It’s common parlance in Austin to talk about how things were better back in the (insert decade here). The city has changed, no doubt. But if you stop in at ABGB after work on a Wednesday and soak up the warm live-music-and-pizza vibes of this popular brewery and beer garden, it’s very easy to think that, in fact, these ARE the glory days.
The credit is due largely to Warren Hood and his four-piece backing band, who are approaching five years of anchoring ABGB’s music schedule with their midweek happy-hour residency. A native Austinite, Hood is well-known and widely respected here. Following in the footsteps of his late father, the illustrious multi-instrumentalist Champ Hood, Warren plays music that blends country, folk, rock, blues, jazz and more, epitomizing the rootsy mix that has long made Austin music recognized across the nation and the world.
Not long after Champ died of cancer in 2001, Warren filled his father’s place alongside singer Toni Price at the Continental Club’s wildly popular Tuesday "hippie-hour" gigs. He seemed destined to establish his own long-running residency in Austin. Former ABGB manager Mark Jensen brought him aboard in the summer of 2015, and he’s thrilled with how it has gone.
"They treat the bands they’re like part of the family," says Hood, noting that he and his bandmates get dinner and coffee or beer as part of the gig and have a designated manager to take care of them backstage. Pizza is ABGB’s calling card, but Hood is quick to champion their salads, too. "They are local farm-to-table and change every week depending on what the farmers bring in," he says. "My ABGB meal is usually one of my healthiest meals of the week."
Hood, who also recently began playing Tuesdays at Cosmic Coffee & Beer on South Congress, is joined onstage by his cousin Marshall Hood and Willie Pipkin on guitar. The usual rhythm section is bassist Nate Rowe and drummer Jason Corbiere, with substitutions when needed. (Marshall steps into more of a lead role on the rare occasions when Warren has another commitment; that’ll be the case on March 11.)
Regulars will testify that while you can usually count on Hood playing some favorites from Uncle Walt’s Band (the beloved 1970s-80s trio that included his father), the band will mix up the repertoire from week to week. "We play many different styles and know a lot of songs," Hood says. "Some nights lean more country/swing/folk, and some nights lean more toward blues/rock. The main thing is to keep them dancing no matter what."
Whether they’re there for dinner, dancing or ABGB’s award-winning selection of beers brewed on-site, the crowds keep coming back. It’s not hard to imagine these Wednesdays becoming an Austin tradition for years, or even decades, to come.
"As a family-friendly venue with an audience that has a broad range of ages and backgrounds, we really value our only artist-in-residency having a style and talent that transcends generations," says Paul Minor, ABGB sound engineer and talent booker. "He's got loyal fans who saw his dad's bands, hippie-hour regulars who saw him play as a kid, a floor full of the local swing dancers, and wide-eyed youngsters wowed by his fiddle magic."
The vibe: ABGB’s long wooden tables with benches often are packed when the music starts at 6:30 p.m., but it’s usually not long of a wait until a few spots open up. Get your beer at the bar and place a food order; they’ll bring it to your table when it’s ready. Near the stage, a modest open space accommodates those who are here primarily for stepping out to the dance-friendly tunes of Hood and his band.
When the weather turns nice, dozens of patrons flock to the picnic tables in the adjacent lot, giving ABGB the "Beer Garden" suffix of its "Austin Brewery" acronym. It’s common for folks to bounce back and forth between dancing indoors and hanging with friends outside.
Pro tip: ABGB may well have the longest bar in town, a dominant architectural feature that runs almost the full length of the rectangular building and wraps around to the right at its end. Those seats can be some of the best places to take in the action, and there are two similar counter-type spots along the far side of the room. There are also a few tables and booths in the back corner if you prefer spots that are more dedicated to your immediate group but are still in earshot of the music.
If you go: ABGB is at 1305 W. Oltorf St., just east of South Lamar Boulevard on the south side of the street. There’s no cover charge. Parking is free in the long, narrow lot just west of the venue, but it fills up fast, so ride-hailing options aren’t a bad idea.