The headline sounds like it was cribbed straight from today’s home page: “Austin’s high-tech boom may be strangling legendary music scene.”
But there were no home pages on July 20, 1984. That’s when this UPI syndicated article, captured for posterity on the service’s website, was published in print. Apparently the adage is true that the more things change…
The article quotes a variety of sources from the mid-’80s Austin music community, including journalists Joe Nick Patoski and John T. Davis, Waterloo Records co-founder Louis Karp (whose surname is unfortunately misspelled), longtime local musician Ernie Gammage, and Hank Vick of the long-gone Sixth Street club Steamboat.
Davis, at the time a staff writer for the American-Statesman, seems to have had the most level-headed and long-term-prescient quote. “It’s a cyclical thing that’s happening,” he told the article’s author, Bob Lowry. “We’re going through a decline right now, but I don’t think that spells the end of the scene here.”
As fate would have it, longtime local musician and sound engineer Paul Minor happened to post a public photo to Facebook early Wednesday morning of a classic poster for sale in the window of a South Congress shop that’s priced at $350. It’s a calendar for the Continental Club from March of that very same year, 1984. Check out who was playing back then, and see if it looks to you like this was a town in danger of losing its music scene.
What’s remarkable about the Continental Club of that era — run by Mark Pratz and J’net Ward with soundman Terry Pearson, before current owner Steve Wertheimer took over in 1987 — was just how all-over-the-place its lineups were. It was almost like a roll-call of great historical Austin venues rolled into one — some that it followed, others it co-existed with, still more that were yet to come.
There were shades of Armadillo World Headquarters with Steve Fromholz. Traces of Raul’s with D-Day. A hat-tip to Hole in the Wall with the Commandos. Hints of the Beach with Zeitgeist and the Optimystics. Reflections of Liberty Lunch with the Butthole Surfers. Blasts of Antone’s with Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, Charlie Sexton and the LeRoi Brothers. Echoes of the Alamo Lounge with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Ponty Bone. Foreshadowings of the Saxon Pub with Omar & the Howlers.
There were no boundaries, which made it an almost perfect summation of Austin’s musical identity. And just as the push-pull between tech dollars and creative arts continues to play out in 2010s Austin, the city’s music scene remains first and foremost a mongrel that stretches toward the horizon in every direction.