Friday is the final show at the original Austin location for Emo's Alternative Lounging at Sixth and Red River streets.
The brand continues, of course, at the 1,700-capacity Emo's East on East Riverside Drive (in a space that formerly held the Back Room, itself a storied Austin hard rock venue). And Emo's owner Frank Hendrix has hinted at a "new smaller room."
But when the original Emo's room, the 300-or-so-capacity indoor venue, ceases operation, Austin will have lost an anchor to the Sixth and Red River streets music scene axis and perhaps the best-sounding small room in Austin for the punk/underground rock as historically vital to Austin's music scene as blues or Americana.
Launched in Houston in 1989 by entrepreneur Eric Hartman, Emo's opened in Austin in 1992, just in time for the noise-rock explosion in Austin and the alt-rock explosion everywhere. (The Houston location closed in 2001, around the time Hartman sold the club to Hendrix.)
As "alternative rock" became a mainstream cultural force in the mid-1990s, as much as the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., or 924 Gilman St. in Berkeley, Calif., Emo's became associated with Austin almost by default, especially after the demise of Liberty Lunch. (The larger, outdoor Emo's room closed in September; not to speak ill of the dead, nobody in the world is going to miss that sound system.)
Perhaps the most important part of the Emo's legacy is this: It is in the DNA of dozens of clubs, bars and and public rooms that have opened since. Anything run by Transmission Entertainment, bars such as Liberty and the newest incarnations of Scoot Inn, Ruta Maya and Longbranch - all of them feature folks who were involved with Emo's in some capacity.
Here are some thoughts on the passing of the original room by some folks who have been there.
- Joe Gross
Joe Sebastian tended bar at Emo's. He currently works at the Longbranch.
Emo's Alternative Lounging. A barely held-together collection of old wood, stone, a PA and a handful of lights in an old garage/blacksmith shop that somehow packed in night after night of crazy music and almost equally crazy people. The kind of place where Austin rednecks in boots and Skoal-dimpled jeans stood cheek-to-jowl with skinheads, lost goth kids, a few random hippies, angry straight-edgers and other cultural rejects to see something like the Blues Explosion, Crash Worship or Don Walser. The kind of place that used to be a hangout joint that happened to have cool bands now and again - until the bands got bigger and better and more popular - and then morphed around 2000 into a full-time concert venue with more, more, and more bands (matinee shows, early shows, both stages blaring). Some of the fun and the charm wore off around that time, but the bands kept 'em coming in.
And the bands were what got me there in the first place. I don't exactly remember the first show I saw there (probably the Cows) as it was quickly buried under the memories of the night after that, and the next and the next ... I scraped my hands raw washing off the underage Xs splotched on my hand every night in that damn, near-invincible ink, convinced that if I didn't get them off they wouldn't let me back in (that `no ins and outs' for minors mantra that I would one day master). And the bands kept blowing my mind - Mule, Tenderloin, Supersuckers, Jawbox, New Bomb Turks, Neurosis, US Maple, Oblivians, Unsane, Ed Hall plus gone-but-not-forgotten locals like the Phantom Creeps, Motards, Gomez, Hamicks, Gut and, of course, the insanity of the (Expletive)emos.
Eventually, I was there so much Eric (Hartman) decided he may as well start paying me for it, so long as I was willing to haul my 19-year-old ass over the back wall and down the alley at the first sign of the TABC.
That mid-'90s era Emo's was a twisted, drunken funhouse - a visually bizzarro realm of pedophilic clowns, random S&M and serial killers. It was the kind of place where ultra-quiet snore-core band Low was actually drowned out during their first show by the heated game of pool thundering down the pockets around them. A place where nudist chicks wandered about handing out copies of their 'zine dedicated to the eradication of the band Urge Overkill. A place for all the people in town sick of the Austin blooze or hippie vibe - be they punk rockers, metal-heads, skinheads, (expletive)kickers, nascent Romulan/indie rockers or unaligned - to hang out, drink some Lone Star and maybe accidently see some of the best bands ever.
After Eric sold the place, things were still good, but everything started getting a little more "pro." The pool tables, the couches, the pinball and even happy hour eventually went away, replaced by more and more shows. And the bands were still good, but "Emo's Alternative Lounging" turned into "Emo's Concert Factory; tix 22.95 plus service charge." There were still some great shows, and some great bands, but the fun factor was dwindling in the face of bands that were getting more and more faceless and interchangeable every night. This was the glut of the "emo" phase of the early '00s, and you can only hang your head in shame so many times after hearing some 15-year-old tell you "Emo's is where the emo bands play." Then you move on … which is, sort of, what the rest of them are doing now.
Ray Colgan, singer for the Crack Pipes, was an Emo's doorman and manager from 2001 to 2010. Currently, he is the general manager of Antone's, also run by Emo's.
"Emo's means to me the best of alternative, hardcore, punk and garage music, the place that took the torch from Liberty Lunch for the big cool shows, but also the place that ignited the smaller Red River music explosion with the Emo's small room, my favorite place to see music and my favorite stage to play it on. It was a shabby dive, but that just seemed to me what a punk rock club should be. I toured all over the country and only a few other places were as cool or fun."
Mike Sanchez tended bar at Emo's from 1998 to 2008. He lives in San Francisco.
"As far as what it meant/means to me, I can't really put it into words. I wouldn't trade the memories for anything. It was a point in time. I worked with all my best friends, made good money, saw all the best shows. It was just the best. I still wear my Emo's jacket in San Francisco. It brings me back every time. I'll miss it more than I can say. I added up all the time I spent there. 30 hours a week for 9 years, approximately 12-14 bands a week for 9 years. And I still love music? I don't even know how that's possible. I love Emo's and I always will."
Former Emo's bartender Joe Holzheimer sang in Camp X-Ray among other bands. He works at Liberty.
First, the impact that Emo's had on my life in Austin is massive. I started working there the same year I moved here, in 2003. I can't even begin to imagine how different things would've been had Graham (Williams) not accidentally hired me (he thought I was an old friend of his wife's). It was always an incredible feeling, having the privilege to watch so many amazing bands at a place where I felt so at home. All of the nooks and strange corners in that place made it so easy to hide out and get lost in someone who was playing. The inside room remains my favorite room in Austin to watch bands, while the sound booth or sitting along the railing on the porch next to it where my favorite places to chill outside (well, working behind the bar was always amazing as I was essentially getting paid to watch bands). Also always entertaining and occasionally stressful was watching the carnival of two completely different crowds converging into the courtyard to smoke or socialize during shows.
Working there also gave me plenty of fodder as someone who has always been a sucker for behind-the-scenes drama and hilarity.
I mean, very few folks in Austin got to witness (Lungfish singer) Dan Higgs serenading (in complete seriousness) a mini-donkey (part of a circus sideshow that was happening outside that night) with a banjo in the courtyard before we opened.
I guess that's really what made working at Emo's so awesome. Not only did I get to watch amazing bands in a place that felt so much like home, but I got to find out a lot about some of those bands that not many people ever know."
David L. Thomson III - former "Prime Minister of Emo's" (general manager)
"It's really hard to put in a few words my thoughts about Emo's. There's 20 years worth of stories, shenanigans, debauchery … and music. So, to paraphrase Dickens: "it was the best of times … it was the absolute worst of times in my life."
No other point in my life has had more impact on me. Good or bad. I am truly amazed at what we created. A little bar with its start in the late '80s (New Year's Eve 1989, I believe) in the Montrose area of Houston that was never meant to be a music venue … then BAM.
Austin Emo's soon came about (in March of 1992 for SXSW … then closed briefly to get ready to really open in May) and not a moment too soon for me. …
Most of my life at Emo's as "Prime Minister" was hard work. If you think it's easy running a music club … it is exhausting. And it takes more than one person to make all this happen … and I had the best employees … no, friends … who helped make Emo's what it was.
I hope that what we created was a "friendly port" for all bands and people who didn't fit in anywhere else. I think that was the No. 1 reason we did this. We didn't fit in anywhere. At Emo's, we all fit in. We were no longer the "strange-looking" kid. Everyone was strange looking. And underneath them all was some of the coolest people I ever met. This was the home for all the misfit kids in the world of which I was one. …
I made lifelong friends … and lost a few to untimely deaths. I saw some legendary bands, celebrities and just some damn strange things. I had people tell me they met their: girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, and husbands at Emo's. Kids were conceived at Emo's. (or so I've been told …) On the bad side … I've had people tell me Emo's ruined their lives, got physically hurt, ended relationships, friendships, romances, and finances … and for that I am sorry. Bands were formed … and broke up because of Emo's. Other clubs were opened because of Emo's … and sometimes just plain copied what we did. … The Austin Music scene was put on the map by Emo's; no disrespect to the great music venues that opened before … it's just that Emo's was/is the longest-running music venue in Austin and had, in my opinion, a far greater and longer lasting impact. (let the haters begin.) …
The name Emo's (no, it has NOTHING to do with "emo-core" music) is actually the nickname of the "Big Daddy" himself, Eric "Emo" Hartman. And his friendship, guidance and vision helped me more than any one person in my life. He and the original Emo's gang will forever be in my thoughts. Brothers and sisters in a very exclusive club.
The Last Blasts
The final shows at Emo's at 603 Red River St. are Thursday and Friday.
Quintron, Mind Spiders, Manatees and the Flesh Lights play at 9 p.m. Thursday and tickets are $12. Killdozer, Rituals and Women in Prison play the final show at 9 p.m. Friday, tickets are $20. www.emosaustin.com.