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Music and Preservation Make Sweet Harmony

By Melanie Martinez
Preservation Austin Board member and local bassist


Live music venues are as much about people as architecture, but the architecture sure does help. To my ear, the warm materials in old buildings make music sound better. As a musician, I’ve had a chance to play in a wide variety of venues in Austin and my favorites are always the old buildings.

Music and old buildings just seem to feel better together.  For instance, the walls of the historic clubs on E. 6th Street are often limestone or old Austin Commons brick and the floors and ceilings are usually long leaf pine. The many layers of breath and smoke and all kinds of things going on coat the walls and make the music sound warmer and more human.  Historic venues seem to wear an energy field made from all the layers of emotions played out in them over decades - the love and joy, pain and release, all felt in the music.

Important moments of my life include memories of the Austin Opera House, the Armadillo, Liberty Lunch, the Saxon Pub, Club Foot, Steamboat and even the little Filling Station on Barton Springs Road where I got my start playing at Ted Hall’s blues jams. We’ve all got our clubs and our memories but something about the Continental Club on South Congress speaks to everyone. It certainly must be Austin’s number one favorite historic music venue.

Looking at the popularity of Austin's beloved music venues through the years tells a story about our development and our neighborhoods. The venue’s location plays a role in a neighborhood's popularity, often bringing newcomers who decide to move there because they enjoy the music—this was happening long before South by Southwest.  It will be interesting to see how our historic music venues such as the Broken Spoke evolve as their surroundings change.

Of course, we all mourn the losses for many reasons—our memories no longer have a physical address.  We miss the Vulcan Gas Co. and the Armadillo, Raul’s, Soap Creek Saloon, Chicago House, the Electric Lounge, the Black Cat, Momo’s, the Split Rail, South Park Meadows, Joe’s Generic, The Beach, the original Emo’s, Beerland and the Cannibal Club. The list goes on.

Yes, we’ve made some efforts to preserve a bit of the past; but how often do we actually still go to these clubs we once cherished?  We still have the Continental Club and the Broken Spoke, Hole in the Wall, the Saxon Pub and the Cactus Café, the Elephant Room and the Victory Grill, as well as a few others.  Although not at all like Liberty Lunch, Lambert’s next to city hall is a great historic building featuring live music and tries to carry the flame of its former neighbor.

Listening to the music community lament the loss of their favorite venues, I can’t help but notice most of those beloved venues were housed in historic buildings.  I would love to see the Austin music and preservation community unite and start sharing our stories so we can leave behind an authentic history of the people and places which helped make Austin the real Live Music Capital of the World.

By this time next year, Preservation Austin’s Historic Austin Tours app for smart phones will add historic music venues to its list of tours.  It will tell the stories of our favorite historic music venues and put them into context with Austin’s history as a growing city that has always had a soft spot for music.

If you have a story to share about your experience in one of Austin’s historic music venues we would love to hear it and possibly use it in our new phone app tour of historic music venues.  Please take our survey to note which of Austin's music venues you think are the most important to Austin's history and add your memories, or e-mail your story to Angela Reed.