Remembering Liberty Lunch, and all those who made it what it was

From left, former employee Betsy Nissen and co-owners J'net and Mark Pratz show off Liberty Lunch memorabilia in advance of the "I Still Miss Liberty Lunch" event set for Saturday, June 18, at ABGB., Photo by Jessalyn Tamez / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From left, former employee Betsy Nissen and co-owners J’net and Mark Pratz show off Liberty Lunch memorabilia in advance of the “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch” event set for Saturday, June 18, at ABGB. Photo by Jessalyn Tamez / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

We spoke at length with Liberty Lunch co-owners Mark and J’net Pratz and longtime employee Betsy Nissen recently for this week’s Statesman feature story about Saturday’s “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch” reunion. They gave several reasons why the event was finally happening, 17 years after the hallowed downtown music venue closed.

One was, quite simply and sadly, “all the deaths that have been happening,” J’net Pratz said, referring to members of the Lunch staff who have passed away. Longtime employee Dale Watkins died a year before the club closed, but many of the losses have been more recent, including original owner Charlie Tesar, familiar door personnel Ross Shoemaker and Michael Guthrie, frequent soundman Brent Grulke and booking partner Louis Meyers. (Both Meyers and Grulke went on to be integral figures in the history of South by Southwest.)

Nissen added that many musicians who appeared often on Liberty Lunch’s stage also are gone. Mark Pratz summed up the sentiment: “We just thought, you know, this is not a window that’s open forever.”

Some memories of Shoemaker appeared Saturday morning on the “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch” Facebook page that was also a key inspiration for the reunion. They include a photo of Shoemaker’s official designation as the city’s “Best Club Doorperson,” noting his expertise at exerting “equal proportions of mediation and muscle.”

A late update on the event, which begins at 5 p.m. with music starting at 7 p.m.: A previously planned live auction has been scratched to allow more time for the bands. Those items will be included with the silent auction, which is set to conclude at 8:30 p.m. The music schedule is as follows: Extreme Heat at 7 p.m.; Pressure at 8 p.m.; Joe King Carrasco at 9 p.m.; the Reivers and the WayOuts at 10 pm.; Fastball with Javier Escovedo at 11 p.m.; and the Wild Seeds at 11:30 p.m.

And for those concerned about the possibility of not getting in to the venue while the bands are playing: ABGB has plans to stream the music (with video) in its spacious beer garden area, which should allow for considerably larger attendance. Admission to the all-ages event is free, but donations to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians are encouraged. Proceeds from the silent auction also will go to HAAM.

 

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