Big Squeeze finalists

On to Houston, and Miller Outdoor Amphitheater on June 2 for the Big Squeeze finals and the Texas Accordion Kings and Queens concert.

Here are the four finalists:
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from left: Michael Ramos, Luis Gonzales, Peter Anzaldua, Omar Garza
Photo by Michelle Mejia, 2012, Texas Folklife

The wrap: TEXAS FOLKLIFE’S BIG SQUEEZE ACCORDION CONTEST FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

Free Concert and Playoffs held at The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Saturday, April 28

Finalists will perform at 23rd annual Accordion Kings & Queens Festival held on Saturday, June 2 at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre

Austin, Texas – April 30, 2012 – There was a whole lot of squeezeboxing going on last Saturday on the Lone Star Plaza at the Bullock! There were over 700 music fans in attendance—the largest crowd on record for the semifinals contest—to cheer this year’s winners as they were selected. The Big Squeeze 2012 finalists are: Peter Anzaldua, 15, of Brownsville; Omar Garza, 17, of Mission; Luis Gonzales, 16, of Grand Prairie; and Michael Ramos, 16, of Dallas. These young musicians will perform at the Accordion Kings & Queens Festival in June when the 2012 Big Squeeze Champ will be crowned.

The Big Squeeze 2012 semifinals for up-and-coming musicians was held in Austin at The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum on Saturday, April 28. This was the third consecutive year that The Big Squeeze contest has been held at the popular museum that tells “the story of Texas.” Semifinalists performed before a panel of judges and the public on the Lone Star Plaza in front of the museum, Saturday, April 28, from 2:00-5:30 p.m. A free concert was also held on the Plaza. Joe Nick Patoski emceed this year’s contest and performance. The program featured Joel Guzman, two-time Grammy Award winner and considered one of the best accordion players in the country; Ruben Paul Moreno, zydeco phenom who has just been nominated for the 2012 Zydeco Music Awards; and last year’s Big Squeeze Champ Ignacio “Nachito” Morales.

Each semifinalist played two songs and the esteemed judges chose the four finalists. The judges for this year’s contest included Debra Peters, Austin accordion player and teacher; Abel Barajas, accordion player for Ram Herrera; and Johnny Ramirez, 2008 Big Squeeze Champ. Finalists will be awarded $300 each as well as having their hotel stay paid in Houston to compete before the expected large, enthusiastic audience of accordion fans at the Accordion Kings & Queens Festival on June 2. At that time, The Big Squeeze 2012 Champion will be selected by the panel of judges with help from the audience. The grand-prize-winner will receive a prize package valued at $4500, including a $1000 cash prize, a brand new Hohner accordion and recording time at the historic Hacienda Records in Corpus Christi, as well as promotional support from SugarHill Recording Studios, Hohner, Inc., Hacienda Records and Texas Folklife, and other professional opportunities.

”The Big Squeeze has proven to be one of our most popular programs at Texas Folklife,” says Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “Audiences love to hear young talent from all over the state and they love to hear their stories. The participants and their families take a wonderful experience with them that they’ll never forget. We are grateful to The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum for partnering with us again this year. We also deeply thank our incredible lineup—accordion legend and maestro Joel Guzman; Big Squeeze finalist from 2010 Ruben Paul Moreno, Reigning Big Squeeze Champ Nachito Morales—and, of course, the one and only Joe Nick Patoski. I’m also particularly grateful to our panel of judges who give so generously of their time and expertise.”

The Big Squeeze is supported by the members and Board of Texas Folklife, the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division, the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, the City of Houston through the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, the Houston Endowment, the Still Water Foundation, Texas Gas Service, and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts. Additional support is provided by regional businesses including Hohner, Inc., SugarHill Recording Studios, Hacienda Records, FBA Design, Sign Effects and Embassy Suites Hotel in Downtown Austin.

Texas Folklife
Texas Folklife is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and preserving the diverse cultures and living heritage of the Lone Star State. For more than 25 years, Texas Folklife has honored the authentic cultural traditions passed down within communities, explored their importance in contemporary society, and celebrated them by providing accessible and joyful arts experiences. It is located in Austin, Texas, in the SoCo neighborhood—one of the city’s vibrant commercial and arts districts.

http://texasfolklife.org
1317 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas 78704
T (512) 441-9255
F (512) 441-9222

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Pleasures of the High Rhine: A Texas Singer in Exile book review

Richard Dobson is a Texas singer-songwriter from Tyler and former roughneck who gamboled around Galveston and Houston, then Austin and Nashville, before spending the past 13 years living in Switzerland and playing all over Europe. That’s the shorthand. The long version is this fine piece of contemporary literature, Pleasures of the High Rhine – A Texas Singer in Exile.

I’ve known Richard since the 1970s when he was hanging around Austin and sometimes touring as part of Townes Van Zandt’s band, as told in his previous book Gulf Coast Boys, and have stayed in touch over the years by reading his eloquent observations in his occasional Don Ricardo’s Life and Times newsletter.

He’s enjoyed nominal success, his songs having been covered by Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Kelly Willis, Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds, and the Carter Family, among others. As solid as his tunes are, it’s Dobson’s literary writing that grabs me.

Pleasures of the High Rhine was written at a critical time in Dobson’s life: his friends Townes and the writer Roxy Gordon have died fairly young, leaving him to contemplate their lives and demise. A red-haired Swiss woman has left her family and joined him in Galveston for a year before returning to Switzerland as a couple. A new millennium has begun.

Pleasures of the High Rhine covers songwriting, collaborating, performing and recording with a German band led by Thomm Jutz (now a Nashville cat), the strangeness of playing venues that ostensibly showcase American country music, and observations thereof, a critical skill for any songwriter.

But it’s also about living as an expatriate in a foreign country, redefining what home is, learning to speak German, being welcomed into a new family, living on the Swiss-German border, food, drink, his relationship with Edith, trips back to Houston and Nashville, gardening (including growing his own marijuana in a society that doesn’t much care one way or another) aging, and, water.

The latter is where Dobson really sings. He opens with a passage about fishing in the Gulf off of Galveston, down to describing the second and third sandbars offshore and the joys of “green water” fishing in the fall when the Gulf clarifies briefly into Caribbean-like beauty. Finding beauty in its harsh roughness, he writes the Texas Gulf like no one I’ve read before.

He soon finds himself on the Rhine River and delves into it with similar zeal and a newfound curiosity.

His pursuit of a fishing license – no easy thing in Switzerland, requiring an extensive 140 question test in Deutsch – a steep learning curve how to fish the Rhein, especially for elusive trout, and his summer swims in the river lead to deep history of the river and its inhabitants, including not so pleasant events such as Kristalnacht when synagogues were burned and Jews persecuted, and the historic fouling and restoration of the waterway.

He gets it.

Contemporary global events such as the election of George W. Bush and 9-11 are seen from a distance that lends perspective, written by a kindred spirit.

The finest singer-songwriters possess the gift where their words often transcend the music. In Pleasures of the High Rhine, Richard Dobson’s words simply sing.

Available through mytexasmusic.com

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Throwing a party for Joe Gracey

Friend Joe Gracey passed in mid November, just after his 61st birthday, so his friends and family are throwing a big ol’ bash for him on Sunday, December 4 @ 2 pm at Austin City Limits Live in downtown Austin. Even if you never heard of Joe, if you dig Austin, Texas music and all that is cool about this part of the world, you’re invited to send off one of the tastemakers who made it so.

I am honored to have been asked by his family to write his obituary. God bless Kimmie, Jolie, Gabe, Jeremie, brother Bill, and all his friends and relatives.

After a well-spent life defined by a series of reinventions, each more outrageous and ‘way cooler than the previous one, Joe Gracey has left the building – this place we call earth. Born in Fort Worth on November 14, 1950, Joe distinguished himself as a communicator at an early age. He built his own radio studio in the family attic in sixth grade, mowed lawns to get his first guitar, played in teen bands alongside fellow Fort Worth- ers Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett, and projected gravitas and au- thority as a veteran newsman and familiarity and intimacy as a country music disc jockey for KXOL-AM and FM when the 16 year old wasn’t at- tending classes at Paschal High School. His mother drove him to work at the radio station.
Like many other young Texans of his generation, he gravitated to Aus- tin to attend the University of Texas where he graduated with a degree in American Studies while moonlighting on Austin’s Top 40 radio station, KNOW-AM, and writing the first rock music column for the Austin American-Statesman, immediately over- stepping his assigned category by writing about country and folk music too, focusing on the unique country-rock musical hybrid that was incubating in Austin.
In 1974, he joined KOKE-FM in Austin, the first progressive country radio station in the world. Blessed with a warm, full-bodied voice with enough of a lingering drawl to leave no doubt where he came from, Gracey be- came an intimate friend to strangers who discovered they could learn a few things about music by listening to the radio; unlike his broadcasting peers, Gracey was fixated on what he said as much as how he said it.
Smart and a smartass both, he was a pillar of a burgeoning music community on the verge of being discov- ered nationally and internationally. He welcomed music fans to some of the most exciting and eclectic music be- ing created as one of the voices who did radio commercials for the storied Armadillo World Headquarters. It was Ol’ Blue Eyes, as he called himself, who coolly and casually opened his microphone so Willie Nelson and his friend Kris Kristofferson could perform an impromptu concert for listeners at home.
Gracey not only played Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadours, he took the time to explain ET’s signifi- cance and line out Tubb’s hip bona fides for a generation that had previously ignored their parents’ and grandparents’ music. He turned on music lovers to exotic sounds in their own backyard such as Tex-Mex con- junto music as articulated by his friends Doug Sahm, Ry Cooder, and Flaco Jimenez; and western swing, the almost-forgotten Made In Texas country-jazz hybrid popularized in the 1930s, kickstarting its revival by put- ting Asleep at the Wheel and Alvin Crow into heavy rotation. Gracey played a critical role defining Super Roper Radio, as KOKE was known, demonstrating how the Rolling Stones and Gram Parsons were related to George Jones and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. In that respect, he was as influential as Willie Nelson, Austin’s musical godfather, in bringing the hippies and the rednecks together through the common love of music.
With Gracey as program director, Billboard magazine crowned KOKE-FM as “Trendsetter of the Year.”
Gracey’s trendspotting abilities earned him the role as talent coordinator for the new “Austin City Limits,” now the longest-running music series on American television, when the series started in 1976. Through Gracey, the remaining Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, Flaco Jimenez y Su Conjunto, and Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana Zydeco Band performed for national television audiences for the first time. His byline continued ap- pearing in the Austin Sun and the literary country music journal Picking Up the Tempo.
In the summer of 1977, inspired by his mentor Cowboy Jack Clement, he left KOKE-FM a few weeks before the station’s format switched, and headed downstairs to the basement of the KOKE building where he fash- ioned a four track TEAC recorder and two windowless offices into the funky, duct-taped recording studio known as Electric Graceyland. The studio was the site of some of the first recordings of future blues legends Stevie Ray Vaughan and Miss Lou Ann Barton; The Skunks, Austin’s first punk band; and Tex-Mex rockers Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns. Gracey also recorded the demo that scored the Fabulous Thunderbirds their first record contract and worked the dials for Lubbock songster Butch Hancock and his Dixie’s Bar and Bus Stop cable television music series. He recorded Stevie Vaughan and Barton and the band Double Trouble at Clement’s Nashville studio.
He used Electric Graceyland to collaborate musically with his partner in crime, Bobby Earl Smith, as the Jackalope Brothers. Gracey and Smith also did radio promotion for Alvin Crow & The Pleasant Valley Boys while Gracey often opened shows for Crow with his brother Bill as The Amazing Graceys.
It was during this flurry of recording and promoting that Gracey was dealt the lousy hand of a cancer diagno- sis that eventually robbed him of his gifted voice.
Only 27, Gracey fought the hard fight medically while simultaneously adapting. A Magic Slate kids’ erasable writing tablet tucked under his arm became a Gracey accessory so he could scribble a quick response to any questions and allow him to engage in conversations, followed by the soft, barely-audible rip as he cleared the pad to erase the message once his words were understood.
In 1979, his friend TJ McFarland introduced him to the love of his life, Kimmie Rhodes, a singer-songwriter from Lubbock, as well as a playwright, painter, writer, and all-around creative force.
They married in 1984 and settled in Briarcliff where he helped raise Kimmie’s sons from a previous marriage, Gabe and Jeremie Rhodes, and their daughter, Jolie Morgan Goodnight Gracey. A family band emerged with Gracey playing bass and Gabe, a talented producer in his own right, who absorbed all the nuances of the elec- tronic recording art from Joe, playing guitar.
Kimmie and their neighbor Joe Sears started writing plays together and Gracey joined the fun as an actor, playing the part of the skeleton barkeeper in the play “Windblown,” and the role of the clown in “Small Town Girl,” in addition to other performances.
He also worked the audio console at nearby Pedernales Studios for a number of years and in 1996 was at the controls for Nelson’s groundbreaking album, Spirit, which inspired Nelson to redefine his live sound. Gracey and David Zettner built the small, simple recording studio in the back of Willie’s Luck World Headquarters saloon where Willie liked to hold court and make music at the spur of the moment, which yielded the albums, Picture in a Frame, Willie’s 2003 album of duets with Kimmie, and the Grammy-nominated collaboration be- tween Willie and Ray Price, Run That By Me One More Time.
Rhodes and Gracey’s shared love of food and fine wine (he learned how to keep boudin warm on his Cadillac’s engine returning from a trip to visit Clifton Chenier in Lafayette, Louisiana), along with numerous European tours by Rhodes launched another career for Gracey – food writer – as championed by their friend Colman Andrews, the editor of Saveur magazine, for whom Gracey did several pieces. Joe and Kimmie also taught cooking classes together. Their food adventures and Kimmie’s continued popularity in Europe eventu- ally led to the couple’s renovation of a small 1,000 year old stable-farmhouse in the Languedoc province of France.
Gracey never stopped creating, and he started a blog, Letters from Graceyland (Graceyland.blogspot.com) to share his latest adventures with readers.
Cancer-free for 30 years, the beast reentered his life in 2009. The bad news was accompanied by good news though. Doctors at M.D. Anderson Hospital would embark on experimental surgery that led to a partial resto- ration of his voice. But the new cancer was joined by other cancer, leading to several months of treatments in Houston. Afterwards, Joe and Kimmie were able to spend some weeks together in their French place again with friends and family before returning to Texas one last time.
Sickness never defined Joe’s life. It was an irritant and obstacle to be overcome so he could pursue his many interests. He defined it; it didn’t define him. And although so much of his professional career revolved around music, his life was much more than that too, as his extensive network of family and friends that spanned the globe would attest to.
They all knew that Gracey’s presence could never be ignored. He was not the kind of person to let that hap- pen. Which is why despite his unplanned departure, he wanted his friends, family, and all the strangers he never met to hold close to their hearts the advice he dispensed whenever he signed off from another shift on the radio:
“Drink lots of water, stay off your feet, and come when you can.”
Joe is survived by his wife Kimmie Rhodes Gracey, daughter Jolie Gracey Musick and husband Jason; sons Jeremie Rhodes, Gabriel Rhodes and wife Carmen; grandchildren Louis and Ruby Rhodes, Isaac and Isabella Bryson; brother Bill Gracey and wife Cathy; nieces Christy and Kate Gracey; and, Louis’ mother, Jamie Rhodes.
The family is grateful for the loving care and attention provided by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Nobelity Project (www.nobelity.org) or M.D. Anderson Can- cer Center (www.mdanderson.org).
A public celebration of Joe’s life will be held on December 4, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. at the Austin City Limits Moody Theater, 210 W. Willie Nelson Boulevard, in downtown Austin, Texas 78701. Y’all come.

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Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns ride again

The band I managed back in the 1980s, Stiff Records artists Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns (Joe King, Kris Cummings, Brad Kizer, Miguel Navarro) have reformed 30 years after the fact for a Texas Tourette.
Dates are Friday, June 17 @ the Continental Club Houston
Saturday, June 18 @ the Back Porch, Port Aransas
Friday, June 24 @ Poor David’s, Dallas
Saturday, June 25 @ Antone’s, Austin
Sunday, June 26 @ Sam’s Burger Joint, San Antonio.

Here’s the story:
In the late summer 1979, Joe “King” Carrasco formed a stripped-down four-piece combo to replace his Chicano big band, El Molino. Dubbed the Crowns, organist/accordionist Kris Cummings, bassist Brad Kizer, and drummer Miguel Navarro backed up Carrasco at Raul’s, the famed punk club, and the Hole-in-the-Wall, and other University of Texas-area venues in Austin, quickly gaining a following around their revved-up Tex-Mex brand of punk rock, harkening back to the classic Vox and Farfisa organ-driven sound first popularized by the 1960s Texas bands Sir Douglas Quintet (“She’s About A Mover”), Sam The Sham and The Pharoahs (“Wooly Bully”), and ? And the Mysterians (“96 Tears”).

In November 1979, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns made their first trip to New York City where Joe “King” almost gave the Lone Star Café’s owner, Mort Cooperman, a heart attack when he jumped off the club’s balcony onto the stage. The band was such a sensation, they were invited to play the storied Mudd Club downtown, and returned to Austin with critical praise from New York’s music press including Lester Bangs and John Rockwell of the New York TImes.

Armed with a 45 rpm single “Party Weekend” b/w “Houston El Mover” that was financed by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, the band returned to New York in the spring of 1980 to record a demo album for Warner Brothers Records, which was eventually released on ROIR records as “Tales From the Crypt,” and platy two weeks worth of dates at CBGB’s, Hurrah, TR3, which would lead to more bookings at the Danceteria, the Peppermint Lounge, and the Bottom Line, as well as appearances in Washington, DC, Boston, Toronto, Providence, and other cities in the northeast.

By the end of the summer, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns signed a recording contract with Stiff Records in England and embarked on the Son of Stiff Tour with Tenpole Tudor, Dirty Looks, the Equators, and Any Trouble, an extended three-month tour of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the northeastern United States, promoting their debut album and the single “Buena,” a Top Ten hit in France and Sweden that charted in the Top 40 on the BBC.

While overseas, the band filmed a video of “Buena” in London, and taped television appearances in Spain, France, and on Musicladen in Germany, which was broadcast across the Continent.

In January, 1981, the band issued their first US album on the Hannibal label for music empresario Joe Boyd and appeared on the television series “Saturday Night Live” and was a featured act on a new cable television channel called MTV. Later that year, JKC and the Crowns made their West Coast debut at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go behind their Hannibal EP “Party Safari” and played a date in the basement of Hollywood’s Cathay de Grande where they shared the bill with Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs and Los Lobos, making their West LA debut.

Joe “King” Carrasco & The Crowns played a critical role in exporting the Austin sound and Texas music around the world, while establishing the band as one of the most popular music-makers in the Lone Star state in clubs, at Spring Break in South Padre Island, and in arenas and outdoor venues such as Red Rocks, the Frank Erwin Center, the Summit, the Ritz, and Southpark Meadows where they shared the bill with the Talking Heads, the Police, REMm UB 40, the English Beat, the Go-Gos, George Thorogood, and Culture Club.

Thirty years later, the band that exported Tex-Mex Rock-Roll around the globe has reunited for a limited number of Texas dates, demonstrating to fans that what they had heard all those years ago was no mirage: Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns rock like no one else before or since.

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Finding Austin

from the Houston Press 6/8/11
http://www.houstonpress.com/2011-06-09/news/finding-austin/
by John Nova Lomax

photos by John Anderson

Armadillo World Headquarters
Austin food by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson by John Anderson
Yours truly, holding an old Soap Creek poster by John Anderson

Finding Austin
The neo city on the hills is a far cry from its cheap pot, cold beer and low-rent former ways.

From the outside, nothing about Eddie Wilson’s near-north Austin bungalow would indicate that a prime architect of the city’s mystique lives inside. Once through the door, though, and the whole fantastic story becomes plain as a giant javelina sucking on a six-story jug of tequila. Over the fireplace, in the living room where Wilson jokes that prior to remarrying his ex-wife he spent five divorced years cavorting as Austin’s “fat Hugh Hefner,” there hangs a painting of the Armadillo World Headquarters, the venue and “beer garden of Eden” he opened in 1969 and sold to a partner in 1976.
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.

…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.

More so than any other place in the Texas capital’s history, the Armadillo was where Austin got its merit badge in cool. Just for starters, it was the epicenter for the rise of redneck rock, the sacred place where cosmic cowboys like Waylon and Willie united the hitherto-warring tribes of rednecks and hippies. Next to the painting, on the mantel stands a Day of the Dead shrine to Doug Sahm, another Armadillo regular and perhaps the one man who truly mastered every single style of Texas music from gutbucket blues to conjunto. To the left is the ‘Dillo’s old piano, played by
everyone from Fats Domino to Johnny Winter to Mose Allison to Van Morrison.

The idea for Austin City Limits — the brand name that indelibly stamped Austin as the “Live Music Capital of the World” to a generation and counting of PBS viewers, and the driving force behind Texas’s largest music festival today — was hatched at the Armadillo. Indeed, ACL’s raucous Gary P. Nunn theme “London Homesick Blues” famously choruses “Take me home to the Armadillo…”

While you are taking this all in, Wilson is regaling you with tales of this bygone Austin. He explains how people were able to smoke weed with impunity there; powerful men like Bob Bullock liked to ogle the coeds in their halter tops and faded cut-off Levi’s. And Wilson also shows you a picture of him goosing a youthful Ann Richards. The heat wasn’t gonna come down on the fat cats’ playhouse.

In the study, amid thousands and thousands of books and Burton Wilson photographs and psychedelic Jim Franklin posters and other lore, hang five paintings of giant armadillos prowling rolling bluebonnet prairies amid towering Lone Star longnecks. Yep, Wilson’s club inspired that whole National Beer of Texas, “Long Live Longnecks” ethos, too.

“Cheap pot, cold beer and cheap rent,” Wilson says in his courtly, old-school Texas rasp of a voice. With his snow-white mane and goatee and piercing eyes, he looks for all the world like a potbellied Mark Twain. “That’s what got it all started here and now we’re running out of all of it.”

Well, maybe not the beer, but the point is well taken. Eddie Wilson’s Austin, the one people flocked to from all over Texas and the nation to come join, where people could share $60-a-month rent houses and while away their lives hanging out down by the water and partying, is buried, if not dead.

Sure, you can still find vestiges of that magic in places like the Continental Club on South Congress and the Saxon Pub on South Lamar, and Wilson’s own Threadgill’s restaurants, and the other pockets of freakiness that dot the city from the North Loop to deep East Austin, not to mention in farther-flung outposts like San Marcos and Martindale, but by and large, Austin is coming more and more to resemble places like Dallas and Houston, the cities so many adopted Austinites fled in disgust.

And at the same time, Texas’s larger cities are getting cooler and more livable, much “less suffocating,” as Wimberley journalist and Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski puts it.

As Wilson approaches 70 and battles lung cancer, he is wondering what will happen to his legacy and the city he worked so hard to craft in his image. It’s been 30 years since the Armadillo met the wrecking ball. Wilson says he watched as a loader tipped remnants of the old stage into a dump truck. He swears he saw the glitter Doctor John once tossed in the air twinkling among the foam, dust, floorboards and mortar, but nowadays that seems less like an omen of great things to come than a coda to an era that will never return.

Today, where once the Armadillo rollicked, there squats an utterly sterile, suburban-looking, glass-sided office building. It’s as if Austin had declared an official intent to abandon its good-timing days, sober up and get in the hamster wheel with the rest of the rat race, to mix rodent metaphors. Austin officially decided to barter its imagination for a bid at Houston- and Dallas-sized stacks of cash.

“What’s even more ironic is that was initially a bank. And it failed,” says Wilson. “That piece of real estate was the first flip in Austin, and I believe it flipped twice or three times before the thing got built and failed.”
_____________________

From a distance, Austin still looks as beguiling as it must have appeared to its earliest settlers, even if today’s western hills — so exquisitely violet in the setting sun — are studded with McMansions. Austin is easily Texas’s most outdoorsy city. All over town, cyclists whiz past in far greater numbers than anywhere else, and at least on the south side of town, many suburban neighborhoods mesh well with the surrounding hills and thickets. Greenbelts and rocky, shaded creeks streak the city like veins of precious ore, and huge nature preserves and state parks are minutes from town.

The lake, a treacherous river in the old days, is more crowded than ever, but still an amazing downtown amenity, and Hippie Hollow has managed to hang on and is now officially Texas’s only clothing-optional swimming hole. There’s also Zilker Park and Barton Springs — in Wilson’s vernacular, “our G-spot.”

No, Austin is not a truly gorgeous geographical Shangri-La, like San Francisco, Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Seattle or even Chattanooga, Tennessee, but it’s pretty enough and easily the beauty queen of Texas. What’s more, its violent-crime rate is a merciful fraction of those of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Fats, Jerry Lee and Van the Man were but three of the touring legends to have radiated the Armadillo piano’s 88 keys; above, a portrait of the iconic Austin shrine as it appeared in its heyday.
Photos by John Anderson
Fats, Jerry Lee and Van the Man were but three of the touring legends to have radiated the Armadillo piano’s 88 keys; above, a portrait of the iconic Austin shrine as it appeared in its heyday.
While Austin has recently developed a new tier of high-end restaurants, it’s still a town where you can eat fast, cheap and tasty meals tailored for a student budget. Most recently, the city has seen an invasion of over 2,300 food trucks like this one from Franklin BBQ.
John Anderson
While Austin has recently developed a new tier of high-end restaurants, it’s still a town where you can eat fast, cheap and tasty meals tailored for a student budget. Most recently, the city has seen an invasion of over 2,300 food trucks like this one from Franklin BBQ.
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BLOG POST: Cover Story: Taking Austitude Down A Peg Or Two
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Eddie Wilson
Houston (Texas)
Dallas (Texas)
Music Festivals
Arts, Entertainment, and Media

While the music scene isn’t quite what Austin’s boosters would have you believe, it does have its moments, day in and day out, week after week. “I’ll start on a Thursday at five o’clock at happy hour at Continental Club, and then go from there to the early show at the Saxon, and then maybe go over to the East Side to TC’s, and then end up between midnight and two in the morning at Antone’s, perhaps with Del Castillo,” says Wilson. It’s a concentration of reasonably compressed world-class talent Wilson can drive to in minutes. “My friend from L.A. tells me it would take him approximately 18 months to see that much world-class talent in L.A.,” he says.

As an eating town, Austin was once home to little more than sausage wraps and brisket and breakfast tacos, nachos and guacamole — cheap fare to fill the bellies of UT students while leaving them a few extra bucks for partying. Today, that tradition of cheap eats lives on in the 2,300 hipster food trucks that patrol the city, and they offer much more diverse fare than what was available in the past. And while Austin has not yet caught up to Dallas or Houston in fine or ethnic dining, it has made strides, especially in high-end eats. UT grad and former Austin and Houston food critic Robb Walsh says that Austin has developed whole new foodie-tiers in recent years. “Recently, some really good and really expensive restaurants have opened and been able to survive,” he says, citing examples such as Uchi and Vespaio. “It’s very competitive on that level, but you can make it now.”

However, in many, many other areas, Austin is mired in an intermediate stage between overgrown town and true metropolis. To Wilson, the Austin of today is “like a good-lookin’ chick who got knocked up and can’t get into her britches anymore.” What’s more, a great many of the citizens can’t seem to see the way forward.

Austin is home to precious few top-rate museums and little in the way of high art or fashion. The only international flight out of its airport goes to Cancun. Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns). While the real estate market is a bargain to Californians, by Texas standards it is both costly and cramped.

Above all that, there’s traffic, the “sheer hell trying to get around that city,” as Greg Ellis, a former Dallasite and Houstonian and now the manager of Sundance Records in San Marcos, puts it. Austinites have a curious attitude toward their clogged roads. In a recent poll, 70 percent of them said it was their city’s top concern, and a 2010 study conducted by Texas A&M’s nationally renowned Texas Transportation Institute, one that used the latest high-tech GPS devices and even iPhone data to measure travel times, concluded that in all of America, Austin trailed only Los Angeles and Washington D.C. in average travel times.

Yet when you read the Austin American-Statesman’s article about the study, there’s this weird parade of denial in the online comments. Yes, traffic is bad, dozens of the commenters say. They will all admit that I-35 is a nightmare from Williamson County to San Antonio, and that it does suck being America’s largest city with only one interstate. They’ll grant that Highways 183 and 290 are hell-paths, and that MoPac is an inadequate north-south conduit, and that major arterials such as Lamar, Airport, Burnet and Manor all have poorly synchronized traffic lights.

And yet still, even given all that, they will insist that traffic in Austin is “not as bad as it is in Dallas and Houston.” (Others, like Wilson, just shrug it off and say things like “That’s why you are supposed to smoke a joint in your car.”)

That denial is typical, according to Julia Youssefnia, a 28-year-old accountant who graduated from UT and has since lived in both Houston and Dallas, and it’s not limited to traffic. “Austin is a city with tons of problems — segregation, gentrification, problems with affordable housing — but most people there tend to ignore them,” she says.

Indeed, some in the city seem to celebrate their woes. That’s what makes Austin weird, they claim.

But Houston blogger Lou Minatti points out that so much of what Austin touts as being weird is actually ordinary. Bats under bridges? Houston has those. A large population of panhandlers, or “dragworms,” as they are called in Austin? Both Houston and Dallas have them.

The one thing he grants is truly weird about Austin was the population’s hatred of ease of transit, an antipathy manifested by residents’ refusal to do anything to alleviate their woes.”More highways will make us just like Houston and Dallas!” is the rallying cry, and to be like those towns would not be weird.

But to people who have actually been to all three cities recently, it’s apparent that they are already more alike than different. “I cannot truck people who say they don’t want Austin to become Dallas or Houston, because it is,” says Patoski.
Author Joe Nick Patoski holds a relic from the tail end of Austin’s glory days: The Soap Creek Saloon was the soul of Austin’s scene while the Armadillo was the heart. Today, Patoski believes that Austin has the same big-city problems of Houston and Dallas, while the two larger cities have both gotten less suffocating.
John Anderson
Author Joe Nick Patoski holds a relic from the tail end of Austin’s glory days: The Soap Creek Saloon was the soul of Austin’s scene while the Armadillo was the heart. Today, Patoski believes that Austin has the same big-city problems of Houston and Dallas, while the two larger cities have both gotten less suffocating.
When South by Southwest was launched the late 1980s, its goals were to show off local and regional bands and fill downtown bar stools while the UT kids were on spring break. Now, it’s morphed into three conferences spanning most of March and is a spring break destination in its own right, not to mention an international Shangri-La for techno-nerds.
John Anderson
When South by Southwest was launched the late 1980s, its goals were to show off local and regional bands and fill downtown bar stools while the UT kids were on spring break. Now, it’s morphed into three conferences spanning most of March and is a spring break destination in its own right, not to mention an international Shangri-La for techno-nerds.
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Houston (Texas)
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Nowhere is that more apparent than downtown, where the past ten years have been home to a crass real estate boom that would shame even Donald Trump. Austin’s downtown was once home to much that was funky, family-owned and attitude-free.

That vibe has been vanishing, especially since 2006, when a strong ordinance dictating an unobstructed line of sight to the Capitol from pretty much all points was weakened to the point of near-meaninglessness. Ever since, high-rise luxury condos and hotels and glitzy shopping centers have erupted like enormous rainy-day toadstools. Austin’s tall landmarks were once the Capitol and the Texas Tower — politics and academia. Now the city’s skyline declares that Austin is really about flipping condos.

In a real estate developer-driven bid to weaken the Capitol Corridors ordinance, Austin mayor Will Wynn stated that he wanted to have 25,000 people living downtown by 2015. And what kind of people did they want? Rich ones, as attested by the fact that the one true grocery store in the area is the Whole Foods flagship.

Like the city of its birth, Whole Foods is a lot more corporate and ritzy than it was in the hippy-dippy ’70s, and Patoski believes that store is helping solidify downtown as a paradise for wealthy Bobos, to mangle the title of David Brooks’s memorable 2000 book. “It’s their theme park,” he says of the flagship. “I’ve seen people moving into high-rises down there so they can be close to Whole Foods.”

The kind of people who can afford to do their regular shopping at Whole Foods are not the bohemians Austin once drew. Instead, they are the people who can afford to live in the brand-new, 683-foot Austonian condo tower, now Austin’s tallest building, where studio condos start at $500,000 (with $700 monthly fees) and prices ascend to a cool $8 million for a penthouse. At the time the project was announced, one of the developers reportedly stated that these would not be first or second homes for their typical buyers, but fifth or sixth, somewhere in the port­folio amid properties in the south of France, Manhattan, Aspen, Tuscany and Malibu.

Today, downtown Austin is cramped. It’s hard to park. By and large, the people you see on a night out are alternately pretentious, thuggish (on skanky East 6th Street, where gang shootings and fistfights are becoming common occurrences) or douched-out, as on West 6th Street, which now rivals or exceeds Uptown Dallas as a spawning ground for vulgarian 30k millionaires swilling bottle-service Grey Goose. (While the exact number of douchebags prowling Austin was not tracked by the census and is therefore impossible to quantify, suffice to say that a production company recently found it fertile enough ground to announce they were casting a Texas-style Jersey Shore ripoff in Austin.)

By night, the one thing much of downtown Austin has in spades is vapidity, an affluent airheadedness that reigns everywhere where it is not supplanted by its cousins: lunkheaded testosterone head-cracking or the putting on of airs, depending on whether you are east or west of Congress.

Austin Community College librarian Red Wassenich spearheaded the Keep Austin Weird campaign of the last few years. He says he’s been encouraged by some recent developments in the city, but he did tip us off to one place whose mere presence would seem to toll the death knell of any city that claimed to be cool.

“There are these horrible bars downtown like Qua where they have, like, live sharks swimming under the dance floor,” he said.

We thought he had to be exaggerating, but no, Qua really exists, on West 4th Street. It’s got it all, including that stupid, meaningless name. It’s got the velvet rope and the dress codes. It’s got bottle service, and, yes, Virginia, there are in fact actual live sharks swimming under the glass dance floor. “They are fed fresh seafood (from Whole Foods) daily,” notes the info page on Qua’s Web site.

Downtown Austin, 2011: where even the nightclub sharks dine on Whole Foods seafood daily.

Molly Ivins wept.
_____________________

It’s fitting that the supermarket chain that white people like most was born and bred in Austin, the Texas city that white people like best. Austin is easily Texas’s milkiest big city, and the inner core is getting more ivory by the minute. It’s curious — Austin is Texas’s most progressive city, and it’s hard not to imagine that its residents wouldn’t speak highly of diversity as a concept. (Indeed, President Obama enjoyed his greatest Texas margin of victory in Travis County, though he took both Dallas and Harris counties, too.) And yet the stats don’t lie: Austin is 8.8 percent black, Houston is 18.7 and Dallas is 20.7 percent.

The Hispanic population of all three cities grew between 2000 and 2010, but in Austin, that growth has been tempered by a simultaneous gentrification of the East Austin barrio / black neighborhood, both just across I-35 from downtown. According to U.S. Census figures, the Hispanic presence in Central East Austin declined by 9.3 percent, and that of blacks by 27 percent. (Both groups have been pushed to the burbs.) At the same time, the white population boomed by 40 percent.

Many of those white people are hipsters, but to Patoski, that “hipness” comes at a dear price. “As hip now as east Austin appears, what made it cool was the black and Mexican ethnic aspects, and that is now basically gone,” says Patoski. “They’ve run it all out.”
Jeff Liles and friends have transformed a section of Dallas’s South Oak Cliff into a place even the hippest Austinites envy.
Alex Scott
Jeff Liles and friends have transformed a section of Dallas’s South Oak Cliff into a place even the hippest Austinites envy.
Designer Judy Masliyah followed her soon-to-be-husband from Los Angeles to Austin, but quickly determined that Austin’s creative scene was “just for show.” Now she runs a boutique on Houston’s Main Street and loves the Bayou City’s cosmopolitan flair.
Troy Fields
Designer Judy Masliyah followed her soon-to-be-husband from Los Angeles to Austin, but quickly determined that Austin’s creative scene was “just for show.” Now she runs a boutique on Houston’s Main Street and loves the Bayou City’s cosmopolitan flair.
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This odd phenomenon has been replicated in other progressive cities such as Portland and Minneapolis. Attracted by stuff white people like such as farmers’ markets, bike lanes and hipster culture, they flock in from slightly stodgier yet much more diverse cities like Houston and Dallas. Once ensconced in their ivory bastions, they look back at the chaos and hurly-burly of the places they left behind with smug self-satisfaction.

Writing on the Web site Newgeography.com, Aaron Renn wonders if they have earned the right to such snobbery. He believes that what they see as progressivism could also be interpreted as “White Flight writ large.” Say you grew up in the suburbs of Dallas or Houston and would love to be in the middle of the action of the big city, but places like Oak Cliff or Houston’s East End are just a little too real for you, with their methadone clinics, police sirens and 24-hour cantinas.

In Renn’s view, that’s where places like Austin come in. Why move to or stay in the suburbs of your square city to escape minorities and get slammed as a bigot for doing so, when you can move to some hep place like Austin and win praise for your progressivism?

“They often think that by moving to Austin they have done something great for humanity,” notes Youssefnia.

Smugness about their monochromatic progressivism is just one aspect of “Austitude,” a collective municipal narcissism shared by so many Austinites. To them, Austin is better, smarter, friendlier and utterly unlike everywhere else in Texas. Austitude is very prevalent not only in Austin but also in California, a prime source of migrants to Austin since the 1990s tech boom.

Tell Austinites that you live in Houston, and some will actually say to your face, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Delia Swanner, a Houston native now living in California, says she is sick of hearing Californians — even ones who’ve never been to any city in Texas — tell her Austin is the only place in Texas they’d consider living.

Other manifestations of Austitude drove Judy Masliyah right out of town. Back in the 1990s, Masliyah, a California native and designer of quirky, retro clothing, met her soon-to-be-husband Glover Gill in Los Angeles. Gill is a Houston-bred, then-Austin-based musician and composer whose tango-infused keyboard work appears in Richard Linklater’s films. They would seem to be the perfect Austin couple, and Masliyah followed Gill there and set out her designs. At first, Masliyah enjoyed Austin somewhat, even if she chafed at Austin’s creative-class hive mind. “I just really hate being told what’s what, this expectation of what I am supposed to like or believe,” she says.

Those misgivings turned to terror once Masliyah and Gill tied the knot, and it suddenly dawned on her that she might be living in Austin for the rest of her life. “I would have to somehow identify with it,” she says. She says she “lost it” after a fashion show she put on. “After it was over, one of the models said, ‘I really love your clothes. If I lived in New York or L.A., I would wear them.’ That was just it for me,” she says. “Austin is just for show. They want to have all this stuff like fashion shows, but only so they can say they can. Nobody wanted to wear it, but they wanted to say they had it. They weren’t there, but they still wanted to act like they were there.”

Later that day, Masliyah told Gill she couldn’t live in Austin anymore. “So we started this half-and-half thing, living in both places. (She now owns the My Flaming Heart boutique on Main Street in Houston.) “And it’s not that I don’t like it there, but it’s complicated my life so much, and his life, but I’m totally willing to do that. I don’t have any snobbery against Texas. It’s just Austin that gets under my skin.”

“I’m not from here / but people tell me / it’s not like it used to be / they say I should have been here / back about ten years / before it got ruined by folks like me.” — James McMurtry, “I’m Not From Here” Austin boosters can say all they want about the nerd chic of the new tech sector and the reflected Hollywood glamor of the city’s growing film industry, but the jewel in Austin’s crown of cool has long been the music scene. And oddly enough, Austin has the shortest musical history of any big city in Texas. As late as 1963, Austin’s pop music scene consisted of touring old-school country bands and cover bands working the frat-house circuit. The Austin of that time had a lot in common with Baton Rouge — both were formerly Confederate state capitals and seats of learning. About all that was different was the rainfall and the fact that chili ruled Austin and gumbo Baton Rouge.

Around that time, Kenneth Threadgill, a fiftysomething country music lover and former bootlegger (and proud owner of the first post-Prohibition beer license issued in Travis County), started welcoming an autoharp-toting, ballad-belting Port Arthur wild child by the name of Janis Joplin and her UT student crowd of folk music-loving proto-hippies to Wednesday night jams at his redneck roadhouse on North Lamar. Wilson, also a Threadgill’s regular at the time, maintains that Threadgill’s ability to calmly host both rednecks and beatniks served as a template for his Armadillo World Headquarters.

Mescaline and LSD swept through Austin right about then, giving rise to the lysergic sonic tsunami that was the 13th Floor Elevators, the city’s first nationally known rock band, and still Austin’s most dangerous. By 1969, Wilson was managing Shiva’s Headband, another psychedelic Austin band. Since Shiva’s had trouble finding a place to play locally, Wilson had to open one himself. He bought a former National Guard Armory on Barton Springs Road and renamed it the Armadillo World Headquarters.
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Photos by John Anderson
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
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There followed a decade or so of Austin’s glory years, where Willie’s Django-infused gypsy country finally found its spiritual home and where Waylon’s high-octane, cocaine-amped West Texas honky-tonk stomp coalesced, all in front of howling crowds of “headnecks in cowboy hats” and the scantily clad foxy hippie chicks.

Wilson wants it known that the Armadillo was not just a hippie club that became a cosmic honky-tonk. Blues guitar master Freddy King tore it down there on many a night, as did international stars such as Jimmy Cliff and Van Morrison. And it wasn’t all shades of popular music. “No one ever gives us credit for all the bullshit we did. We had ballet once a month for ten years, musicals, folkloric groups from around the world,” Wilson remembers.

In 1976, Wilson sold out to a friend, and the club marched on to the early days of Texas punk. Around that time, Patoski detected some ominous minor-key music amid the carefree parade. “I remember in the mid ’70s seeing a banker snorting coke and going all on about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. I knew it was over then,” he says.

But it wasn’t, quite. By about 1981, punk was on the march all over town, and Austin was hip for a whole new generation of disaffected kids from all over Texas, albeit these with Mohawks and Day-Glo hair and piercings. Dallas’s Jeff Liles was chest-deep in the punk scene. “I lived there when Club Foot was happening, and Raul’s was happening, and Club 29 and all those great venues. It could not be beat back then. Oh my God, Austin was the shit back then. That was before the whole concept of alternative music. Classic rock was on its way out, and punk, alternative and new wave were this brand-new thing, and Austin was a really cool, subversive place to live.”

By the middle of the ’80s, some of that punk scene would evolve into a new wave sound, something like a slightly twangier take on the Athens-jangle rock scene that gave the world REM. At the same time, Austin’s bluesy retro-rock scene was going great guns under the auspices of iconic late club owner Clifford Antone. The major labels signed lots of Austin-based acts in the ’80s from both the new wave and blues camps, with the latter winning out in sales in the form of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

In 1987, South By Southwest was launched. Its original goals were to fill up downtown bars while the UT kids were away on spring break and showcase local bands, and boy did it ever succeed, at least at the former.

Since its inception, SXSW’s trend has been toward bigger, grander, louder and more. Today, there are three SXSW festivals — the original music confab and others for film and tech. The emphasis on regional and, to a lesser extent, unknown music is long gone, as some 2,000 bands from dozens and dozens of countries are spotlighted. Huge established acts now perform regularly, and it has sprouted a glitzy layer of B-list celeb scuzz on top; it is now the kind of event that is apparently proud to allow the likes of Perez Hilton to host day parties.

It has also become a Music Biz 2.0 event that is less about music than it is about corporate branding and data mining, according to Austin punk godfather Jesse Sublett. You don’t think all those bands, those mounds of tacos and oceans of booze are really free at those day parties, do you? Sublett doesn’t. He says when he saw the New York Dolls at a recent SXSW, he had to fill out an invitation that mined him for about 15 different items of information, and then, he says, he had to “watch Rachael Ray’s fat ass bounce around to the Dolls. I mean, I’m glad she hosted the show, but come on.”

Greg Ellis believes the 1990s were a horrible decade for Austin culture. MTV discovered SXSW, and suddenly the insider regional event became a destination for college kids who wanted to be like MTV’s frothy host Tabitha Soren. And then Richard Linklater’s Slacker came out. Ellis thinks it is an amazing film but that, like SXSW as presented by MTV, it made Austin seem cool for all the wrong reasons. “Slacker and SXSW established Austin as the place to be for the types of hipsters that you didn’t want here,” he says. “These were people who just wanted to he hipsters. That’s not who you want.”
Meanwhile, out in the northern suburbs, the rise of Dell helped kick-start the tech boom. “That brought in a lot of people who just thought Austin was a pretty place, or they came on a visit and liked what they saw, so then they wanted to make it exactly like the place they had just come from,” says Ellis. “They wanted to turn it into the fuckin’ East Bay. And it wasn’t like that at all.”

At the same time the Californians poured in, the surrounding suburbs filled in with typically Republican Texans, delineating a bright red ring around Austin’s island of blue. “Nowadays you can’t give a party in your own fuckin’ home without suddenly realizin’ that your house is full of fuckin’ Republicans,” Wilson grumbles. “Man! It’s a disgusting state of affairs.”
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Photos by John Anderson
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Details

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BLOG POST: Cover Story: Taking Austitude Down A Peg Or Two
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Houston (Texas)
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All those forces, all those tens of thousands of people who moved to Austin because it wasn’t “like Texas” (as if people like Molly Ivins, Lady Bird Johnson and John Henry Faulk were not Texan) have conspired to erode Austin’s unique sense of place. Eddie Wilson’s Austin was like Texas, only it was Texas at its most laid-back, and it was proud of its provincialism and reveled in its native music.

Today, save for the old-timers, there’s no Austin music that “sounds like Austin” the way the cosmic cowboys, retro-blues folks, and even the Austin punks and new-wavers did. The bands that have created national buzz out of Austin in the last five or ten years — Ghostland Observatory, Spoon, Okkervil River, the Octopus Project — could just as easily be from Portland, Brooklyn, Toronto or San Francisco. Likewise, today’s Austin City Limits could as easily be called Indie City Limits. But that’s a national trend: music everywhere is starting to sound like music anywhere.

And there’s nothing unique going on in Austin. “Tell me what the cool venue is in Austin right now,” says Ellis. “There’s not one. There’s nothing like Liberty Lunch or the Beach or anything like that anymore. You’ve got the Red Eyed Fly, which is okay, but it’s a hellhole, really. And then you’ve got…um…Stubb’s I guess is the coolest thing that you’ve got. And that’s controlled by [corporate concert promoters] C3, and there you go. You wanna go see Primus at Stubb’s? Well, that’ll be $45. Lauryn Hill? $63. That’s not Austin.”

Given that there’s no special sound to the rock bands there, and given that rents are so high, and given that there are so many musicians there that club owners feel free to pay starvation wages, it’s worth wondering why bands continue to move there.

And maybe they don’t. While it’s impossible to take a direct count, it has seemed as if the trend has slowed in recent years in both Houston and Dallas. And Wilson thinks it just might start moving in the other direction.

“Because of the economics of the situation, we’re gonna send a huge number of creative people in every direction just lookin’ for a place to live,” he says. “Hell,” he says, “If I was pushin’ 40 instead of 70, I’d probably be tryin’ to find a piece in Fort Worth,” he says.
_____________________

Jeff Liles made the move back to his native Dallas from Austin in the early ’80s and hasn’t looked back since. A mover and shaker in the glory days of Deep Ellum, Liles has since helped establish an arts colony of sorts in a neighborhood called X-Plus, in the northern part of Dallas’s Oak Cliff area.

Oak Cliff is different from the rest of Dallas, Liles says. (Hell, not too terribly long ago, it attempted to secede from Dallas.) It’s across the Trinity from the rest of town, and the river clearly marks a delineation between the two. “There’s a different mind-set. Most of the people who live in X-Plus hung out in Deep Ellum in the late ’80s and early ’90s and now they are married with kids,” Liles says. “They still have creative inclinations, but family is the first priority, a day job is the second, but they still play music and they want to live in the midst of an arts community.”

The epicenter of that community is the Kessler Theater, a listening room/arts space managed by Liles. While Liles is an interested party and can come across as a (very confident) booster, Joe Nick Patoski vouches for Liles’s claims. Patoski says that the Kessler is one of the best listening rooms he’s ever been in, and he was shocked by the hipness of its environs. “Oak Cliff is now hipper, edgier and more affordable than east Austin is,” he says.

Liles radiates pride when he talks about X-Plus. He says his neighbors are not “hippy-dippy people,” but instead are just “really smart, intuitive people and they are trying to change things for the better.” Such changes include more bike lanes and dog parks, created from scratch. “They really care about their surroundings, and they are really trying to preserve X-Plus and Oak Cliff as it always has been, trying to keep that snapshot in time, so it doesn’t become like the rest of Dallas: overrun by empty buildings and development that’s not even real,” says Liles. The neighborhood recently scored big when it turfed out a bidness-friendly city councilman and replaced him with a liberal who managed to stop a Walmart from going in.
Liles doesn’t know of any Austin artists who have moved to X-Plus, but he says they are taking note of the changes. Some even blaspheme their own hallowed hometown, he says. “I’m telling you straight-up, they enjoy playing the Kessler because there is nothing in Austin like the Kessler,” he says. “All the artists who come up here love being from Austin. They are very proud of the fact that they are from Austin. But they come to the Kessler and they see this neighborhood and they say, ‘Damn, this is the way Austin used to be. There is nothing in Austin this cool right now.'”

Meanwhile, Houston has at last apparently stanched the exodus of young rock bands to Austin, a stampede that began in the ’70s and finally started slowing about five years ago. Ellis, a 35-year veteran of the music scene in the Austin area, Dallas and Houston, ventures to say that Houston’s scene is better than Austin’s right now.
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
Photos by John Anderson
Eddie Wilson helped shepherd Austin cool from the hippie era to the dawn of punk…
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Photos by John Anderson
…and his Armadillo World Headquarters was the epicenter of cosmic cowboy redneck rock. Now a sterile office building stands where the ‘Dillo once was, and Wilson is wondering where his legacy still lives on.
Details

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BLOG POST: Cover Story: Taking Austitude Down A Peg Or Two
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More About

Eddie Wilson
Houston (Texas)
Dallas (Texas)
Music Festivals
Arts, Entertainment, and Media

“You can’t live cheap [in Austin] anymore,” he says. “There’s no cool places to play. There’s nothing really happening. It just doesn’t have the appeal anymore. Certainly someone like Blaze Foley couldn’t survive there anymore, though the argument could be made that he couldn’t survive then either. But today nothing like that would even be embraced.”

Today’s Houston finds more rising young rock bands choosing to stay here than at any time since the 1960s. Fitzgerald’s is back as a cutting-edge venue after years in lunk-core alt-rock purgatory. The Heights, Houston’s own mini-Austin, is filling up with fun beer gardens and low-key restaurants, and there are other scattered pockets of cool in Montrose, the Museum District and the East End. Taking in a concert in Discovery Green can trick you into thinking you are in Chicago, only with better weather, and Austin so loved our Art Car Parade, they’ve attempted to steal the entire concept, just as they’ve attempted to steal the memory of our Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark/Steve Earle/Rodney Crowell songwriting history.

What’s more, Houston is a city and proud of it. Masliyah loves living in the kind of city where it’s easy for her to buy her dressmaking supplies and also to travel the world without leaving home. “The other day I went shopping at Phoenicia and it was like I’d gone around the world,” she says. Youssefnia also loves Houston’s cosmopolitan atmosphere and realistic sense of itself.

“Houston has a strong scene and many hidden elements that keep it interesting,” she says. “People realize the problems it has — the corrupt oil money, the sprawl, the pollution — and don’t deny the problems like people in Austin do.”

Back in Eddie Wilson’s bungalow, the man is still railing. “I’m still an Austin booster,” he says. “I’ve gotta be, but it’s kinda like bein’ in an arm-wrestling contest. You’ve just gotta persevere and hope that sooner or later the other side gives in.”

He doesn’t think that’s going to happen, though. “Greed never sleeps,” he says. “It never takes a day off. Everybody from the jolly side of life wants to celebrate, at least here, there and yonder, but greed can’t afford to because it’s always after what it is you’ve got.”

He catches his breath. “When you run the cops and schoolteachers out of the town they are servin’…”

“It finally happened,” he continues. It has finally come to pass that Austin really and truly was better before you got there, and won’t ever see such creative days again.

“We had ’em on the run for a while, but I believe they’ve taken over the goddamn front-end loader now,” he says. “C’mon. Let’s go on over to Thread­gill’s and have a beer. On the house.”

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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Bid to honor Western swing music hits sour note in Texas Legislature

from the April 18, 2011 edition of the Dallas Morning News

Bid to honor Western swing music hits sour note in Texas Legislature Does Western swing icon Bob Wills’ work represent Texas music better than Van Cliburn’s? Or Roy Orbison’s? Or Brave Combo’s? Or Johnny Winter’s? Or…?

By KAREN BROOKS Austin Bureau kmbrooks@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN — An effort to make Western swing the official music of Texas could see miles and miles of opposition, as one Hill Country music lover finds herself in the opening stanzas of a debate over what defines “Texas music.” “When we’re talking about a symbol, we’re talking about culture and heritage and history, and something that has been long lasting,” said Paula Jungmann, a Boerne housewife who is pushing for the legislative declaration. “When I look at Western swing, that is what I see.” But while she counts no time in politics, Jungmann is discovering that elected officials and creative artist types are pages torn from the same songbook in two big ways: You never know what they’re going to do, and you’ll never get them all to agree on anything. Some musicians — and the “Beer-drinkers and Hell-raisers” who love them (thank you, ZZ Top) — are wondering whether lawmakers should be trying to define and symbolize Texas music in terms of one genre. Particularly if it leaves out Hank Williams’ pain songs, Newbury’s train songs and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” “The official sound of Texas should be Texas music in all its glorious facets,” said Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski. “No official proclamation is necessary when everybody knows we make music better than anybody else.”

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