semiarid, sun-scorched splendor. A river ran through the heart of the city, several lakes spread out upstream, and the urban grid was laced with still-abundant creeks and springs winding through forested hills pocked with hidden valleys and canyons. Stunning overlooks tantalized the eyes. The natural beauty was obvious.

The landscape in and around Austin could be described as pretty, an adjective not often used to describe the natural surroundings of Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Midland, Lubbock, Port Arthur, or other Texas cities — even San Antonio.

Austin looked like nowhere else in this particular corner of the world because it was where five distinct eco-regions converged — the Edwards Plateau, South Texas Brush Country, Western Gulf Coastal Plain, Texas Blackland Prairie, and East Texas Woodlands. The Balcones Fault uplift, where the landmass rose abruptly out of the coastal plain, began less than a mile west of the capitol. Oaks flourished in the thin layer of soil that covered the limestone and granite subsurface of the region. The Hill Country’s Swiss-cheese-like karst topography harbored an abundance of caves and underground pools that emerged at the surface in the forms of artesian springs that fed the region’s extensive system of creeks and rivers. Whenever heavy rains fell on the rocky undulating hills west of Austin, the steep terrain transformed in a matter of minutes into Flash-Flood Alley, one of the most dangerous flood-prone areas of the United States.

Overall, the climate was tolerable enough — and the hills, woodlands, creeks, rivers, and lakes of Austin were inviting enough — that locals responded to the environment in a manner that seemingly escaped folks living elsewhere in Texas. People in Dallas and Houston worked harder, Austinites liked to reason, because those places were so butt-ugly; there was nothing worth looking at, much less playing in, so a person might just as well keep their nose to the grindstone. Compared to those places, Austin sometimes felt so downright idyllic that work could be distracting. Why slave and toil in the blazing July heat when you could be immersed in the clear, cool sixty-eight degree artesian waters of Barton Springs, the soul of Austin and its wellspring of cool?

Don Hyde traded mescaline for the last of the high-quality batch of White Lightning LSD that had been made for the Human Be-In in 1967, one of several events where crowds converged to hear live music and trip on hallucinatory acid. He decided to try to replicate what he saw going on in San Francisco by opening the Vulcan Gas Company in a former dry goods store at 316 Congress Avenue, the low-rent part of the grand avenue, in the fall of 1967. The Vulcan featured live music and psychedelic light shows with the unspoken understanding that the music and the lights were a whole lot more fun under the influence of LSD, which Hyde had plenty of — particularly the Clearlight, or Windowpane, variety. Joining Hyde in running the Vulcan were Houston White, Gary Maxwell-Scanlon, and Sandy Lockett. Doug Brown and George Majewski helped set up concessions.

The Vulcan became home to a wide array of bands, including the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the first psychedelic band anywhere, led by a Travis High School dropout named Roky Erickson and Tommy Hall, a UT philosophy major who played electric jug. Their slash-and-burn single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” actually snuck onto the Top 40 pop music chart, and they sold out the club three nights in a row before the band fell apart.

Touring bands such as Steve Miller and the Velvet Underground, and bands that rarely toured, like the Fugs, an obscenity-slinging New York street band led by poet Ed Sanders (who were barely known outside Greenwich Village), played the Vulcan in front of full houses. Hyde brought in blues players Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Big Joe Williams, and John Lee Hooker— who requested Mexican food when Hyde picked him up at the bus station. The Texas blues institutions Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb appeared so frequently they were regarded as family.

The Vulcan functioned as more than a music venue to the regulars who frequented the place. It was a touchstone of all the things they heard were going on in California and in a few other hip pockets of the country, a cool place to hang among like-minded people, maybe score some drugs, and have a good time. Authorities in Austin viewed the Vulcan as some kind of den of iniquity crawling with dirty hippies zonked out on dope. They were half right.

Willie Nelson planted roots in Austin after his house outside of Nashville had burned down. People were still leaving for various reasons, but just as many were filtering in. Only these weren’t the traditional instate malcontents for whom Austin was the only place in Texas tolerable enough to live in, but increasingly, interesting people from outside of Texas.

The rest of Texas would derisively refer to the People’s Republic of Austin, a label that locals wore as proudly as the Keep Austin Weird bumper sticker they later embraced. Those same detractors streamed into Austin to party whenever the occasion called for it, because even rednecks, peckerwoods, bulletheads, and reactionaries recognized that Austin people knew how to have a good time.
The Follow-Up
The Record
The Follow-Up

They were all cut from the same cloth: Jacob Harrell, Mirabeau Lamar, Angelina Eberly, Elizabet Ney, O. Henry, the Lomaxes; the academics and philosophers Dobie, Bedichek, and Webb; the yodeler Kenneth Threadgill; Hattie Valdes, whorehouse madam and friend of state legislators; Chano Cadena, Cowboy Donley, Lonnie Guerrero, and Johnny Degollado, the fathers of Austin mexicano music; Hemann Sweatt, the first black man to attend the university; professional football’s first black defensive star Dick “Night Train” Lane; Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, the Houston orator and legislator who chose to spend her post-politics life in an Austin bungalow; the Negro Baseball League Hall of Famer Willie Wells; the blacklisted storyteller and humorist John Henry Faulk; the cartoonist Roy Crane; the jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham; bootmaker Charlie Dunn and saddlemaker Buck Steiner; the photographer Russell Lee; the sculptor Charles Umlauf; and B. L. Joyce, the L. C. Anderson High School marching band director and future arranger and writer for Motown Records. They were outsiders, even if they grew up in Austin, so set in their own peculiar ways that this was the only place where they could work out their ideas and put them into action. They were all part of the prequel of what was to come.

Music was considered a hobby. Musicians had day jobs. A cover charge higher than two dollars was considered excessive. Writing was a pursuit for the well-educated, highly refined, and sufficiently bankrolled. The mid-century-modern thousand-seat Americana Theater with a seventy-millimeter screen was the coolest thing going in film. H-E-B supermarkets did not sell beer or wine, and closed on Sundays. The Made-in-Austin IBM self-correcting Selectric typewriter was the latest technological innovation. The wave of change that swept through San Francisco in the late sixties didn’t reach Austin full on until the early seventies. In the tradition of the African-American celebration of Juneteenth, when news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves reached Texas two-and-a-half years after the fact, at the end of the Civil War, change often came a little bit slower in Texas. But once that wave finally did crash ashore, it did so with dramatic flourish, spawning new, not-necessarily-obvious institutions, starting with the Armadillo World Headquarters that eventually reimagined Austin into the all-purpose Alternative City.

The peace and love experiment that started in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in 1966 didn’t turn out all that well, considering the violence that broke out at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont and insipid, indulgent rock bands such as Journey and Huey Lewis that came along after the Summer of Love. What began with the Cosmic Cowboy in Austin in 1970 was still playing out well into the twenty-first century in the forms of Americana and roots music, with an eternal constant named Willie Nelson. In Austin, everyone was either in a band or knew someone in one.
The Struggles Of Austin’s Music Scene Mirror A Widened World
The Record
The Struggles Of Austin’s Music Scene Mirror A Widened World

Music, not politics, defined Austin’s counterculture. After the hippies and pickers came the slackers, overeducated deadbeats who approached film and life in general with the same enthusiasm that music clubbers had for rock shows at 2:00 a.m. The geeks who arrived next overwhelmed and outnumbered them all, shapeshifting the culture, the economy, and the city. All these outsiders built their own alternative communities and institutions.

Their cumulative vision of Austin represented the Other Texas that was progressive, forward-thinking, innovative, and environmentally aware, with an abundant population of smart, creative minds, built upon a tradition of tolerance and openness to new ideas and new people, and a strong attachment to place.

The people and institutions here made an impact in spite of Texas, and in spite of the business and political establishment. Artists, creators, and entrepreneurs were by nature outsiders. The hippies, pickers, slackers, and geeks who made Austin Austin fit right in because they didn’t fit in anywhere else. Politicians, dealmakers, insiders, and bigwigs were beside the point; those were folks who largely resisted creative change, rather than fostered it. But they served a purpose by giving the creators something to rebel against, providing motivation and permission to paint outside the lines.

Music mecca, film industry hangout, source point of the retail organic food movement, high-tech hub and game development hotbed, noncorporate tourist destination, and, for at least a fortnight every March, the Coolest Place in the World.

A bird’s-eye view of Austin, the new capital of Texas, circa 1840.
Historical/Corbis via Getty Images

Andy Langer arrived in 1990, during what he described as that brief window where old Austin and new Austin intertwined before high tech, money, and hubris overwhelmed everything.

“There was this three-year lull before the clubs in the Warehouse District started catering to the tech money,” said Langer, a native of New York’s Long Island, during a break in his KGSR radio program. In fact, there were no clubs in the Warehouse District south of Fourth Street and west of Congress Avenue at the time, except for Liberty Lunch. The blocks between Liberty Lunch on Second Street and Ruta Maya Coffee on Fifth Street were either dark or parking lots.

The fast money that accompanied high tech explained all the bars that had sprung up west of Congress and south of Sixth. Oilcan Harry’s, Waterloo Brewing Company, Lavaca Street Bar, and the Bitter End catered to this new high-tech crowd, followed by the openings of Fado, Speakeasy, Ringside at Sullivan’s, the B-Side, and Qua, with its translucent dance floor built on top of a shark tank. They were all chasing “the first wave of young people coming to Austin who didn’t give a sh** about music,” Andy Langer said. “These guys were working twenty hours a day and had four hours to party. They didn’t like music. Music got in the way. They just wanted to get laid.”

Spoon, Austin’s most popular band of the late nineties and early aughts, came out of the tech world. Lead singer, guitarist, and main composer Britt Daniel had been a sound designer and composer for Richard Garriott’s Origin Systems, creating sound effects and music for computer games. Daniel was BOI — Born on Galveston Island — and grew up in Temple, about an hour north of Austin. The son of a neurologist, Daniel came to Austin in 1989 as a freshman at the University of Texas. He worked as a DJ on the student radio station and played in bands. Lean, lanky, and laconic in a studiously detached, indie rock kind of way, Daniel packed an emotive, gritty voice that sometimes slipped into a falsetto that could effortlessly wrap itself around intelligent, kicky lyrics like a comfortable slipper.

Daniel met drummer Jim Eno, his principal collaborator, in a band called the Alien Beats. Eno had worked in microchip design for Compaq in Houston before hiring on with Motorola in Austin. Daniel and Eno started recording together as Spoon in 1992. They built a buzz that extended far beyond Austin with an EP and then with a full album Telefono, released in 1996 on Matador, a beloved New York–London rock indie label whose principal owner, Gerard Cosloy, would relocate to Austin in 2004. Nothing about Spoon adhered to Austin or Texas stereotypes (especially after Daniel moved to Portland, Oregon). No one wore cowboy hats or bothered to invoke Willie. Spoon preferred performing in suits.

The openings of Emo’s in 1992 at the corner of Red River and Sixth, with three separate stages among a warren of rooms, and Stubb’s, two blocks north, an outdoor concert facility with an inside music room and barbecue restaurant in the former location of the One Knite, fostered a vibrant scene of alternative bands, punk rockers, and a hodgepodge of fringe music, occasionally interspersed with touring acts, which usually played the big stage at Stubb’s. Within fifteen years, Stubb’s and other clubs would be shadowed by residential high-rises occupied by tenants including a few who did not enjoy hearing loud music at night, much less care about living in the Live Music Capital of the World.

The city embraced music as part of its civic image and made it a prime selling point by voting for a new official motto for Austin in 1991: The Live Music Capital of the World. Now the same City of Austin was kicking out one of Austin’s most popular music venues from city-owned property deemed too expensive for a music club.
Margaret Moser, Queen Of Austin, Is Dancing In The Light
The Record
Margaret Moser, Queen Of Austin, Is Dancing In The Light

The marginal economics of operating a club poorly reflected music’s impact on the city and its culture. Frequently cited as being one of the best places for jobs in the nation during the early twenty-first century, and as an urban environment with a high quality of life, Austin’s unlikely stature circled back to music. The first thing arrivals saw stepping off their flight at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was a sign identifying that official motto: “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

No city in the United States had so much music in its DNA. Local music played on the airport’s sound system, and bands played live at Ray Benson’s Roadhouse in the terminal. Musicians gigged at the H-E-B Central Markets, Whole Foods Markets, and city council meetings. While hardly anyone was making a full-time living from their craft, on any given day or night, hundreds of people were standing by, ready to break out instruments and play for the fun of it.

You could say Austin was primed for the arrival of the sandy-haired kid from Plano in 1989, as much as the kid was primed for Austin. At the suburban high school he attended north of Dallas, football was everything. A student competing in triathlons and bicycle races was considered, well, exotic, if not a freak. So he didn’t mind spending part of his senior year training in Colorado with the US Olympic development cycling team, preparing for the Sprint Triathlon National Championships, which he would win later that fall for his first national title, while planning his exit from Plano. “The day after I graduated, I had a U-Haul loaded up, and headed south,” [Lance] Armstrong said.

In 2015 Live Nation, the biggest concert promoters in the world, paid $125 million dollars to acquire a 51 percent share of C3 Presents, the promoters seeded by Lance Armstrong to create ACL Fest. The three Charlies would never have to work again, if they didn’t want to work.

Festivals were the thing now, not clubs, more evidence of Austin’s scaling up. ACL Fest expanded to two weekends in 2012. Residents living near the park complained of festival fatigue and demanded the city return the space to its original intended use as a park. But the crowds kept coming. A whole lot of them had seen Austin City Limits. Now they wanted to see for themselves.

The first South by Southwest Music and Media Conference almost didn’t happen. The registration system set up for the event failed, causing lines to back up. Instead of the anticipated 150 registrants showing up, 700 queued up to pay for credentials admitting them to 15 panel discussions, the clubs where bands were playing, a backyard day party at the residence of punk rocker Jean Caffeine, and the keynote address by Huey P. Meaux.

After Meaux spoke, a young man approached him in the hotel lobby to ask, “Is it true that payola is dead?” Meaux shot him a puzzled look. “Dead?” he said. “I didn’t even know it was sick, little bruddah.”

That night, the Tailgators, Doctors Mob, LeRoi Brothers, Wagoneers, Dino Lee, Lou Ann Barton, Walter Hyatt, Two Nice Girls, Leroy Parnell, Ray Campi, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Bobby Bridger, Vince Bell, and Angela Strehli, and half of the 177 acts booked for the festival performed in 13 clubs in and around downtown. The audience was a mix of locals familiar with the club scene, joined by music lovers from around the state and around the country, many of whom paid ten dollars for wristbands that would admit them into SXSW-sponsored clubs. Even the odd A&R record company person, has-been record producer, hustling publicist, and wan- nabe music industry executive could be spotted in the crowds. The music industry had come to Austin.
YouTube

All in all, the response was positive, considering it was spring break week, when the University of Texas usually emptied out and thousands of students headed to the Texas coast or to the mountains. Student-oriented businesses in Austin typically shuttered during spring break. Antone’s, the Continental Club, Liberty Lunch, Texas Tavern, and Steamboat would have otherwise cut back their schedules or closed for the week. Instead, almost every one of the sanctioned clubs was crowded, some at capacity.

Like just about everything else in alternative Austin, it started with music.

For several years, Roland Swenson attended the New Music Seminar, which started in 1980 in New York as a means of connecting indie bands with the music industry. He was part of an official delegation from Austin attending the New Music Seminar in the summer of 1986 that led to the announcement that a regional version of the NMS would be held in Austin in the spring of 1987. It would be called the New Music Seminar Southwest.

But the New Music Seminar organizers dropped the idea, citing internal organizational challenges, including, according to their critics, way too much partying. Roland Swenson, the Austin Chronicle, and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau picked up the ball and ran with it. Screw New York. They’d do their own music conference.

The Chronicle would sponsor the regional seminar. Publisher Nick Barbaro got on board when Swenson suggested ending the gathering on Sunday afternoon with a barbecue and softball game, two of Barbaro’s favorite activities. Black, a hardcore cinephile, came up with the name South by Southwest, a riff on the Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest. The Austin CVB kicked in funding to make the conference happen.

By the fifth year, when 2,833 registered for the music conference, South by Southwest hit its first ceiling. The Austin Fire Marshall strictly enforced capacity limits in clubs. Wristband holders, theoretically guaranteed admission to all participating music venues, couldn’t get in venues because capacity had been reached, and music conference registrants with their platinum badges were getting priority access.

Some bands got angry about where and when they were booked. One club, Abratto’s, charitably described as a “disco meat market” by writer Michael Corcoran and not a live music venue to begin with, withdrew from SXSW after its first night of showcasing bands. Abratto’s had been designated as the site for hardcore punk bands from Houston, per SXSW schedulers. The music and venue did not mix well. Acts scheduled to play Abratto’s on the following nights, including a hot female country ensemble known as the Dixie Chicks, ended up performing in hotel conference rooms instead. Somebody somewhere got so pissed off by something SXSW did that they set fire to a stack of copies of the Austin Chronicle at the entrance of South by Southwest offices on Fortieth Street, causing extensive smoke and water damage.

Backlash had been part and parcel of SXSW from the very beginning, per the SXSWsux and South by So What? epithets bandied about by the whiners.

SXSW 1995 marked the first year the event was acknowledged as the biggest alternative music gathering going. Its inspiration, the New Music Seminar in New York, folded. Still, for all the hype focused on Austin, its vibrant music scene, and the outsider spirit permeating South by Southwest, no significant acts had been discovered and signed to a big record contract at SXSW, which supposedly was what the conference was all about.

The appearance of Willie Nelson, Austin’s music icon, performing for Microsoft’s sponsored closing party spoke volumes of the merging sensibilities. Willie wasn’t interested in playing SXSW for $250 or six wristbands. But he was willing to play for Microsoft in exchange for a substantial five-figure fee.

SXSW directors made a conscious decision to allow corporate sponsors and record labels to present music showcases of their own choosing. That brought in bigger, established name acts, but it came at the expense of unknown music acts trying to get their foot in the door and stand out among the noise. SXSW critics pounced, accusing the indie music festival of selling out. Maybe so, but the move helped widen SXSW’s appeal. Foreign music delegations, sponsored by their countries, became draws unto themselves. Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Japan, and Australia all had their own showcase nights, as well as their own day parties.

South by Southwest Interactive, the stepchild afterthought to music and film when it had been rolled out in 1994, turned into SXSW’s driving force. Registration numbers blew past music and film. Like music and film, SXSW Interactive was the alternative to mainstream technology conventions and meet-ups such as the COMDEX Show in Las Vegas that big tech companies dominated. At SXSWi, an independent developer or a startup had a chance to network, be heard, learn something from a panel discussion, make an impact, and maybe even cut a deal. From an Austin perspective, high tech was the new punk rock: it bothered and sometimes upset people who didn’t understand it. Those who did understand dove in full-on without hesitation, like a stage-diving, mosh-pit tumblerocker.

Louis Black pinpointed 2008 as the year South by Southwest reached critical mass. Registration reached 12,651. Among them was Jeff Bezos, founder of online retail giant Amazon, who bought a walkup registration badge and grazed SXSW minus an entourage. Standstill traffic, over owing sidewalks, and venues filled to capacity were the new normal. The crowd counts were up everywhere, with even more events, more venues, more parties, and more everything, from TV food personality Rachael Ray’s day party to Airbnb’s launch with two customers — one being Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

… a thin, well-tattooed German and a hulking Englishman with a shaved head and multiple piercings stood toe to toe. They both clutched cups of beer as they studied a small booklet while talking animatedly. They seemed to be having a good time, heads nodding in unison, a smile now and then, until the German suddenly stood back, shaking his head and waving his hands while muttering “No, no, no,” in thickly-accented English. The two weren’t arguing about music, their competing meet-ups and agendas, their countries, or which bands to see that night. They were arguing about the best breakfast tacos in Austin.

Back at the convention center, a passel of geeky kids kept their eyes on their smartphones, trying the new app that let them know where all the free food and booze parties were that afternoon, and which parties had good bands playing. Several raised their heads from staring at the devices in their hand long enough to nod in agreement over another’s comment about how a talk she’d just heard was life-changing, before eyes returned to phones and thumbs typed out a shorthand tweet.

Pop-up stores sponsored by Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, AT&T, Levi’s, and CNN appeared on vacant lots, in empty storefronts, and in leased restaurants. The global brands showcased their newest products to their target audience’s tastemakers, who had conveniently appeared from all over the world specifically to sample the latest in music, media, film, technology, and culture.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama in Austin during South by Southwest conference.
Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

The event had come a long way. The keynote speaker at the first South by Southwest in 1987 was the independent record producer/hustler Huey P. Meaux, a twice-convicted felon.

The keynote speaker for the thirtieth edition of South by Southwest in 2016 was the President of the United States Barack Obama, who addressed the Interactive conference. The First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama delivered the keynote for the music conference.

“How do you top that?” a friend asked Roland Swenson at the softball tournament that closed out every South by Southwest.

Swenson, who appeared less tired than he did at this juncture in previous years, smiled inscrutably.

“We were working on the Pope.”
Austin to Atx
Austin to Atx

The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers, & Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas

by Joe Nick Patoski

Hardcover, 367 pages

Agents of creative change in Austin were neither obvious nor conspicuous. They weren’t attached to an institution, and their influence and impact could be dismissed as minimal. But those little things and those unsung people added up to cumulatively define and distinguish alternative Austin, which had become a tourist attraction unto itself.

For a half-century, creative minds altered and reshaped a bucolic, semi-sleepy, laid-back state capital city in the middle of America into a dynamic city-state of global importance and appeal.

Accompanying Austin’s ascendance was a significant spike in population, traffic, rents, and housing prices — the usual stuff that comes with economic growth. More and more newcomers didn’t care where they happened to be. Austin’s unique qualities, amenities, and attractions had nothing to do with them being where they were. They just wanted work. The city that had the lowest cost of living of the one hundred largest cities in the United States in 1970 happened to be the hottest jobs market in the United States during the aughts and teens.

Could a creative ethos continue driving the culture in a boomtown where money was held in higher regard than ideas? Wasn’t Austin becoming just like everywhere else?

The 2016 departure of Alejandro Escovedo, a hometown music hero since his arrival in 1983, was neither unusual nor much noticed. Escovedo simply found a more welcoming housing situation in Dallas. Half a year in, he said North Oak Cliff, a historically blue-collar part of Dallas where he resided, seemed more interesting and diverse than Austin. The time had come to move on.

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AUSTIN TO ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers, and Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas

My latest book, Austin to ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers & Geeks Who Transformed The Capital of Texas, published by Texas A&M University Press

With cover art by Austin poster artist Kerry Awn, and origin stories about music, writing, food, television, independent film, technology, food trailers, incubators, women’s roller derby, and the Cathedral of Junk, Austin to ATX explains how Austin became Austin, profiling the people behind its transformation and the institutions they created.

I’ll be doing a reading and signing on Wednesday February 13 at 7 pm at the Austin Public Library’s Central Library, in conjunction with the Austin Library Foundation. Michael Barnes of the Austin American-Statesman will moderate, Jon Dee Graham will provide the music, Book People is bringing books to sell, and I’ll be signing books afterward.

This is the tenth book I have authored and maybe the most fulfilling, since it’s taken a lot longer than anticipated, thanks to a three year pause to make and promote the documentary film Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Groove.

Books and Kindle version are available via Amazon, and Book People, Texas’s leading independent bookseller.

If you purchase a book from Amazon, please post a review once you’ve read the book, whether you liked it or not.

And for a signed copy, send me an email   joenickp@yahoo.com

 

Listen to the conversation Kevin Connor and I had talking about the book on Sun Radio here

And here’s Andy Langer and I doing the Texas Monthly podcast

Here’s what Kirkus Reviews says: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/joe-nick-patoski/austin-to-atx/

A searching character study of the lively Texas capital city.

Patoski (The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America, 2012, etc.) arrived in Austin in the shiniest days of its golden era, a time when every bar hosted live music and the city was “loose, easy, and cheap.” As a former music journalist–turned–alt-Texas enthusiast, he writes about everything that makes Austin what it is, from the paradise of Barton Springs to the moon towers and Austin City Limits. His approach is celebratory without being cloying, albeit with an elegiac closing that laments the sad fact that with economic and demographic growth, “Austin had arrived at the maturation/saturation point of a Manhattan or a San Francisco. Limits had been reached.” Anyone who’s tried to drive I-35 or find an affordable home in the city will appreciate the author’s appeal to the good old days. Along the way from then until now, Patoski hits all the bases, including the city’s culinary culture, a blend of the trendy and the new with reverence for the old and hand-rolled (especially when it comes to barbecued meats); Austin’s underappreciated literary culture (Patoski ranks this magazine among the city’s lights, along with writers such as Gary Cartwright and James Michener); the movie scene, dominated by Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez; and, of course, the music, with legendary places like Antone’s and the Armadillo World Headquarters giving hippies and rednecks a place to party together. Patoski works with a wealth of material that sometimes overpowers the narrative; the long sections on Whole Foods could have been cut in half without harm, and there’s a touch too much repetition of the idea of Austin’s uniqueness and the tragedy that it couldn’t have been kept weird. Still, if there’s excess, it’s appropriately Texas-sized and easily forgivable.

Fans of the place where “anybody who’s a little different runs…as fast as they can” will find much to like here.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-62349-703-3
Page count: 376pp
Publisher: Texas A&M Univ.
Review Posted Online: Dec. 31st, 2018

 

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Let’s go to Valentine, Texas for Valentine’s Day

valentines

The semi-ghost town of Valentine, 39 miles west of Marfa, is gonna be wide open for bidness Saturday February 14 for the big Big Bend Brewing Company Valentine’s Day Party and Dance at Valentine Merchantile. The music lineup includes Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars, Mike and the Moonpies, the Crooks, and the Joe Ely Band. The Texas Music Hour of Power will be broadcasting live from the event and taking listener dedications and shoutouts online (texas@marfapublicradio.org), and the Image Wranglers will be doing Picture Radio in a show of force.

It’s gonna be nothing but a good time. For info: www.valentinemercantile.com
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valcitylimits

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Bracken Bat Cave webcam

bat

I don’t do links often on this website, but this one, the Bracken Webcam, bears linking to:
http://batcon.org/index.php/get-involved/visit-a-bat-location/bracken-bat-cave/bracken-webcam.html

Bat Conservation International stewards the Bracken cave, where during warm months the largest concentration of mammals in North America – twenty million Mexican-free tail bats – emerge from the cave every evening in search of an evening meal of mosquitoes, moths, and other insects, ranging more than one hundred miles at time.

Between the overwhelming smell of bat guano, the sight of thousands of creatures swirling out of the cave, observed and coveted by snakes and raptors, may be the most miraculous event in nature I’ve ever witnessed.

The cave is a few miles from Interstate 35 north of San Antonio almost next door to the Natural Bridge Caverns and is in real danger of being encroached upon or wholly engulfed by housing subdivisions.
It’ll be interesting to see how that “progress” vs. miracle of nature battle plays out.

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Water For All? Texas Coop Power’s water issue

Water for All?

Texas Coop Power’s water issue follow the link to download the pdf file.

I’m proud to be a part of the team that put this issue together and especially proud of the journalism done in the name of Texas and its future.

My article on groundwater and surface water in Texas is below and through this link:

photo by Woody Welch

Once deemed too ‘secret, occult and concealed’ to regulate, groundwater remains a vexing subject too deep to capture for today’s lawmakers

By Joe Nick Patoski
August 1, 2012

Water: It’s a deep subject, and veteran journalist Joe Nick Patoski has been trying to get to the bottom of it for years. Spring-fed Jacob’s Well, his favorite swimming hole, sustains the Blanco River and recharges the Edwards Aquifer. But while Wimberley’s Jacob’s Well is threatened by drought and increased pumping of the Trinity Aquifer, some homeowners in nearby Austin have paid to have private wells drilled in the Edwards—not for drinking water, but for water to keep their lawns lush and green.

Water is water, except in Texas.

All of Texas’ freshwater comes from precipitation. Where it goes when it falls makes all the difference in the world.

Surface water, meaning creeks, rivers and lakes, is considered a public resource commonly owned by the people of Texas. Simple enough.

Groundwater, that is all water that you can’t see below the surface of the Earth, is a whole other matter. That water, contained in aquifers and bolsons (Spanish for “bag,” in this case meaning hollowed basins), found tens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet below the surface, is regarded like oil or other minerals—a resource owned by the owner of the land above it.

Got that?

In 1904, the Texas Supreme Court determined in the Houston & T.C. Railway Co. v. East case that property owners could pump as much groundwater as they pleased without regard to the effects on neighbors’ wells. Groundwater, the court ruled, was too “secret, occult and concealed” to regulate. No one understood how groundwater worked, so the court applied rule of capture, a remnant of British common law, to the case.

In February 2012, the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in the Day v. Edwards Aquifer Authority case affirmed that the property owner of the ground also owned the water under that ground.

The problem with both decisions is that groundwater does not observe property lines. Some aquifers are so large they span several counties. Some, hydrologists have learned over the past century, are actually moving rivers. Plus, no matter how groundwater moves, what’s clear is more water is being pumped from underground than is being put back in through recharge.

That explains why other states in the American West have developed different laws and strategies regarding management of groundwater. Texas is the only Western state where rule of capture is law. That may work well for property owners wanting to sell their groundwater, or sell their mineral rights, but not so great for most of the rest of the population that relies on water as a life source.

Where water is abundant, rule of capture works fine, because whatever water is pumped out from underground is usually replenished. But in arid, water-short regions, such as all of the state west of the 98th parallel (roughly following U.S. Interstate 35), the devil’s in the details. Consider this: It’s perfectly legal for a single landowner, taking advantage of his or her property rights, to drain so much groundwater that neighbors’ wells go dry or the groundwater underneath their property disappears.

The most notorious case illustrating that point is when Clayton Williams Sr. and other businessmen pumped groundwater below land they owned west of Fort Stockton to create a pecan orchard in the desert. Because of their actions, Comanche Springs, the largest springs in West Texas, went dry, forcing more than 200 truck farms east of town to go under. Williams’ right was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court in 1954.

The Texas court has since reaffirmed property owners’ right to underground water; in 1999, the court upheld the right of Ozarka to mine a spring in East Texas for commercial purposes, even though it caused neighbors’ wells to go dry.

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision in early 2012 affirmed that Texas landowners own the groundwater “in place” beneath their property, and that they may have a valid claim for compensation from the government if regulations go too far in limiting their ability to capitalize on their groundwater.

Still, there are limits to unregulated pumping.

The withdrawal rate of pumping groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer—one of the world’s largest underground aquifer systems that covers most of the Great Plains, including the Texas Panhandle and South Plains—has exceeded recharge of the aquifer through rain and snowmelt over the past century. Parts of the water table in Texas have been drained, while less than half of the underground aquifer’s original ground water supply remains. Pumping costs have increased to the point where many Texas farmers have quit irrigated farming altogether, even if groundwater is available. In other words, pumping without regulation is unsustainable.

In 1993, Federal District Judge Lucius D. Bunton III ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set pumping limits in the Edwards Aquifer—which at the time supplied San Antonio with all its drinking water—to protect endangered species dependent on the Comal and San Marcos springs, the biggest spring systems in Texas.

“Without a fundamental change in the value the region places on freshwater, a major effort to conserve and reuse Aquifer water, and implemented plans to import supplemental supplies of water, the region’s quality of life and economic future are imperiled,” Bunton wrote in his decision.

Bunton’s ruling led to the creation of the Edwards Aquifer Authority by the Texas Legislature. The authority regulates pumping from the Edwards Aquifer.

In 1997, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, establishing statewide water planning for the next 50 years. The bill and subsequent legislation have stated that the best means of local management of groundwater are the 101 groundwater districts established across the state. The rub after the Texas Supreme Court’s 2012 decision is, if a groundwater district or other government entity limits a landowner’s desire to pump, the landowner can sue the district for a “taking” of private property.

“While the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in the Day case makes clear that landowners own the groundwater in place beneath their property, it is much less clear how far a groundwater district may limit pumping before it amounts to a taking of private property,” says attorney Tom Mason, the former general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority who now specializes in water law in Austin.

Which means groundwater districts, regional planning groups and state water authorities, in order to ensure sufficient water supplies 50 years from now, will have a hard time managing groundwater in a way that allows long-term, sustainable use by a variety of landowners/pumpers.

So, groundwater is a property right, and as such requires a whole lot of trust and awareness of the unwritten “law of the biggest pump” when it comes to management of groundwater resources locally, regionally or statewide. Otherwise, if all property owners exercised their right to pump, there wouldn’t be any groundwater left to fight over.

Surface water, on the other hand, is owned by all Texans, even though despite the different laws, really, it’s all the same water.

——————–
Joe Nick Patoski is the author of nine books, including Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy (Texas A&M University Press, 2010). Patoski, an avid swimmer and kayaker, lives in Wimberley, in the Hill Country.

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The stories behind the Drive drive story in Texas Monthly

Here’s some of the back stories to fill in the blanks from the Drive drive I did for Texas Monthly’s Drive issue, June 2012

June 2012

The PRE DRIVE part of the drive:
INTERSTATE 10 WEST
“The Land of Living Waters” earns its name from the hundreds of springs in the area and from the North Llano and South Llano rivers which converge here. The South Llano River State Park, three and a half miles south of town offers tubing, swimming, fishing, and paddling, as well as camping, picnicking, hiking, cycling, and birding opportunities, while a number of ranches as well as motels offer accommodations Lum’s Country Store and a Cooper’s serve top-shelf barbecue in town.
For more information: junctiontexas.net

Cool radio (except when they run Rush): KOOK, 93.5 FM, The Real Deal, a local station beaming from Ozona that plays retro country music with a great morning show hosted by Gordon Ames and Kinky Friedman doing the station IDs.

SIMON BROTHERS MERCHANTILE, Exit 438, 18 miles west of Junction and a mile north of the highway, is worth a looksee to soak up the general store atmosphere, get some coffee, a drink or a burger in the café in back, admire the deer trophy heads on the wall, or pick up copies of Racks pinup calendars featuring pretty, scantily clad young women posing with deer antlers and a Keep Roosevelt Wild bumper sticker. Not for nothing is this The Horniest Little Store in Texas.
3861 State Loop 291, 325-446-2604 Simonbros.org

SONORA, Exit 400, marks the halfway point of Interstate 10 across Texas. The Old Ice House Ranch Museum, Old Ice House Ranch Museum, 206 S. Water Ave., 325-387-5084, tells the town’s history and features exhibits on Will Carver of the Wild Bunch gang, who met his demise here, and water drilling, which made this part of Texas habitable. Open Wed-Fri 1-4 pm, Sat, 10 to noon and 1-4pm, or by appointment. Donations appreciated. The Eaton Hill Wildlife Sanctuary and Nature Center offers three miles of hiking trails on its 37 acre spread which shows off flora and fauna from the Hill Country and the Chihuahuan Desert, which converge here. Open sunup to sundown. Free. 500 City Hill Rd., 325-387-2615, eatonhill.blogspot.com
For more information: sonoratexas.org

CAVERNS OF SONORA The Caverns of Sonora, Exit 392 eight miles beyond the town of Sonora and 7 miles south of the interstate, is the premier show cave in Texas and easily on par with Carlsbad Caverns as one of the most magnificent in the world, give its abundance of helictite calcite crystal formations. Guided walking tours and specialty tours are scheduled throughout the day. The basic two hour tours is $20 for adults. Camping and RV hookups available. Open daily 8-6. 325-387-3105, cavernsofsonora.com

CIRCLE BAR TRUCK CORRAL A small automobile museum with custom rods and pickups is attached to the Circle Bar Truck Corral, Exit 372 Taylor Box Rd, 7 miles before Ozona. Taylor Box Road, 325-392-2637

THE DRIVE DRIVE begins here:

OZONA, Exit 365, has the last dependable gas, DQ, and Subway of this journey. The Visitor Center Park on the south side of the Interstate has 24 hour restrooms along with information about local attractions. The Crockett County Museum, 408 11th Street, 325-392-2837, crockettcountymuseum.com , M-F 9-5, Sa 10-3pm, tells the local history, focusing on the early pioneer settlers. $2 donation is requested. A statue of Davy Crockett, the county’s namesake, is at the south end of the town square.
For more information: Ozona.com

FORT LANCASTER HISTORICAL SITE
This frontier military fort, established on Live Oak Creek in 1855, thrived for six years until the start of the War Between the States, providing protection to travelers and freight haulers on the Government Road from hostile Indians. The 82 acre park stewarded by the Texas Historical Commission, has a visitor center with a stagecoach out front and a fine exhibit inside detailing life at the fort. Behind the center are the ruins of the fort which make for a splendid 2.5 mile walk if the weather cooperates (it can be torrid hot here in the summer). 9-5 daily. Admission: $4 adults. 432-836-4391, Visitfortlancaster.com

SHEFFIELD boomed in the 1920s with the discovery of oil, but took on an all-but-abandoned look once the nearby Interstate was finished in the 1980s. Despite a growing population of 600, motels, restaurants, and other traveler services have dried up and blown away. At 1:30 pm on a weekday, the sole service station with an Open sign was locked, with a note attached to the door “Closed until 2 pm. If you need something, call….”

SANDERSON is the self-declared Cactus Capital of Texas. The collection of stucco and adobe buildings suggest desert, while the architecture of the former Kerr Mercantile building is a Trost & Trost classic from the Chicago School. Several restaurants and four motels provide the essentials. The Terrell County Visitor Center on US 90 East, 432-345-2324, has all the details. Sanderson also has a shuttle service for Lower Canyons river trips on the Rio Grande. A mile-long nature trail connects the high school football field track to Javelina Hill, a scenic overlook above the town.
For more information: Sandersontx.org

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Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly’s hometown

Last part of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 16 drives featured in the June 2012 Texas Monthly Drive issue.

June 2012 issue

Today, we conclude where it all started, at least for the teenagers known as Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

The Hub City is the largest city in all the Great Plains, and home to Texas Tech University. But for all its assets, the city’s contribution to rock and roll is the one that continues to resonate around the world, even if some of the locals are still uncomfortable with the social implications the music wrought.

THE BUDDY HOLLY CENTER is Lubbock’s all-purpose museum with art exhibitions and traveling exhibits, and music on the patio during summer months. The main attraction, of course, is Buddy Holly, whose life is celebrated in the Buddy Holly Gallery, a permanent exhibit at the center with a $5 admission fee.

Showcases are devoted to Buddy’s childhood with his leatherwork, Cub Scout uniform, and drawings of cowboys and horses, and self-portrait in pencil, and his personal record collection, which includes The Midnighters’ “Sexy Ways” and Larry Williams’ “Slow Down;” his early influences; his rapid rise; Petty’s studio; and to the Crickets.

The Gallery features the writing of Robert Palmer from the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, a music timeline from 1929 to 1959, and a touch screen It’s So Easy trivia quiz prepared by the late Bill Griggs, the World’s #1 Buddy fan. It isn’t as easy as Griggs would have you believe.
Sample question: Buddy had a pet cat named Booker T and a pet dog named
a) Charcoal
b) Reddy Teddy
c) Alonzo, the correct answer

As Holly’s renown grew, his glasses got bigger, although the pair he died with, which are on display, were classic black horn-rimmed frames.

There’s a 15 minute film where Paul McCartney makes clear the Beatles’ biggest influence were the Crickets, Keith Richard discusses the Holly sound, Don McLean discusses “American Pie,” his song about the plane crash that killed Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper, J.I. Allison demonstrates rhythm, and Vi Petty plays Celeste. Gallery admission: $5

An adjacent room with no admission fee is the West Texas Hall of Fame loaded with great casual photos of Holly and Jennings, along with a special shoutout to Bill Griggs, the world’s #1 Holly fan who spent the last years of his life in Lubbock by choice. The Ivy West Texas Music Map illustrated by John Chinn in the center’s hallway shows all the talent who came out of the region. 1801 Crickets Avenue @ 19 th St., 806 767-2686, buddyhollycenter.org

Directly across from the center is the West Texas Walk of Fame, honoring entertainment celebrities from the region (hey, y’all, where’s Natalie Maines?) whose centerpiece is a life-sized statue of Buddy Holly brandishing a guitar.

THE CACTUS THEATER, a block from the Buddy Holly Center, is Don Caldwell’s musical labor of love and the linchpin of the Depot Entertainment District. The Cactus presents live music and musical performances most weekends and many weeknights. The Buddy Holly Story musical has enjoyed several extended runs in this lovingly restored 30s vintage venue.
1812 Buddy Holly Ave. @ 19th, 806 762 3233 cactustheater.com

KDAV AM 1590, one of the coolest oldies radio stations anywhere, welcomes visitors to step inside the radio station and see the disc jockeys in action up close and personal. The station bills itself as the Buddy Holly station, and I gotta say, there’s something about hearing “That’ll Be the Day” crackling over the AM radio while cruising Lubbock’s wide streets that make everything seem right in the world.
1714 Buddy Holly Ave., 806 744 5859 kdav.org/kdav

LUBBOCK HIGH SCHOOL is Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ alma mater as well as the most significant architectural structure in the city. The red-tile roofed, sand brick high school is between downtown and the Tech campus on
2004 West 19th @ Avenue D, 806 766 1444. Call the administration office in advance to request a hall pass to view the Buddy Holly showcase in the hallway

STUBB’S BARBECUE is where folks like Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Terry Allen and the rest of the Lubbock mob played back in the 1970s before all of them, Stubbs included, moved away. The Stubbs barbecue sauce legend started here as did some storied events such as Jesse Taylor’s Sunday Night Jam and the night when Tom T. Hall played pool with Joe Ely using an onion as the cue ball. Underneath the statue of Stubbs in overalls holding a heaping plate of ribs is a small plaque that reads “There will be no bad talk or loud talk in this place” – Mr. Stubblefield’s mantra that was written on his menus and posted throughout his joint. Having enjoyed the establishment in its heyday, it’s startling to see how small the building footprint is today. 108 E. Broadway http://stubbsbbq.com/started.php

Continue on East Broadway to MLK, turn right and continue to Teak and follow the signs to the Lubbock cemetery and the final resting place of Buddy Holly. The simple gravesite is plainly marked. Tradition mandates you leave a guitar pick on the flat headstone. The earth from which Holly sprang from and to which he returned may look hard and desolate, but it’s fertile soil for music makers who sound like Texas.

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