A top Austin brewery plans to become a destination for live music, on par with downtown venues like Stubb's and the Mohawk, once an on-site beer garden opens in December.
Currently under construction, the beer garden at Celis Brewery is in talks to become the site of future Black Fret shows. A mobile stage can be moved to accommodate crowds of up to 2,000 people. And an outdoor bar outfitted with 30 taps will supply these crowds with beer from Celis and the other two local beer brands produced at the 22,000 sq. ft. brewery — Uncle Billy's and Pedernales Brewing. Black Fret, which provides grants and mentoring to local musicians, would have some of its concerts there.
No official deal between Celis Brewery and Black Fret has been made.
Expect acts in the Celis Beer Garden such as Bob Schneider and Vallejo, perhaps even throwback shows featuring 1990s band Arc Angels.
There's nothing like it at other area breweries so far. Plus, North Austin largely lacks a music venue of the caliber you can easily find farther south. For Celis president Bill Mulroy, that's a big opportunity that will draw whole new groups of people to the brewery.
"North Austin doesn’t really have anything like this," he said, noting the Celis team informally calls it 'the Stubb's north.' "We want to have a destination spot up in the north end, so people don’t have to go all the way downtown, don’t have to go all the way to South Austin. We have the Domain right here, the Arboretum right here. And now, they'll have the Celis beer garden for a nice outdoor concert experience."
Celis was resurrected last year by Christine Celis, the daughter of famed Belgian brewer Pierre Celis. There was one key thing she wanted to bring back, in addition to her father's recipes: the brewery's focus on live music. In the '90s, the original Celis Brewery became known for hosting a number of live acts and even produced one big music event called Celis Fest at a downtown park. So phase two of bringing back her father's business is the beer garden with regular live music.
Partnering with Black Fret for much of the music was a natural fit, Mulroy said. Black Fret is a member-based organization that uses the membership dues to fund artist grants — supporting beloved acts such as Jackie Venson, Walker Lukens, and Kalu and the Electric Joint — and performance fees for exclusive concerts. That's what members get in return for their patronage: every-other-week shows from these musicians. Any Saturday shows produced by Black Fret would only be for its members.
Celis is similarly rolling out memberships that will help to fund other performances throughout the week, with the two top-tier levels, at $10,000 and $2,500, providing access to a VIP area in the beer garden.
Having the membership program is important, Christine Celis said, because "we want to support artists financially. We don't want them to just play for free here. And Black Fret is helping them as well with grants and mentorship and all of that. So what we do goes hand in hand."
Other membership levels, which you can purchase now on the Celis website, offer various perks. Only the lowest level, the Celis Copper Kettle Club at $195, doesn't offer any kind of passes to ticketed music shows in the beer garden, but you'll still get benefits like a custom 20 oz. mug and a free beer during your birthday month. None of the money from the memberships is pocketed by the brewery, Christine Celis said; all of it goes toward funding beer garden shows, food trucks and more.
Mulroy said he noticed early interest in the memberships, before they had officially rolled out, and he thinks he knows why "people are already lining up." It's not just about the music.
"People want to be connected to the brewery. People want to meet the brewers. You can have beer anywhere, but you come to the brewery for the emotional connection with the people who made the beer," he said.
And Celis is certainly a place that has established a strong relationship with its fans, going as far back as the '90s. Christine Celis has stayed true to the legacy of the Belgian beer-focused brand her father built, but she hadn't been able to bring back the live music aspect until now. In addition to the Black Fret shows, you can bet other events at the Celis Beer Garden will include Celis Fest.
"It's important for us to reestablish Celis Fest," she said. "Do you know how many people ask us about Celis Fest? 'When are you doing that again?' It's part of our identity," she said.
The Celis Beer Garden will open sometime in December at 10001 Metric Blvd. For more information, visit celisbeers.com.