As I drove to Antone’s at Lavaca and 5th street for an interview one night, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of parking and accessibility. The roadwork on Colorado closed half of the road, pedicabs cut in between traffic and intoxicated socialites disregarded “don’t walk” signals. Obtaining a street spot was like winning the lottery, which made paying $10 for a parking garage the better option.
For some, Antone’s symbolizes the Live Music Capitol of the World. Few venues enjoy as much historical significance. Antone’s put Austin on the map by bringing in musicians like Muddy Waters, Fats Domino and B.B. King, not to mention helping to launch the career of the beloved Stevie Ray Vaughan. This will all change after South by Southwest.
John O’Neill, Antone’s talent buyer, has confirmed a move to the recently closed Beauty Ballroom on East Riverside, in the same complex as Emo’s East, which moved last September. Emo’s and Antone’s shared a co-owner, Frank Hendrix, until last month when he sold Emo’s to C3 Presents.
“There’s a multitude of reasons why we’re moving, but it comes down to how this town is undergoing a huge transition,” O’Neill said. “In the last three years there’s been so much growth that it’s actually bad for our business.”
As cranes fill our skyline and small businesses are pushed to the margins, the common denominator seems to be the condominium. Austin is becoming increasingly vertically oriented, and the rent is just too damn high.
“The dirt we’re on is worth more than what we pay in rent. And it’s haunted by ghosts of blues musicians,” O’Neill said.
In all seriousness though, what will downtown look like in the near future if we keep exporting all the good stuff? A barren landscape of high-rise condominiums and parking garages? A typified city like Dallas? In the heart of downtown, we might lose the heartbeat of music.
Sometimes we only realize how amazing our city is when things change, and this is just another sobering reminder that nothing lasts forever. The benevolent, iconic venue that is Antone’s is a wandering entity by nature — they have moved three times already.
“People that aren’t excited about the move don’t understand it — they think Stevie played here, and that’s not true,” O’Neill said.
For example, a KXAN news report incorrectly states that Stevie Ray Vaughan “has graced the stage here,” but Vaughan passed away in 1990, seven years before Antone’s moved to its current location.
O’Neill insisted that the move would be beneficial for everyone. With over 400 immediate parking spots, an exploding neighborhood and condos across the street that have sold out before they’ve reached completion, Antone’s seems poised to capitalize on their new context.
And just like that, the musical landscape that brings us international recognition has drastically changed in less than a year. Other downtown venues will most likely follow suit as the East side becomes more appealing and the West side’s rent continues to climb.
Austin is the 13th largest city by population, even though it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. We live in the fastest growing city in America, so we should expect things like this to keep happening.
As I sat in Antone’s, scanning the walls of blues memorabilia and portraits of rock stars, O’Neill concisely offered a consolatory thought.
“Times are changing fast, man.”
Published on March 4, 2013 as "Iconic music venue relocates".