By Robert Dean
Thanks to the pandemic, the Red River District has lost three more live music venues. Barracuda, or “Barry’s” to the faithful, closed its doors, same with DJ spot Plush, and the hip-hop room, Scratchhouse. Sidewinder sits vacant, so does the old Emo’s, as well as the former Headhunters. And Beerland, after a murky deed transfer, it’s anyone’s guess what the little room becomes.
Red River is a unifying theme of Austin. It’s got weirdos hanging on street corners, Elysium throbs with goth anthems, and Hoboken pizza slings pies for all of those with bleary eyes after having too good of a time at Better Days. Is this magical mixture of punk rock, country, hip-hop, and everything else going away? It’s one of the things that make this city hum – or twang.
The words, “the time has come for Barracuda Club to bid adieu,” it hit home. Barracuda was laid back, the staff was always down to help, and they booked good shows. Everyone knew the routine: pre-game at Sidebar, walk over to Barracuda for rock and roll city.
Every DJ in town knows that Plush is where you build a name. For twenty years, it held down its address next to Swan Dive at Red River and 7th, and now, another one bites the dust. According to a Facebook post back in May, it was a “combination of ever raising prices and new regulations,” which is an all-too-familiar story. Scratchhouse also cited rising rents as the reason for closing its doors. Plush plans on re-opening somewhere else, but who knows how long that will take in this market.
Where are our leaders who love to be martyrs for everything that sucks about Austin when we need them? The tourists might think of 6th as the musical heart, but we all know it’s Red River’s little five-block district.
In May, district leaders proposed getting the city to commit $35M to purchase venue properties to mitigate closures via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Austin got $170.8 million; you’d think allocating some of that to the very thing that draws people into town would be a priority. Instead, Austin is complicit in letting culture die because all we need is more places for overpriced sushi or a quiet yoga center.
This begs the logical question to ask: who’s next? Could we lose Valhalla? Is Cheer up Charlie’s ok? Is Mohawk on the chopping block? There aren’t many venues left in our so-called “music district,” a massive piece of Austin, an area that defines the “Live Music Capital of The World” moniker, despite everything seeming to go in the complete opposite direction. The city loves to brag about the “cultural district” so much, it’s got a whole page on its official website. But where’s the support? Are we actually about supporting music, or does it just look good on a t-shirt at the airport?
The bosses on Red River pleaded. They need the cash – to the tune of $40K a month until the business can get back to normal. The city approved grants for working musicians, but without places to play, it’s a moot point, isn’t it? No matter where you look, live music hasn’t been considered as a means for support. What district reps wanted was the city to buy buildings to fight skyrocketing rents and yuppie redevelopment projects who complain about noise and bbq smoke. We’re pushing our venues out of downtown and off into the far-flung reaches. That’s problematic. If this city is going to hang its Stetson on live music is our lifeblood, then back it up. Our local businesses need support. And that proposal? It fell on deaf ears, like always. You lose the music, and we’re on our way to becoming Dallas.