Musician Dave Madden entertains guests stuck at Austin hotel without power
When Austin musician Dave Madden and his wife, Sarah Madden, checked into the Renaissance Austin Hotel for a Valentine’s Day weekend getaway, they had no idea that they’d still be there several days later. But they also could not have imagined the silver lining that emerged from our winter storm clouds.
Like many residences and businesses in the 78759 ZIP code on the northwest end of town, the Renaissance lost power around 2 a.m. Monday morning when state grid operator ERCOT ordered Austin Energy to shut down electricity to hundreds of thousands of Austinites.
With road conditions dicey and power out at their home in Southeast Austin, they decided it was safer to stay put. Monday evening, Madden — a piano player who’s been active during the pandemic with livestreams and remote-recording projects — mentioned to some hotel staffers that he was a professional musician and would be happy to play the hotel’s grand piano for other guests and hotel staff.
They approved, so Madden started playing in the bar around 6 p.m. Monday and continued for an hour. When he returned on Tuesday for another go, “all of the top brass of the hotel were there and really enjoying it,” Madden said by phone Wednesday afternoon.
“When I finished, they said, ‘Man, we’d really love it if you would keep playing.’ So I did,” he continued. “Then they said, well, your whole stay here is free; it’s on us.”
There’s more: They offered Madden a regular gig playing piano at the hotel.
“Apparently they’re getting ready to do a major renovation of the hotel,” Madden added, “and they want to get back to having live music.” Hotel staffers told him that no one had played the bar’s piano in three years.
“We haven’t discussed any details yet,” he said. “I don’t expect to be starting this gig next week. But when they get their music going again, they want me to come and play. They have offered me the gig for sure.”
That helped bring some joy to an otherwise trying stretch of days at the hotel. Madden praised hotel staff for doing their best under the circumstances, noting that they had emergency generators which provided some lighting for safety, as well as limited power near the entrance. They’ve allowed guests to charge their phones at the front desk, and have served up limited food from the kitchen, which runs on gas.
Madden says he’d chosen the nine-floor Renaissance largely because of its large atrium that he estimated at about the size of half a football field. “I thought it would be a little safer for COVID reasons, having all that space,” he said.
Though he hasn’t had a way to measure temperatures inside, Madden estimates it’s been around 50 degrees in the atrium and maybe 55 in the rooms. “They’re chilly, but it’s doable if you put a coat on,” he said.
Showering has been another story. “I’ve now had two ice-cold showers,” he said. “It’s really painful, and I’m a Barton Springs swimmer; I’ll even go in the winter.”
Madden says he was somewhat surprised to find the hotel fairly crowded when they checked in over the weekend. “There was a massive ice hockey tournament, and the place was overrun with teenagers who had traveled here,” he said.
Some of them had come from Alaska. “One of the moms was complaining that they left Alaska and came down here to Texas and it’s a blizzard, the last thing they would expect.”
Many guests have since left the hotel, but Madden said there might be around 100 still there. He estimated the hotel’s capacity at near 1,000.
Madden says he and Sarah are looking at Friday, when conditions are supposed to be sunny with afternoon temperatures in the 40s, as a likely date for returning home. His wife has an aunt and uncle who’ve also offered respite at their place. “We have places to go if the roads are good enough,” he said, “but we’re trying to stay off the roads.”