Michael Barnes/Austin Statesman on Austin to ATX

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No nostalgia zone: Author Joe Nick Patoski grapples with ‘Austin to ATX’

By Michael Barnes
@outandabout
Posted Mar 1, 2019 at 1:11 PM Updated Mar 4, 2019 at 2:49 PM

Longtime Austin journalist and author Joe Nick Patoski recently launched his much-anticipated book “Austin to ATX,” a history about the waves of outsiders who have transformed our city, mostly since the 1960s.

Along with the hippies, musicians and activists widely associated with what Patoski calls the “Other Texas,” he nimbly links together those familiar tribes with other networks of writers, movie-makers, tech geeks and food innovators who make up Austin’s vaunted creative class.

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

Along with chapters about each identified group, Patoski provides thorough histories of South by Southwest, “Austin City Limits” and other cultural brand names.

One of the things that sets this history apart from standard Austin nostalgia, however, is that Patoski does not judge. Not newcomers, not even tourists, whom he calls the “Looky-Loos.”

“It would have been very easy to take the ‘Old Fart/Austin Was Better Way Back When’ approach,” says Patoski, who recently drew a lively crowd of 250 to the Austin Central Library for an Austin Public Library Foundation book party. “Because no matter when you arrived, you likely think it was better then, and in many respects it was — because it was all new to you. The fact that good people continue pouring in, despite money becoming a thing, and despite some new arrivals coming here for jobs, not the lifestyle, was not lost on me.”

Patoski moved to Austin in 1973 — he has lived in Wimberley since the 1990s — so his view is long. All along, he keenly observed the connections within the Austin experience going back far before his arrival.

“Back in the ’70s, I rented an $85-a-month hovel in Swede Hill in East Austin from Annie Stasswender,” he says. “Her family had the headstone business adjacent to Oakwood Cemetery. Two or three times a week, Annie, who was in her 80s, would drive over to Scholz Garten, where she was a member of the Saengerrunde, and would enjoy her German soda pop, as Statesman columnist Nat Henderson used to describe beer. That ritual was her lifeblood.”

That dovetailed with Patoski’s childhood memories of Austin.

“When my father and stepmother took my sister and I on family vacations to South Padre Island, back when there were two motels, a gas station and two restaurants on the island, they would always stop at Scholz to enjoy a schooner of beer, and sneak sips to my sister and me,” he says. “That scene of sprawling oak trees strung with lights and these long tables filled with people drinking beer, laughing and enjoying conversation stuck with me.”

Trying to figure out what is this elusive mojo that Austin has, he kept flashing back to Scholz.

“Of course! Our oldest business is about singing, dancing and drinking beer,” Patoski says. “This refined pursuit of pleasure is baked into the city’s DNA. I arrived in 1973 and it wasn’t but a week or two being here when someone said, ‘You should have been here two years ago.’ And over the years, I have concluded Austin in the ’60s was pretty cool, but Austin in the ’30s, when (writers J. Frank) Dobie, (Roy) Bedichek and (Walter Prescott) Webb had Barton Springs practically to themselves while they philosophized in their bathing trucks, must have been some kind of paradise.”

In Patoski’s version of the story, the University of Texas and state government attracted folks that “needed work but still wanted plenty of leisure time for beer-drinking, bullshitting, hell-raising and thinking.”

Austin was also the only place in Texas during the 1960s where hippies were relatively safe from violent suppression. Patoski goes into great detail about how the countercultural crowd coalesced, how early on many of them left for greener pastures in San Francisco, then how that out-migration became an in-migration because of music, specifically a form that combined traditional country music with rock ‘n’ roll in venues like the Armadillo World Headquarters with musicians such as Willie Nelson at the head of the parade.

“Throughout the ’70s, musicians poured into the city, especially once Willie became a one-name superstar,” Patoski says. “By the end of the ’70s, with the addition of venues like Antone’s and Liberty Lunch, all kinds of musical tribes had formed in Austin. No matter what kind of music interested you, there was a community of that music in Austin. The pickers started the whole migration, which has never stopped. Following music came film and food communities, and it continued building up until high tech kind of took over the culture in the ’90s. Still, music remained this underpinning that informed all these fields.”

Two of the best chapters — ones on literary Austin and culinary Austin — are organized around one or two special interviews each.

“The literary chapter was the most surprising to me,” Patoski says. “I’d kind of dismissed the idea of a writing community. But I always loved the stories (author) Steve Harrigan used to tell in his self-deprecating way when we were both at Texas Monthly. I really identified with his tales about mowing lawns to get by so he could write. I love the Zen of lawn-mowing and do a lot of my deep thinking while cutting grass. So Steve graciously sat down and told me his story, which led me down all kinds of rabbit holes to writers before him, and how Texas Monthly played a role in cultivating a real literary community.”

Patoski says using Whole Foods and Aaron Franklin as the main culinary characters was an easy choice.

“I shopped the original Whole Foods on 10th and Lamar — and its predecessor SaferWay, and Good Food Store, which provided the blueprint,” he says. “I’d interviewed John Mackey for Texas Monthly just as (Whole Foods Market) had started expanding to Houston, New Orleans and Dallas. But I also knew Patty Lang Fair, who managed the original store and stuck with the company until the Amazon sale. She told me stories that Mackey, as corporate CEO, could not.”

Patoski, a longtime barbecue connoisseur, had helped hatch the idea of a Texas Monthly top 50 barbecue joints list with Pat Sharpe. So a focus on Aaron Franklin seemed natural.

“I’d met Aaron when he was working for John Mueller, who brought Central Texas-style ‘cue to the city,” he says. “I was an early regular at Aaron’s trailer and was drawn to his storytelling as much as his brisket. Aaron is the same cat I met ‘way back when.’ It is telling that he didn’t come to Austin to do barbecue. He came to Austin to play in bands. These were easy choices to tell these stories.”

Patoski writes accurately that Whole Foods was a “cool hang.”

“The cool hang is part of the secret sauce,” Patoski says. “People do things in Austin because it’s cool and fun. All these origin stories are rooted in what I call the alternative Austin business model, doing things for all the ‘wrong’ — but really right — reasons. ‘Hey, let’s get together to build a concert hall’ was the motivation behind the Armadillo World Headquarters. There was no business plan.”

Patoski does a good job of including the tech talent and game-makers among the outsiders who molded today’s Austin economy. Yet the great wealth they produced also completely transformed real estate, philanthropy and retail.

Can the Old Austin of those who are still trying to eke out the low-cost lifestyles that attracted them here live alongside the New Austin of towers, traffic congestion, outrageous rents and high-price restaurants?

“I continue to grapple with the idea that Austin’s success and the wealth being generated here are marginalizing creatives, who are moving to the suburbs along with police officers, firefighters and teachers because they can no longer afford to live in Austin,” Patoski says. “You can’t really create and slack like you used to. You have to bring your own money or have an entrepreneurial streak to be able to afford to live here now. The response of organizations like HAAM, SIMS and Black Fret are trying to address that, but I think the next 20 years will tell the tale whether or not we killed the goose that laid the golden egg.”

One of Patoski’s most generous observations involves the context in which newcomers have perceived the Broken Spoke.

“If you were here in 1973, when the Broken Spoke marked the southern limits of South Austin, you probably have a difficult time reconciling all the condos surrounding it,” he says. “But if you just arrived and are tooling down South Lamar and all of a sudden you see this genuine honky-tonk among this strip of condos, you probably think, ‘How cool is this? A honky-tonk in the middle of all these low-rise living spaces.’ And Barton Springs! A spring-fed pool within eyeshot of downtown skyscrapers. OK, I don’t like to pay for parking, or waiting in line, like you have to do to go to Barton’s, but those springs are still those springs. It’s all about perspective. And my sense is, new arrivals are just as dazzled as I once was. That ‘cool factor’ — whatever it is — remains.”

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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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Selena: Como la Flor – now an audiobook and ebook

My biography of Selena Quintanilla Perez, the Queen of Tejano Music, is now available as an audio book on Audible https://www.audible.com/pd/Selena-como-la-flor-Selena-Like-the-Flower-Audiobook/B07JH4PK2M?qid=1540341841&sr=sr_1_1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=e81b7c27-6880-467a-b5a7-13cef5d729fe&pf_rd_r=0ZA7HZNABSGW4VJK9JW2&

and on Amazon and iTunes

and as a Kindle ebook. https://www.amazon.com/Selena-Como-Joe-Nick-Patoski-ebook/dp/B07JBHYLGR/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540343085&sr=1-1&keywords=Selena%3A+COmo+La+Flor+Patoski+Kindle

 

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The Silver Slipper in Houston

Experience One of the Best Live Music Scenes in Texas at Houston’s Silver Slipper

Get back to your roots at this timeless R&B nightclub

Written by Joe Nick Patoski. Photographs by Darren Carroll.

My story in the September issue of Texas Highways magazine about the Silver Slipper, where every Saturday night, Houston’s Rhythm n Blues legacy is celebrated by Curley Cormier and his band, The Gladiators, along with guest singers, and all the club’s patrons. Darren Carroll captured the spirit of place in his photographs.

Click on the link to read and see the whole story.

http://texashighways.com/culture-lifestyle/item/9051-experience-one-of-the-best-live-music-scenes-in-texas-at-houston-s-silver-slipper

 

 

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Willis Alan Ramsey in NPR Music

https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/04/09/598843883/the-follow-up

 

The Follow-Up
The price of perfection is cheap, if that’s all you spend your money on.
April 9, 20186:01 AM ET
JOE NICK PATOSKI

 

 

He walked into the restaurant with the pronounced limp of an old warrior, which he attributed to a bad back, and mentioned a history of self–medication with alcohol. A friend had given him a blister pack of steroids and a prescriptive anti-inflammatory that he examined as he slid into a booth at Threadgill’s in south Austin, Texas. The thick head of hair had turned gray and the sloe-eyes drooped a little more. But that infectious smile remained, same as ever.

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Margaret Moser, Queen of Austin, Is Dancing In The Light

Here’s a story I wrote about my friend Margaret Moser for The Record: Music News from National Public Radio

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/06/22/533785361/margaret-moser-queen-of-austin-is-dancing-in-the-light

 

June 18 was the beginning of a weeklong Open House at Tex Pop, the South Texas Museum of Popular Culture — a storefront wedged between a head shop and convenience store in an aging strip center at the corner of Margaret and Mulberry in San Antonio. Inside, in the largest of three rooms, museum founder and director Margaret Moser is seeing her first visitor of the day, Kathy Valentine. In an adjacent room, Moser’s mother Phyllis Stegall and a niece greet arrivals as they wait their turns. The mood is somber, which on any other day could be attributed to it being a Sunday morning, except that everyone here knows Moser is living on borrowed time. The one exception to the caliginous vibe is the day’s person of interest and honor — she’s smiling, laughing, holding hands, hugging, listening to and telling stories. Having the time of her life.

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Here & Now Visits Texas Music Hour of Power

Jeremy Hobson of National Public Radio’s Here & Now program visits with the Texas Music Hour of Power for DJ Sessions

Joe Nick Patoski is our guide through the music of Texas — from western swing to zydeco to Tex-Mex.

Patoski (@joenickpatoski) hosts the “Texas Music Hour of Power” out of Marfa Public Radio, and tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson about why he believes in “salvation through Texas music.”

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Texas Music Museum battle

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article143334074.html

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