The year in Austin music: 2011
From ACL Live opening to Emo's closing plus more Fun, more SXSW
Many of the biggest music stories of 2011 were defined by loss. Troubled soul singer Amy Winehouse, E Street band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin and rapper Heavy D were among those who left the world suddenly. Stage collapses in the United States, Canada and Europe left several music fans dead and injured. R.E.M., the White Stripes and LCD Soundsystem called it quits.
There were some bright spots, of course. Music streaming service Spotify finally launched in the U.S., giving music fans another option for fast access to an extensive library of music (though it remains to be seen how or if musicians will make money from the service). Arcade Fire staged a minor coup by walking away with the Grammy for best album, Jay-Z and Kanye brought Otis Redding back to Top 40 radio with "Watch the Throne," and Radiohead dropped a new album with only a couple days' notice.
Locally, Austin continues to struggle to reconcile rapid growth with the preservation of the music scene, particularly in the downtown area, that helped to make it an appealing place to live. As new, bigger venues including ACL Live and Emo's East moved in, the future of smaller live music clubs and some entertainment districts remained uncertain. Below is a look at that issue and other stories from Austin's music scene in 2011.
Change of venue
Austin's Butthole Surfers inaugurated the 1,700-capacity Emo's East on East Riverside Drive at the beginning of September. A week later, rumors that the original Emo's on Red River Street was closing were confirmed when owner Frank Hendrix closed the club's outside stage without warning following an Austin City Limits Music Festival aftershow, angering fans who didn't get a chance to say their good-byes to the main room.
The smaller inside room remained open for a few months, ending its run Friday with Killdozer, which played the very first show when the club opened in 1992. The closing of the nearly 20-year-old venue serves as a reminder of how rising property values and impending development threaten the hub of Austin's live music scene.
Fun Fun Fun moves
Fun Fun Fun Fest took a big step in terms of growth this year with a move from Waterloo Park to the much bigger and more prominent Auditorium Shores, bumping attendance up to around 15,000 per day from 9,000-10,000 last year. Along with the move came growth in attendance and bigger names on the lineup, including metal legends Slayer.
The most memorable story to come out of the weekend was Glenn Danzig's failure to produce a set of promised Misfits songs, which turned into a meme about French onion soup (one of his demands) and yielded a scorching set of Misfits covers from Ted Leo on the last day of the festival. "This was a next-level move for us," festival promoter James Moody of Transmission Entertainment said. "We think we have made a statement about who we are." Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012 on Nov. 2-4 will again take place at Auditorium Shores.
South by Southwest continued to grow as well, celebrating its 25th year in grand fashion with keynote speaker Bob Geldof and a slew of high-profile sets, including a performance at Stubb's by the Foo Fighters. Large downtown crowds for the annual March conference caused problems when people pushed through the fence at a free Strokes concert on Auditorium Shores (leading the festival to hire a crowd safety expert later). Across town at Beauty Bar, people unable to get into a set by dance rock band DFA1979 were arrested after throwing items at a police horse. The show that might have had the most people talking came from Kanye West, who showed up at Seaholm Power Plant with Bon Iver, Jay-Z, and John Legend to rule the early morning hours.
Austin music mourns
Every year the music community mourns the passing of some of its members, and this year was no different. Blues icon Pinetop Perkins died in March; influential drummer and songwriter Doyle Bramhall who co-wrote songs with Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others, died suddenly in November. Willie Nelson played a show last night and will play tonight at ACL Live without Dan "Bee" Spears, who held down the beat as bassist for the Family band for more than 40 years, and SXSW lost its longtime man on the street, community liaison Biff Parker. Other members of the Austin music community who died in 2011 include Chadd Thomas, Johnny Dee of the Rocket 88s and rapper Octavis Berry, aka Esbe Da Sixth Street Bully of the League of Extraordinary G'z.
Live music shifts?
As the future of live music on Red River was increasingly threatened by the Waller Creek Tunnel Project, which is elevating property values in the music district, live music venues continued to open east of Interstate 35. In October Mohawk owner James Moody announced his plans to open a large capacity venue in the former Tops Office supply warehouse; two weeks ago the White Horse opened on Comal between Fifth and Sixth streets. The Frontier Bar, Hotel Vegas, Cheer Up Charlies and the Scoot Inn are among the other venues offering consistent live music in the area.
The Austin City Limits Festival celebrated its 10th year in grand fashion, with headliners Kanye West, Stevie Wonder and the Arcade Fire. Desperately needed rain was a welcomed surprise on Saturday and Sunday, and Wonder's Saturday night set was among the festival's biggest ever, even as complaints about the sound put a damper on some people's enjoyment of the legendary musician's set.
ACL Live opens
KLRU's "Austin City Limits" ended its 36-year run at Studio 6A in Nov. 2010, making the move downtown to ACL Live, a 2,700-seat, state-of the-art music venue. After Willie Nelson (who, along with nephew Freddy Fletcher, has an ownership stake in the theater) helped open the theater with a pair of shows in February, the venue hosted several sold-out shows and tapings of "ACL's" 37th season, including a Widespread Panic/Preservation Hall Jazz Band show during SXSW that drew complaints about crowd noise, songwriting legend Randy Newman, and more recently, Wilco and a just-announced set from rock superstars Radiohead.
No more free parking
The sentiment that the city doesn't take enough steps to support live music downtown was amplified in September after it began charging for after-hours parking Thursday through Saturday, presenting a new cost to fans and musicians hoping to get to a show. At the December meeting of the Austin Music Commission, venue owners, including James Moody of the Mohawk and Beerland owner Randall Stockton, argued that the new charge adds a burden on live music downtown, making it more difficult to keep live music on Red River and elsewhere in the area, and recommended that the City Council take steps to repeal the new rule.
Momo's quickly closes
Just a few days before the final night at Emo's on Red River Street, Austin lost another of popular music venue when Momo's shut down without much warning on Tuesday. Owner Paul Oveisi, who relocated to New York in November, announced the closure on the club's Facebook page, stating that the venue was forced to close because of renovations. For 11 years, Momo's has served as a hub of Americana and rock music in downtown Austin. The club, which usually offered live, mostly local music seven days a week, served as a home base for several area performers, including singer songwriter Suzanna Choffel, Band of Heathens and more recently Sons of Fathers.
The Faces, Small Faces picked for Hall of Fame
Though Stevie Ray Vaughan continues to be inexplicably excluded, Austin resident Ian McLagan was chosen for induction into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a founding member of both the Faces and Small Faces after more than a decade of eligibility. While the lumping together of the two bands, which had different lineups (Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood being members of the more famous Faces) and different sounds, wasn't exactly the ideal , McLagan said that he was excited nonetheless. "I wasn't thrilled, but it's really like getting two awards, so I'm looking at it that way," McLagan said. "I'm thrilled for (founding members of the Small Faces) Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane as much as myself and Kenney (Jones). They couldn't live to see it, but it's still there for their families to know about, and fans."
Top local albums of 2011 Here are 20 of the year's best from Austin-area musicians.
Bad Sports ‘Kings of the Weekend' (Dirtnap)
One of two bands fronted by Orville Neeley to release not-to-miss albums in 2011; the Bad Sports lace loud, fast punk with a strain of pop.
— Peter Mongillo
Bill Callahan ‘Apocalypse' (Drag City)
The end times as written in small gestures and nuanced notes, it's another strong chapter from a fellow whose every new work sounds more and more like himself.
— Joe Gross
Centro-Matic ‘Candidate Waltz' (Undertow)
After more than 15 years and countless albums, Centro-matic frontman Will Johnson's songwriting continues to improve.
Ciraturas ‘Oscuridad Eterna' (Trabuc)
Completely ripping hardcore en español from former and current members of Deskoncidos. Impalers and Mammoth Grinder. As the U.S. pressing of this record was delayed and should be out in January, expect this to show up on best of lists this year and next.
Cruddy ‘Negative World' (12XU)
Primal punk rock in the everyone-is-annoying-but-us tradition and a grower like few others on this list.
ELVIS ‘Crime of the Scene' (Sundae)
Oddball scuzz that buzzes ("All the Senate's Men") and howls ("Sleep" and "Fuzzy" are some of the best noise-rock blasts Austin has produced in awhile) under the influence of, well, probably lots of things.
Joe Ely "Satisfied at Last" (Rack'em)
With more than 40 years of songwriting experience under his belt, Ely's latest is a powerhouse of an album that will hook listeners from the first notes.
Explosions in the Sky ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care' (Temporary Residence)
Every couple of years, these four fellows crank out another slab of pure horizon; it's wide-angle guitar rock for all of our big, messy, epic lives.
Flesh Lights ‘Muscle Pop' (Twistworthy)
Unglued punk-as-rough-hewn-guitar-hooks played at you as much as to you. Inspirational verse: "Do what I say/ cuz I am romance!"
Quin Galavis "Should Have Known You" (Thread Pull)
This unconventional singer-songwriter fare from Galavis, who spends time around town playing in bands such as post-punk outfit the Dead Space, rewards multiple listens.
The Ghost Wolves ‘In Ya Neck!' (self-released)
Former Belleville Outfit drummer Jonathan Konya and manic guitarist Carley Wolf make gritty garage blues rock on their debut EP.
Leatherbag ‘Yellow Television,' ‘Patience' (ep) (self-released)
Frontman/songwriter Randy Reynolds delivered not one but two solid albums in 2011, both of which showcase his exceptional ability to balance well-crafted songwriting with good ol' rock 'n' roll.
OBNIIIs ‘The One and Only' (Tic Tac Totally)
Knuckle-scraping (and possibly knuckle-dragging) rawk from Maximum Rocknroll cover star. Orville Neeley (see also Bad Sports) is the best thing to happen to Texas punk in forever.
Planets ‘Planets' (self-released)
A debut packed with raw rock and roll, including the seething "It's Not 1977" ("no one misbehaves anymore") and the doomy bruiser "Doctor Disappearing."
Pure X ‘Pleasure' (Acephale)
This spacey full-length from Pure X, whose noisy fuzz looks back to late '80s/early '90s shoe gaze, isn't quite like much else going on in Austin.
Seth Sherman ‘When the Moment is True' (Nine Mile)
On his debut album, singer/songwriter/guitarist Seth Sherman relates personal anguish with poignant lyrics and sweet-sounding guitar work.
Strange Boys ‘Live Music' (Rough Trade)
The third full-length from Austin-based garage band, pronounced like "give," is its best yet, an easy-going jumble of blues- and country-influenced rock.
Various Artists ‘Casual Victim Pile II' (12XU)
The second collection of Austin punk assembled by Gerard Cosloy, this one for his now fully revived 12XU imprint. From Naw Dude and Rayon Beach to Crisis Hotlines and Literature, here are the unfairly neglected bands of tomorrow, today!
White Denim ‘D' (Downtown)
With elliptical drumming and ebullient guitar (or is it the other way round?), White Denim is the jam band for people who really can't stand jam bands.
Wild Child ‘Pillow Talk' (Major Nation)
With only a year or so under the band's belt, folk newcomers Wild Child delivered one of the best debuts of the year, led by Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins' witty, conversational songwriting style.