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Momo's to celebrate 10th anniversary this weekend

Under Oveisi's watch, club has nurtured rising stars

Patrick Caldwell

In 2000, attorney Paul Oveisi was living the cliche of the unfulfilled lawyer: financially sound but creatively restless.

"I wasn't rewarded practicing law. I worked for a civil litigation firm, and there were great people there, and I really enjoyed the early years," Oveisi says. "But I didn't have much passion getting up and going to work in the morning."

Oveisi began nursing plans to set up his own practice and pursue entertainment law — plans that derailed when he decided to buy indoor and outdoor venue Momo's on West Sixth Street, at that time a club still in its infancy, a classy lounge with substantially less focus on live music than it has today. Oveisi's spent the past 10 years building the club into a respected hive for local music, a diverse stage that's helped break artists such as Del Castillo, Los Lonely Boys, Suzanna Choffel, the Band of Heathens and Austin City Limits Music Festival 2010 performers T-Bird and the Breaks.

"I kind of stumbled onto the music business," says Oveisi. "But I realized pretty quickly that it was way more rewarding intellectually and spiritually."

The club celebrates its 10th anniversary on Friday and Saturday with two nights of performances by some of Momo's standby artists, including Choffel, Dan Dyer, the Belleville Outfit and Jon Dee Graham. The first night will be broadcast live on KUT.

Across 10 years of good sound and relaxed vibes, Momo's has built a reputation for diversity — it plays host to plenty of the roots-rock Austin is known for but dabbles in world music, hip-hop, soul and a plethora of other sounds.

Not that the past 10 years have all been rosy ones for Oveisi. He calls his time shepherding short-lived Sixth Street venue the Six of Clubs a "debacle," and he was unable to turn around iconic Austin club Steamboat after assuming its ownership from longtime owner Danny Crooks at the eleventh hour in 2002. The club closed in 2003.

"I was shouldering most of the burden, and for a while I was managing and booking all three clubs. And at home, my wife at the time went from having an attorney who came home at night to having a husband thrust in the music scene who came home late and left early," says Oveisi. "It was very taxing on us, and that culminated in a divorce and a pretty rough time personally. But I really embraced that. When you approach rock bottom, you either bounce back with a vengeance or dwell, and for me it was an opportunity to catapult myself and roll my sleeves up and go to work on something I cared deeply about."

Oveisi developed a sterling personal reputation of professionalism and respect for his artists — it was the intervention of friends and Momo's players Del Castillo that led Oveisi to take the reins at Steamboat in the first place. That reputation landed him first on the Austin Music Commission and later in the role of chair of the Live Music Task Force.

Even through the economically lean past two years, Oveisi says, Momo's has performed well — and he credits the club's strength at least partially to its increasing seniority.

"I think steering Momo's gets better every year. When you're running a music venue in Austin, having some tenure helps. I remember saying a lot in the first few years that if we could make it to 10 years, we'd be OK," says Oveisi. "Because then we would have solidified ourselves as a music venue that's here to stay."