A Crash Course in Austin

You never know what kind of health your music market is in until you visit another place.  I can scratch off one more legendary music market from my list of never been to… Austin, TX.  I’ve been asked for many many years to visit, or it’s been suggested to me that I should.

The problem is I never wanted to let go of my fantazmagorical romanticism… I never wanted to see the truth behind the myth I conjured in my mind.  And, frankly, I just don’t like TX – the humidity, the heat or the politics.  So when I accepted an invitation from the owners of Nomad Sound to come down to visit them, it was as much a shock to me as those who know me.

There’s already an established connection between Nomad and Colorado.  They work with New Belgium Brewing on the Tour de Fat.  That and a few other things they’ve done in Colorado the past few years has tickled the owners’ interest in Colorado, and the possibility …high probability… they’ll set up shop in Denver this coming year.

My romanticism of Austin was not affected in any way by my visit.  I made the obligatory trip to the Continental Club, catching Dale Watson on a Monday night in what seemed a sold out show (I’m thinking about 250).  I was able to visit the as yet unknown new location for an unnamed legendary Austin music room, and listened as a new p.a. was being considered for install.

And I gorged myself on Austin fish, bbq, and Mexican food, to the point where Thanksgiving turkey seems not only anti-climatic, but almost something I want to avoid as I race back into the gym to shed 10 lbs I’ve gained since August.

What I learned is that legacy matters, because legacy builds names that people want to experience.  And that legacy has to be names that have mattered over time, and have developed as recognizable brands.  That could be the legacy established by a venue, as is the case with rooms like the Continental which has been open since 1957, or like Antone’s, which is set to reopen in a new location in 2015, after moving out of their old location a year ago now.

Names matter.  Dale Watson, a legendary Austin character, sells out on Monday nights at the Continental, and bands like Colorado’s Cowboy Dave Band headline the room at MIDNIGHT on a Thursday, not because the band can draw, but because the room draws because of its legacy in the market, and internationally among those who follow country music.

There is also a distinct difference in the way music is supported politically and financially in Austin.  It is a city that reaps many tens of millions of economic value from its industry and the city not only knows it but seeks to find ways to embellish upon it, to advance it.  As a result there’s an atmosphere of polished professionalism and historical sophistication in the look and feel of Austin, that I find lacking in our own scene.

We have an incredibly vast and differentiated music environment in Colorado.  We never graduated the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Willie Nelson, but we have graduated the likes of John Denver, Dianne Reeves, Philip Bailey, Big Head Todd & the Monsters and others.  That sense of history doesn’t permeate the atmosphere in Denver like it does in places like Austin.  As I was just reminded of by one of my hosts, we’ve sold more records by our artists than Austin has, by far, but by bands that are far more contemporary than those whose legacies drape over Austin like a well worn comforter.

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