How favorite Austin music venues are weathering coronavirus closures
Music venues in Austin have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. First they lost what’s usually their biggest month of the year when South by Southwest was canceled. Then came the shuttering of nonessential businesses, sending musicians to livestream performances but leaving the venues in limbo for the foreseeable future.
We checked in with some of Austin’s most notable nightclubs to see how they’ve been weathering the storm.
Austin’s home of the blues since 1975 is looking for support from the community. The club’s recent GoFundMe campaign titled “45 for 45” — seeking $45,000 to mark the club’s 45th anniversary this summer -- has raised almost $40,000 as of press time.
Beyond helping to cover basic staff and operating expenses, co-owner Will Bridges says the club also has given money to musicians who’ve long been associated with the club, many through weekly residency gigs.
A recent addition has been a Friday evening series of “Antone’s Radio” shows, featuring livestreamed audio performances captured at the club in recent years. Dumpstaphunk kicked it off on April 10, followed by the late Lazy Lester last week. “We’re not really monetizing it; we’re just using it to draw awareness to our 45 for 45 fundraiser,” Bridges said.
Perhaps the most visible element of the venue’s pandemic activities is a colorful new mural of blues legend Muddy Waters that now covers the front of the club. Antone’s first followed suit of neighboring Sixth Street bars by boarding up its front windows, but then commissioned local artists Nate “Sloke One” Nordstrom and Chris Rogers to create the mural.
The popular downtown venue (aka Barry’s Club) has taken advantage of Fine Southern Gentlemen’s Austin Will Survive program to create a line of cool club merch that includes a poster, a variety of tees and a $250 “royalty key” that will give you a spot on the guest list for any show through the end of the year when the club is able to reopen.
The venue also is running a membership drive, calling on longtime fans to consider paying monthly dues to help support staff and cover overhead costs during these difficult times. There are three tiers of membership ranging from $10-$50 a month. Each package includes two general admission ticket vouchers per month, with the pricier options including merch and the warm feeling you get from helping your favorite venue survive.
Owner James White says he hopes to get assistance from government programs aimed at helping small businesses survive the pandemic. In the meantime, he and his family have been doing what he called “spring cleaning,” taking the opportunity of the empty room to do minor repairs while using “lots of soap, water and bleach” to freshen up the place.
Austin’s home for reggae on Sixth Street has been broadcasting old concert footage on their Facebook account on Saturday nights. Fans of the club can drop by, listen and leave a tip.
You can also stop by Ebay, where club owner Angela Tharp has made a collection of concert posters available. She’ll soon have some jewelry donated by a friend of the club up for grabs on the auction site, too. The club is also running a GoFundMe campaign to cover basic expenses required to keep the 28-year-old venue open.
Maybe we can’t come together and rock out like we used to, but your favorite East Austin dive is delivering good vibes and Frito pies every Friday (and some Saturday) nights. Call 512-755-1036 to order a Frito pie kit for two ($12) or a “Vegas Sampler” ($35) that includes Frito pies for two, a 12-pack of Lone Star beer, a six-pack of Topo Chico and a giant roll of toilet paper. They also are taking orders for burgers, veggie burgers, frozen margaritas, six-packs and smokes. Club staff will deliver to addresses within five miles of the venue, or you can grab your grub at their new pick-up window.
The club also has a Fine Southern Gentlemen site boasting a variety of T-shirts ($24 each) to help keep your inner rebel rocking while you shelter at home. For the club’s serious supporters, they are offering a $100 keytag that gets you access to any show through the end of the year once the venue reopens.
The north anchor of the Red River Cultural District is offering show packages to fans to help keep the club afloat. You can opt for the Donny ($100), which gains you access to one month of unlimited shows, the Walter ($250) that buys you two guest list spots to four shows a month through April 2021 or the Dude ($500), which will get you and a homie into any show you want through April 2021.
For years, the Mohawk hosted the House of Vans, a day party blowout during SXSW. With kindred rebellious spirits and a love of all things loud, the vibes of the iconic skate wear brand and the celebrated Red River Street venue meshed well.
Now Vans has teamed up with the Mohawk once more, creating a special custom shoe design. Surrounded by flowering vines on a mustard canvas, a phoenix rises under a signature Mohawk “M.” Austin is clearly ready to walk the walk for the ‘Hawk. Vans sold 300 pairs during the first two days on sale. The shoes are $90 and net proceeds will benefit displaced Mohawk staff.
Drop by the 606 E. Seventh St. club every Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. to pick up a $10 social distancing care package that includes a six-pack of one of eight beverage options, a “Defend Red River” sticker, a bag of chips and an Empire Koozie.
You can also stop by the Heard Presents Fine Southern Gentlemen store and snap up a “We Gon’ Make It” poster ($13) of the club.
Owners Gregg and Destinee Ware are using any avenues possible to make ends meet. “I applied for everything I could right away,” Destinee Ware said. “We are mainly in a holding pattern at the moment, waiting on everything really. Information is kind of at a standstill.”
Local musician Noelle Hampton and others launched a GoFundMe campaign for the One-2-One in mid-March that has brought in nearly $8,000.
The club plans to present a dual livestream featuring local musicians Barbara Nesbitt and Giulia Millanta soon. One-2-One also helped to develop a livestream ticketing system (as opposed to the typical donations model on Facebook Live events) that’s now being used nationwide by HoldMyTicket.com.
The funky East Austin hideaway has been running a GoFundMe campaign to help the club weather the extended closure. They also are selling gift cards. Drop by saharalounge.cardfoundry.com to advance pay $5 to $500 for future shows.
A fixture on South Lamar Boulevard since 1990, the Saxon was saved from possible relocation a few years ago when local real estate mogul and music philanthropist Gary Keller bought the venue’s building. Saxon owner Joe Ables says Keller has “done some things that were very helpful” in weathering the storm, and Ables also has filed for the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.
In the meantime, the club has found success with a new livestream series, “Saxon Strong: Let’s Band Together,” which started with an April 3 event that featured many of the club’s most popular regular acts and brought in more than $25,000 that went straight to the musicians. “It was like being Santa Claus,” Ables said about passing along that money. “It felt so good because they had no idea they’d be getting money like that.”
Singer-songwriter Patrice Pike, who’s taken her Thursday Saxon residency to a living-room livestream, is sharing tips from her streams with staff members at the Saxon and One-2-One Bar. And Ables said the club has brought in additional revenue from merchandise sales on its website, with that money going to employees.
Co-owner Marshall McHone says the East Austin honky-tonk applied for one of the small business loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and expects to be approved, but it’s uncertain whether that program would suit the venue’s needs.
“It’s a real risk for us,” he said. “We don’t know if we’ll utilize it, because you have to be open by a certain date. It’s only two months of payroll and you have to hire people back.” That’s a problem, he says, because there’s no way to know at this stage whether it will be viable to bring workers back in two months. McHone adds that just 25% of PPP loans can be spent on fixed costs such as rent or utilities. “It doesn’t really fit a lot of the hospitality industry,” he says.
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not mention that artist Chris Rogers was commissioned to paint the mural outside Antone’s, along with Nathan “Sloke One” Nordstrom.
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