Live gospel music fills the dining area at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q as guests pile their plates with Southern-style grits, fried catfish and the venue’s beloved brisket. Every Sunday, this premier spot in Austin’s music and food scene trades beer for breakfast and gears up to host their Gospel Brunch — a morning of comfort food and harmonies straight from the heart.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, named for founder Christopher B. Stubblefield, first opened in Lubbock in 1968. It quickly became the epicenter of an explosive music scene, hosting performances by the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. Although the Lubbock location has since closed, Stubblefield’s legacy lives on along its Red River Street location, opened in 1996, where Stubb’s Bar-B-Q has since housed music, barbecue and weekly Sunday Gospel Brunches.
Maria Curbajal, a server at the venue, said Gospel Brunch was borne from Stubblefield’s relationship with his faith and from a desire to provide space for local artists to perform.
“He was a big churchgoer, and he always liked local bands and artists,” Curbajal said. “The outside shows are usually where all the big bands play, but the inside shows are for the locals, for the Austinites.”
While serving in the Korean War, Stubblefield oversaw the preparation of meals for up to 10,000 troops and gained the respect of his peers for his esteemed culinary skills — skills he brought back to Texas.
Curbajal said Stubblefield had always been known for his barbecue, but he wanted a bigger place to host visiting friends and to showcase local music.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q is most commonly known for its large outdoor venue that hosts touring artists year-round. Gospel Brunch takes place just next door, in a smaller bricked building. This past Sunday, Austin-based gospel group Bells of Joy serenaded guests at breakfast.
“A lot of people have never heard of quartet-style Southern gospel,” said Julia Magness, UT alumna and one of Bells of Joy’s lead singers. “Stubb’s offers locals and tourists both a wonderful dining experience but also an uplifting musical experience.”
Taken by Magness’ vocals, Bells of Joy adopted her and she’s been singing with them for about a decade. Although Magness now lives in Memphis, Tennessee, she returns to Austin once a month to sing with the group at Stubb’s and enjoy Texas-sized barbecue.
In attendance on Sunday, Nov. 3, was the last original founding member of the gospel group, 89-year-old A.D. Watson. Originally from Sealy, Texas, Watson said the group has been performing at Stubb’s in Austin for over 10 years and music has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.
“It started with my mother,” Watson said. “My mother taught (me and my siblings) how to sing. When I was young I was a drummer on the tub.”
Although he no longer performs with the group, Watson still comes to Stubb’s to listen and support.
“This is sacred music, and (Bells of Joy) are keeping it alive,” Watson said. “It’s from the heart.”