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Bye Bye Blackheart: One final day and night at Rainey Street’s best hangout

Peter Blackstock

On the chalkboard sign out front and in the Facebook page for the event, Sunday’s swan song for Rainey Street’s much-loved Blackheart Bar was dubbed “See You in Hell.” There was a let-it-all-out feel to the afternoon and evening, to be sure, but we thought local band Harvest Thieves might have nailed the title. Peeking at their set list as they took the backyard stage just after 9 p.m., we noticed it was titled: “Bye Bye Blackheart.”

More than a dozen acts, most of whom had played regularly at the venue over the years, signed on for half-hour finales that rotated between the bar’s dark indoor and bright outdoor stages from 5 p.m. till past midnight. They all wanted to say goodbye to a place that, as Harvest Thieves leader Cory Reinisch put it, “was the best thing that happened to this street.”

Many of the musicians worked at the Blackheart over the years as well. Reinisch even did some work behind the bar on Sunday before his band’s set. Corey Baum of Croy & the Boys mentioned that he used to work the door there. Mike Schoenfeld, who kicked things off just past 5 p.m. in the sunlight on the backyard stage, told amusing stories about watching baby raccoons cavorting on the roof, and that time he called the police on himself. (A missing motorcycle was involved.)

Mostly the vibe was celebratory, even as the bittersweetness of the moment was not lost on anyone — particularly co-owner Jeremy Murray, who described the day as an “emotional rollercoaster.” Erica Shamaly, manager of the city’s Music & Entertainment Division, noted that her office had offered help to the Blackheart owners if they wanted to start up again somewhere else, though it’s unclear at this point whether that might happen.

Out on the front porch was another example of the venue’s legacy. There for the taking were a handful of vinyl copies of Austin band Sweet Spirit’s album “Live at the Blackheart,” recorded here a few years ago. The band couldn’t be there on this final day, but with their offering, it was clear they were here in (sweet) spirit.

Inside, the band that followed Schoenfeld early on was an intriguing one. By Pass was a hip-hop collective blending members of Austin’s Mindz of a Different Kind and the group Nouvel R from Angers, France. Its very existence is an outgrowth of collaborative exchanges between the two cities in recent years, including an annual Austin-Angers Week that happens each year in the fall.

RELATED: More about the Austin-Angers musical connection

The music rolled on with exemplary sets by Croy & the Boys outside, followed by an indoor set from rootsy singer-songwriter Christy Hays, who just released a new album on Friday. I departed for a short time after that in order to catch a special performance by Steve Kilbey, leader of Australian band the Church, with keyboardist Amanda Kramer at east side private club the Pershing. This was an unusually busy Sunday, with the final night of Levitation shows also taking place in the Red River District.

By the time I returned at 9 p.m., the Blackheart was at capacity, with a line stretching down the Rainey Street sidewalk of folks hoping for a chance to pay their last respects. Harvest Thieves were taking the stage with a massive lineup that included current and former members, resulting in a merry wall of five guitarists across the front at one point. The chorus of song “Your Damn Vanity” seemed especially appropriate for the evening: “Austin ain’t quite what she used to be, but then, neither are you and I.”

There was much more to come as the night wound down to a 1 a.m. acoustic duo performance by Not in the Face, which played the first show at the Blackheart six years ago. The line outside might also have been in part for the 10 p.m. set by Chasca, a full-on-costumed glam outfit that was reuniting just for this occasion. Drummer Wiley Koepp loaded in gear and wandered the grounds early on, his face painted but not yet in full costume. There would be “lots more glitter,” he assured, remembering the time that the fire marshal shut down one of the band’s shows at the Blackheart a few years ago.

I didn’t stay till the end, as there was another adieu to bid across the river at the Continental Gallery — which thankfully isn’t going away, but it is going to close on Sundays beginning next month. That means no more Sunday nights there with Jon Dee Graham’s ever-evolving Lo Jinx Orchestra, who closed this final chapter with a wonderful rendition of his song “Airplane.” Aboard for that final flight were his son William Harries Graham and Amy Cook on guitar, Andrew Duplantis on bass and Mike Meadows on drums, with Abra Moore’s haunting vocal swirls soaring above it all at stage right.

The good news: As the song ended, Graham informed the crowd that Lo Jinx would now be playing every Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at El Mercado Backstage. As always, Austin keeps changing. But it’s not all going away.