Notes from the past: Looking back at Austin’s music scene

America’s most recent decade has yielded unusual enthusiasm and migration towards Texas. More specifically, enthusiasm is rapidly concentrating in the live music capital of the world– Austin, Texas. While natives remain jaded about the enormous growth, new residents are reveling in the city’s creativity and social awareness. Austin was once a quaint oasis, a home for early-2000s hippies to prevail and expand their counter-culture habits. These bohemian vibes, that date back to the late 1800s, set the foundation for Austin’s brilliant music scene.

Keeping the local arts scene thriving in 2016 is complicated and competitive. When musicians originally showcased their work in Austin, it was a natural process– it was the birth of a legendary city. Celebrated artists from various generations started their career in Austin, most notably, Stevie Ray Vaughn. The list continues with The 13th Floor Elevators, Spoon, Explosions In The Sky, Ghostland Observatory, even hip-hop/R&B diva Ciara kicked off her success in ATX. But, it was not solely the rise of notorious musicians that brought attention to they city. The crowds, the fans and the community surrounding the talent endorsed a general change in morality– business could be and should be hedonistic.

Austin’s legacy began in the late 19th century, primarily at German beer gardens and German beer halls, where people conglomerated and celebrated the taste and rise of craft beer. Dessau Hall, which is now permanently closed, was thriving in the in ’50s and ’60s as it showcased pioneers of modern music, like Elivs Presley and Hank Williams. What’s impressive about this event hall was it’s compact depth. In the grand scheme, this small early Austin venue built for good times and good beer, was generally insignificant. But, because of the fleeting rise of a supportive and artistic crowd in Austin, musicians were deeply drawn to the infatuation with creativity amongst the population.

The ’50s and ’60s proved not only a revolutionary time for Austin but for America has a whole. The Beatnik movement, fashioned by great American author Jack Kerouac inspired intellectuals nation-wide to travel and embrace the human experience with no remorse or regard for rigid social standards. Following the Beat movement, came the rise of the well known and admired generation of the hippies. Hippies celebrated sexuality, happily accepted the complicated human nature and experimented with mind altering drugs– primarily LSD and Psilocybin Mushrooms. Their free spirits and open minds allowed them to cultivate a home for musicians to thrive by originality. Hippies hitchhiked and floated in and out of whichever states they so pleased. Texas, being the second largest state in the country, next to Alaska which is completely off-land, became part of the hippie tour.

As the counter-culture revolution was peaking and musicians were crafting a sound that had never been heard before, Austinites knew their duty. By the ’70s and ’80s Austin was famous for it’s aid towards struggling and aspiring musicians, regardless of their stance in society’s hierarchy. Rock legend Gary Clark Jr., at a very young age, would secretly follow his promiscuous mother to bars and clubs in Austin in hopes for guidance and reassurance regarding his music. Austin did not fail Gary Clark Jr. While most adults would smoothly remove a teenager from any club scene, Clark Jr. received one of his first guitars for free from a local resident at a bar he snuck into. By this point, Austin was respected for it’s tribute to art and music and the creative minds behind it. In 1974, PBS launched it’s live music television series, Austin City Limits. Over a period of 30 years the TV broadcast showcased over 500 artists, MC’s and bands alike. By 2002, Austin City Limits expanded into what is now a nationally accredited music festival that exhibits incredible local talent.

Austin is proud to say that for over 100 years it has supported the importance and relevance of the healing powers of music– even during historically tragic times. Austin has, and continues to fund building venues small and large for creative minds to feel comfortable in their challenging journey. Yes, Austin is juggling social, economic and political trials and tribulations in 2016 that bear controversy and frustration. but the sound of music is eternal here. Restaurants, retailers even grocery stores are often converted into stages for musical showcases. Austin is constantly receptive to obscure ideals; ideas from a generation of beatniks, to the hippies, to modern day millennials, all of which share a common denominator– the vision for creating and sustaining a home for music to be born and to prevail.

Next time you are ripping your hair out in five o’clock Mopac traffic, take a deep breath, roll down your windows and remind yourself that the air on your skin is the same air that has challenged social norms for nearly 125 years. Austin turned music into business, turned bums into stars and turned useless space into five massive music festivals. Austin musicians of the present and of the past have courage in your home. Know that here, in Austin, unbelievable dreams will come true for those who give back to the city has given us all just what we need.

(Photo courtesy of Azariahmedia.)