The recent news that Dale Watson had moved to Memphis sent ripples far beyond the Countrypolitan honky-tonk scene he made thrive in Austin. It was seen as the largest domino to fall in the fight to keep Austin what it was. Back in January, I made a trip down to the ATX to see Josh Weathers at the Saxon Pub.
The Saxon was a hallmark of my 20’s. A place we spent nearly every Wednesday taking in the venerable weekly Rusty Wier residency. We became regulars. Saxon was our Cheers for a couple years. I moved away and visited less frequently. A couple years ago after an Isbell show we bounced over to the Saxon to find Jonny Burke ripping up the tiny wooden stage. I noticed the parking lot was a bit different, but courtesy of the $9 brews at Moody Theater I wasn’t able to do much detective work from the backseat of our Honda Civic Uber.
So, in January when we went down, I was ambling down Lamar taking in the familiar sights that soon became less familiar. Landmarks I’d known 15 years ago were fewer. Then, it happened. I drove right past the Saxon. Not once, but twice. The whole strip it belongs to had become gentrified. A towering apartment complex dwarfed its left and a fancy noodle restaurant anchored it’s right. And there was no parking to be found. In a macabre state of shock, I made a couple loops around behind the building before parallel parking in front of a vintage, shady apartment complex and hoping the San Marcos towing boogeymen wouldn’t find me.
Once I stepped inside, the bar felt the same, smelled the same and a couple of the faces were the same. WC Clark definitely sounded the same. For the next few hours I was transfixed and transported back to the old Austin. Josh Weathers did that thing he does where he entertains, charms, sings, plays and generally holds your attention for 120 minutes over a sea of Topo Chico and Lone Star beer. Soon enough, I was back out in the frigid air of January. The warmth of barroom nostalgia and ringing of modern music leaving my brain and ears. A quick glance around revealed that the Saxon was only but a small beacon amid commercial progress.
“Scrape off the hilltop, build look alike houses…I’d call it progress if it could be saved…”
Kent Finlay’s treatise on the changing landscape of the Hill Country and greater Austin was written many decades ago. He saw what was happening before many and set it to song. Bedroom communities made of faux limestone with cute names invoking a frontier heritage mixed with a body of water, “Limestone Bluff Falls” “Pecan Grove Meadows” etc.
Austin is not alone. Just this week, renowned Dallas writer Robert Wilonsky had a piece on a gym that’s been open and continually operating since 1962 and its 87 year old owner finally having to close the doors this month after rent skyrocketed to an amount he could no longer afford. Chip and Joanna Gaines bought the historic Elite Cafe in Waco and much to the chagrin of historical society members removed the signage and changed the name. The continued growth of New Braunfels from small town vacation destination to metropolis. And so many others. In college, I had a Poli Sci professor that opined during a lecture that by the year 2025 if one were to drive I-35 from Denton to San Antonio, that person wouldn’t be able to tell where one town ended and the next began. He talked of a landscape of strip malls, Walmarts and DR Horton neighborhoods that bled into each other with no distinction. I scoffed at this notion as a humorous exaggeration of what was taking place at the time. I scoff no longer.
Homogeny is not a great way to live. Be it civic based, residential neighborhoods, radio station conglomeration (Clear Channel/iHeart ripping away local flavor and going bankrupt) or just personal well being. We were meant to be unique. He created us that way.
There are those fighting the fight to keep places unique, local, special. Randy Rogers buying Cheatham Street is a fine example. Every mom and pop local joint featured on shows like Daytripper, Texas Bucket List and Texas Country Reporter showcase bastions standing tall as long as they can.
But, this is a music site, right?
The same parallels happening in the growth of the state are happening in our music scene. More people are flooding in every day. People are searching for their own piece of the promise. A link to the past, an avenue to the future. Something that sounds like they feel. Something that is real. Something that they can believe in. It’s hard to believe in an auto-tuned Merle Haggard sample when you’ve seen the real thing. It’s hard to jive with a pop crossover chock full of generic lyrics. But, it’s easy to get down with songs about emotions, hometowns, love, heartache, rowdiness that you can see performed live at your local watering hole. That’s the real stuff.
At a certain point what was once original becomes the standard. It’s at that point that innovation is required. Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes, especially within music. This genre of music has gone from the 70s heyday to the 80’s calm to the 90s resurgence to the 00’s boom, the 10’s now. Each decade is hallmarked by certain ideals, sounds and notions. There’s a common thread, but each has a different rope.
Seek the unique. Find the profound. Create and live original. Dale Watson knows that. He’s headed to Memphis to find what he once had in Austin. He’s not abandoning Austin full bore, he’s just found something that challenges and inspires him in the same way Austin once did. The Austin of 2018 isn’t the Austin I fell in love with so many years ago…but it’s still cool. Taking the lessons learned of yesterday and applying them tomorrow.
-River Jam – July 27-29 in New Braunfels. We’ll be able to unveil some of the artists very soon.
-Uncle Lucius is going out in a blaze of glory. A band that never intended or set out to be a part of this music scene became one of the biggest must-see live acts. A soulful jam band of hippies that would’ve been on the cover of the Rolling Stone 40 years ago. We bid you a very heartfelt adieu boys, thanks for the tunes.
-It’s baseball season again. That means late nights and dinner from the concession stand may become a biweekly tradition. The Rangers will be horrible. The ‘Stros will repeat.
-We are efforting on bringing the forums back. Rejoice. Slappyville may ride again.
-Somebody rented the river cabin I stay in every year at River Jam before I was able to lock it down. I’m going to Liam Neeson you.
-Troubadour Country Radio’s app is how all should be done. It’s clean, doesn’t use a lot of data and starts playing the tunes upon opening. The future of broadcasting.
-Aside from allergies, springtime in Texas is heaven on earth.
-I didn’t fill out a gambling March Madness bracket this year and have enjoyed it more than I have in years. Upsets galore and no skin in the game. Good stuff.
-Headed to Chicago in early July. Send me your rec’s.
–This month’s recommended album: Josh Grider – Good People. Grider returns with another rumination on life, the downtrodden and the upright. With a style that has always been a melting pot and falls somewhere squarely between CoJo and Walt Wilkins, Grider continues to produce and deliver tasty jams.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain