Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Gotta Love This Town
Having lived in a couple of 'music towns' and spent time in several others, I can say with a little bit of authority that there is no place like Austin and the music community that makes its home here. Despite of all the changes and growth taking place here, the heart of this community within a city still beats strongly. Whenever a musician is in need, it pulls out all the stops and comes together in ways that I have never seen anywhere else. It seems that there is always as benefit for someone happening somewhere and I have attended quite a few of them. The one I went to last Sunday stands out from the others in several ways.
One of my favorite funky South Austin spots is ARTZ Ribhouse. This place is so cool that even some vegitarians I know go there. To a rib joint!!I have been going to ARTZ since before I moved to Austin and it is one of the first places I took Stephen to when he moved in with me. It was also the first place he played here. Paul Barker made a place for him on the Bummer Night schedule. This happened because Kerry Polk was kind enough to give him some time from her set. ARTZ is special for so many reasons. It is South Austin funk at its best. It is home to interlocking circles of music and barbecue fans who show up on different nights to support their favorite musicians, enjoy each other's company and chow down on some of the best babybacks around.
The crowd changes from night to night. Sunday afternoons they host the Central Texas Bluegrass Association. Monday night is owned by Sarah Elizabeth Campbell and the Banned. They play a long set and then there is a break set called the bummer set played by a guest artist. Tuesday is the Old Time Fiddler's Jam where everybody plays. Wednesday is usually Shelly King and Carolyn Wonderland. They bring the south Austin hippie crowd with them. The other nights are booked with semi regular artists such as John Emery, Eddie Collins, Danny Britt, George Enzle and many others. Each night is a little like going to Cheers. If you make it a habit to go on a certain night each week, pretty soon, everybody knows your name. Monday night has always been my favorite. ARTZ closes at 10:00 and you can go on over to Don's Depot after that and hear Chris Gage and the same people will show up there as well.
Due to some tax problems, the sagging economy and huge medical expenses for Z (Art and Z are the owners), Art had to close the place down. It closed on a Sunday and by Monday night, the first benefit was in full swing. The staff went in to work for free. They prepared and served what food was there. Musicians lined up to play. There were way too many people showing up to get into the place or to be able to park so at one point, there was a woman on the parking lot with a donation bucket t so that folks could drive by and contribute. This raised enough money to keep the place open temporarily. Meanwhile, a larger venue was searched for so a bigger benefit could be held.
Here is the really cool thing about this particular benefit. It was hosted by Scholz Beer Garten, another food, beer and music venue. How cool is that? Scholz' could have said no. After all, Scholz and ARTZ are competitors in a way. I every other town in which I have lived, that is how they would have viewed each other and there is no way one would have hosted a benefit for the other. Make non mistake, Scholz did very good business for itself. The money for the benefit came from the door charge and the silent auction and other sales activities. I took my massage chair and started to do massages to raise money but the place was soon so crowded that I had no room to work and had to put it away after making only $40. This was OK with me because that meant that there was going to be a huge take at the door.
I have yet to hear an amount for the day but I am sure that it is sufficient to keep this treasured piece of South Austin afloat for a while longer. ARTZ sits on what I am sure is prime real estate right now and some developer would most likely love to get it and turn it into yet another condo complex or trendy, generic restaurant the likes of which we already have plenty around here. It seems that the places that helped make Austin the city to which everyone wants to move are being rapidly torn down in favor of the kind of places that the people are leaving behind when they move here. At first glance, the ramshackle building that houses ARTZ doesn't really look like much. A closer look and a trip inside reveals its character and a piece of the soul of Austin. I am glad that we will have it around a while longer and am I even more happy that things will be a little easier for Art and Z.