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Austin Music Scene – Then to Now

Austin TX – I was with a few friends out for a birthday celebration the other night and we happened upon a great sounding band at The Belmont.  I recall, “Smoke Machine” as the group, but don’t quote me on that.  Either way, one thing did sound familiar about this band; it was the singer’s voice.  After some conversational recon, it made sense.  It was Kevin McKinney, former lead singer of Soul Hat.  Freeze-frame.  I had a vivid and complete déjà vu.  It TOOK me back.  Back to being new to Austin. I saw Soul Hat play at Liberty Lunch and was then, as they say, “blown away”.  I remember thinking, this Austin music scene is truly special, and how lucky I was to be here.  I ask myself now, how has the Austin music scene evolved?  What is the Austin music scene from then to now?  Here is a peek into my déjà vu.

Being a lifelong fan of music, a recent graduate now armed with a real paying job, I focused on a personal agenda.  Buy a guitar, learn how to make it talk, and grow my hair.  Short term “to do” list complete, I hit The Scene.  Going place to place, meeting people, discussing music and living in a culture within a culture. I was infatuated, and fell hard. Soon, I found myself living downtown in a genuine “right place right time” cliché. It became normal and comfortable to hang out with musicians, artists, actors, easily discussing their craft and this town, usually over a casual beer. A year earlier I’ll never know, but now we were speaking the same language about the same subject, the Austin music scene. Years later, I walking with friends to the new Antone’s to see then local artist Ian Moore. Outside the club I see Ian and strike up a conversation about the old days of Steamboat, 311 Club and The Austin Music Awards at Municipal Auditorium when we chatted backstage with Storyville just before he took the stage and killed it! We continued our conversation as we strode through the stage entrance together. My friends weren’t so lucky; they waited in line outside. While backstage, I wished Ian a good show and went to the bar. That was a moment, a story and a snapshot of this town’s music scene. I found myself right in the middle of it again and again.  Hanging out with Beck at Emo’s.  Meeting Johnny Cash (and watching him hug my girlfriend for a really long time). Trying to flirt with Courtney Love, while she called me darling all night. Once, Ray Henning (owner of Heart of Texas Music) overheard me testing an amp. He raved about his gear then suggested I “test drive” it for my gig that night.  Okay, so; 1), I felt like a rock star, someone legit like Ray thought  I had a gig, and 2), the thriving music capital of the world, could feel like a small town. Trusting, supportive and giving without thought. You get the point.  It was a place in time, a moment, a musical utopia.  That was then.

The “now”, even better.  Sure, venues have changed names, but the song essentially remains the same.  There’s an ebb and flow.  Stubbs’ not only serves up awesome BBQ, but some tasty live music as well.  Metallica, Velvet Revolver, Citizen Cope, Ben Harper, Black Crowes, are but a small sampling of some of artists I have seen there.  The Rolling Stones played Zilker Park!  Rightfully so, we have our annual music festival and conference done our way. Mentioning live music festivals back on the river could easily get an Austinite to reminisce about the old days of Aqua Fest on Auditorium shores, but that was then, this is now…again.

At The Broken Spoke, they say “haven’t missed a step”. The quality and variety of local music hasn’t stumbled either.

Its Friday. That and some deja vue has me pumped, to get out tonight. You should join me. Rock on Austin.

Story by  Michael Balderrama

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  1. B-Rad

    That hit home with me! I moved away from my hometown of Austin 10 years ago. I love the mentioning of the old 6th street live music joints like Steamboat. Saw the Arc Angels there several times! The scene has changed and from the sound of the article it has really grown. When I saw “Aqua Fest”, I felt like a kid again in Austin. It was like a big street dance and live music was so freakin normal, that even now I feel guilty for taking it for granted. Enjoy the Austin scene, and like the guy said, you should join him, because believe me it is special in Waterloo. I am homesick right now, but that was a great story Mr. Balderrama!

  2. B-Rad

    Great Article. I move away from my hometown of Austin 10 years ago, and I have wondered what the changes have been. Been to ACL twice and came home for the Stones! I love the reference to the old days of Auqa Fest. Live music was such a part of growing up in Austin that I felt odd when I was a teenager and didn’t play an instrument. Steamboat! Saw the Arc Angels and Ian Moore play there more than once, it was a great venue. This article made me homesick for my Austin!

  3. Jonezy

    That is probably the lamest review I have seen. Who is this chick that wrote the article?

  4. MB

    You read it man…..that’s awesome.

  5. RJ

    Oh, the good ole days of Liberty Lunch & Steamboat! You are right, many things have changed in this town, but many also stayed the same…Great Music, Great People, and Great Food!