Throughout my college years I was fortunate enough to be situated in absolutely the right place in Texas to watch amazing things happen to me: Waco. Sure there was all that Branch Davidian stuff when I was a freshman at Baylor University, but there was a lot of other really incredible stuff as well: 100 miles North, Dallas; 100 miles South, Austin.
I’ve always been a big fan of live music.Â Growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to live music outside of the bands that blossomed out of my high school and New Mexico State University.Â Turns out, a couple of pretty awesome people/acts grew out of both, but that’s a tale for another time. Whenever possible, I turned my young self out for some great shows at the wee tiny amphitheater-like pit outside of the studios of KRUX on the NMSU campus and watched local kids wail their little brains out for just the chance of being heard.
Go forward in time a couple of years and I was fortunate enough to be involved in the day-to-day operations of KWBU on the Baylor University campus.Â While we did have our fair share of the Christian music and Jazz stuff, we were able to play some pretty fantastic music and talk to some pretty fantastic talent.
One of the greatest things about working with a radio station like KWBU was the almost constant barrage of invitations to concerts. Like any music-loving college student in a similar situation, there was just really no way I could say no. With a constant supply of “plus ones” and friends with cars, getting to either Dallas or Austin (or both on a couple of days) was a piece of cake.
If you follow a band that doesn’t play massive arenas from city to city, you notice something about the sound, energy and routine of a show: the venue plays a gigantic role. I hadn’t really noticed this prior to seeing band after band play over a given set of weeks on the same set of stages.Â While the crowds in Austin differ greatly from the crowds in Dallas (naturally), the biggest factor was where a band was playing. I saw bands totally tear things up at Emo’s down in Austin and then put on a half-assed show the next night at Deep Ellum Live in Dallas.
After about six months of just passively going to shows, I started interviewing bands before and after shows.Â Of special interest to me was the rituals involved with playing town-to-town and what expectations from the performers was depending on where they were.
As expected, the answers were all over the board, but some commonality started to peek through when it came to venues. Artists, like fans, have their favorite places to play. Austin has a shitload of these places and some even survived the culling that seemed to happen in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
Hands down, my favorite place to see a show was Liberty Lunch in Austin. Over the few years I got to see shows there I saw everything from metal to punk to folk to Britpop. Nothing sounded bad in this joint. I knew where to perch during the opening bands where I could get to the bar easily and peruse the merch tables on the riser in the back of the venue easily enough, yet be positioned to dart down to the front for the bands I wanted to get up close to. I knew the nooks out front and around the side that blocked the wind while I was waiting for doors to open for a February show, and I loved the horribly shitty “green room” that acted as backstage. I talked to a lot of performers on the crappy old couches back there and drank a lot of bad beer (and even some good) at the giant bar up front.
Liberty Lunch “fell” around the same time a lot of venues in Austin got repurposed. It still hurts to look over 2nd avenue from Congress and see a massive concrete structure where the oddly small Liberty Lunch building once stood.Â Austin Music Hall is nearby, but never had the intimate feel that LL did.
It’s almost too fortunate that I moved up to Dallas right after the venues in Austin started to fall.Â Sure, Dallas had it’s share of ups and downs in the venue department, but the majority of those didn’t happen until well into the 2000’s.Â I was able to remember the grimy holes I saw shows at in Austin with a fondness that only comes with being removed from a given environment.
If I had been living in Austin during those years, I’d probably be much more bitter than I usually am.