Austin The Venues
How to describe the venues in Austin, Texas – well suffice to say there is LOTS of them – well over 260 to be precise. They range from restored dilapidated homes in the Heritage District that are now restaurants/live music venues for bands and single artists to extensive venues like “Come and Take It Live” which is a hotbed for rock and metal acts as well as touring Hip Hop artists. There is the entire stretch of the 6th District that has roof top open air venues to large expanse indoor venues like Cedar Street. And there are specialty bars such as Antone’s and others that highlight specifically Blues music.
Most of the venues have in-house PA systems that are totally up for the job and lighting that while it is not intricate, it does do the job for the band.
Austin's official motto is the "Live Music Capital of the World" because on any given night, one can find over 250 live music venues showcasing a wide variety of free - live music performances that feature everything from rock and blues to country and jazz every night of the week – and I mean every single night of the week.
Sunday and Monday night’s, I expected the scene to be slow, it was far from it. Granted, probably most of those were tourists but regardless, the fact that the venues were hopping with patrons was the important point and it was across a wide demographic but heavily sustained by the 20-30-year old. We went to numerous venues on each night and the clubs were filled with patrons, there was a unique ebb and flow with the crowds as they went from bar to bar but there was always traffic coming in and staying for different amounts of time.
Tuesday and Wednesday nights were the same scenario, in the 6th District there was people everywhere and you could hear music coming from every direction. Thursdays seemed to be DJ or canned music night so that brought in the younger crowd, but there was still live music of every genre playing all over.
Friday night was a sight to behold – the street was packed with hundreds of patrons out on the prowl – it was crazy how many people were on the streets and in the venues. Fridays you saw the application of Cover Charges in some venues, but they were in reason unless it was a higher-level band playing but even then, it seemed to top out around $20.00 per person. We never got to see the Saturday night crowds as we had to fly out at 6:30am on the Saturday.
I talked to many, many bouncers and some management when I was down there as well as musicians – and when I explained where I was from and what I did for a living they were all more than happy to chat with me. I can tell you the bouncers and staff are divine people – they are so laid back and eager to exchange information with like minded people like me from other countries.
I asked many of the bouncers if they were concerned about being a door man in a venue, in a state where everyone has guns and was very surprised at the answers from the guys who had been doing it for over ten years – they aren’t really concerned at all.
From Thursday to Saturday there is a heavy Police presence at EVERY intersection. Cars are blocked at night from travelling down 6th Street and at each intersection there is on average ten cops – kind of deters any idiot from starting so much as a fight let along using a gun in an argument. The bouncers say it is more than likely that a fist fight or a knifing will happen than a gun incident, keep in mind that most citizens have guns so only a fool would do something stupid. In either case there is seldom an act of violence either in a bar or spilling out onto the street according to the veteran bouncers as there is just too many people to help put an end to it within a dozen feet of any venue within minutes.
Also as one bar manager told me, there is a platoon of under cover cops posing as patrons in venues to keep things monitored – just like Vegas they depend on tourist money and to have a tourist mugged or beaten up is not an option so you feel totally safe down there in the 6th District.
What I loved about the venues was that they were fairly large and had stages, although not all of them as there were venues where the band set up on the floor – but there was quite a few who had stages for bands which was nice to see.
I talked to a Manager named Jacob, and after I introduced myself and asked if he had time to chat – he was generous enough to give me 30-45 minutes out of his day and talk “shop”.
He told me that not in all cases but his venue and some of his colleagues who ran venues paid musicians/bands a fair wage in terms of a “guarantee” for the night as well as free drinks and food (as long as a musician doesn’t abuse the free booze tab). Add to that the “Tip Jar” and some of them were hauling down pretty good coin performing. This was confirmed by musicians I also talked to through the week at different venues. In his case they would pay good acts more depending on how professional they were and the crowds that came out to see them. They also gave the bands their own “house” that the outdoor stage backed onto that came with A/C, some beer and food along with couches.
Jacob said that in his area the bar owners/managers got together once a month to chat about things to help the local scene in their area, bands that they had play at their venues that were really good and just in general shared info to make their music scene completive with the 6th District and other areas of Austin. He said they worked together in the greater good for all of them instead of being withdrawn to protect their own self-interests.
I thought this was brilliant.
I told Jacob about how in Canada venues were getting crushed by the No Smoking on patios and he said down there while the law states as long as you are 15 feet from the front door you can smoke on most restaurant patios in Austin, there was lots of venues with open stages that fully allowed smoking inside the venue.
I talked to him about how a venue owner in Canada had to pay more for their stock beer from The Beer Store than a consumer who walked in and the delivery charges to bring it to the venue – and he was shocked. He couldn’t believe a government would do that to an industry that brings in as much tax money as live music venues – I told him we weren’t known for having smart politicians in Canada.
We talked about insurance for venues and the liabilities that they could incur which again brought a look of disbelief to his face. The result was that in Austin and his experience from when he was in Miami and New York – that the local and state government did all they could to help the music industry, not handcuff it to a tree and leave them to wither away. It doesn’t mean there are no issues down there as permits seems to be a major hassle as well as development, and there are certainly bureaucratic hurdles to clear as the city increases in size – but there seems to be a high state of alertness to helping the music industry and all it’s components to get to the next level.
A few other venue owners/managers I reached out to gave me the same basic outline so it was easy to see that at least in Austin the governments see the immense plus side to supporting venues and not making any policies that crush their success – that doesn’t mean that things can’t be improved on a continuing basis or don’t need to be addressed – but at least they realize at the local and state level that this is a valuable industry to keep improving.
I’ve long asked friends in London and Ontario who own venues if there is a Lobby group for the Venue sector of the industry and there is not, maybe it is time for someone to take that herculean task on. With all the people they employee, the bands and musicians that earn a living from them and the ridiculous amount of taxes they pay – maybe its time that their voice be heard in Queens Park.
Austin Music Census
Austin Music Census