May 10, 2018
I just returned from another trip to my hometown, Austin, TX.
It is so strange to see skyscrapers, multi-storied student housing complexes, and million dollar modular homes tucked into the old neighborhoods once populated with students and struggling young musicians and artists. One musician friend said he had been offered $750,000 for the house he purchased in the Bouldin Creek area for 28,000 almost 40 years ago. He said that prospective buyers complain that the majestic live oaks that spread their numerous branches over his house stand in the way of the high-priced modern homes they desire to build on his property. They encouraged him to find a way to get rid of the trees. There are still laws on the books that protect these trees. The developers view them as threats to potential profit-margin.
None of my old friends who used to live in rentals along the once-serene streets of Austin can afford to live there anymore. They've moved to Dripping Springs, Leander, Pflugerville, Round Rock, Elgin, and other outlying areas in order to make it. I was struck by the irony that the very magic that attracted so many people and companies to move to Austin is now threatened by all this "success." The musicians who provide entertainment in the "Live Music Capital of the World" can't afford to live inside those famous "Austin City Limits" anymore.
Kathy and I ducked into Threadgill's World Headquarters to take refuge from the heat. I felt comforted sipping happy hour margaritas and looking at all the photos and memorabilia from the Armadillo World Headquarters on display there. The bartender opined on the skyrocketing price of rents in Austin and said he feels forced to return to Philly once he can save up the necessary funds for the move. He pays $2100 a month for a tiny two-bedroom, one bath house that would have gone for around $150-$250 a month when I last called Austin home.
The town hasn't lost all of its charm though. We visited neighborhoods in Clarksville, Hyde Park, Downtown, Zilker, Saint Edwards, Bouldin Creek, Travis Heights, and South Lamar and reminisced about all the people who used to live among the live oaks, cedar elms, and pecan trees in these parts of town. The natural beauty is still evident in all its splendor, but those good ol' Austin hippies have been replaced by a crop of people living a much more stressful lifestyle than we all did back in the day. I'm guessing the new residents are much too busy earning money and fighting throngs of traffic to contemplate those easy-living days. I hope they are still able to find a few hints of that magical time. They will if they listen to the few remaining musicians from that bygone era.
I was heartened to see that the Continental Club, Saxon's Pub, the original Threadgill's, the Hole in the Wall, and the Broken Spoke are all still hopping with activity, even though other iconic venues like Liberty Lunch, Emmajoe's, and The Outhouse are long gone. Giddy Ups is still thriving. I spent a full day there during this trip.
I came to town to pay tribute to my dad at the Jubal Fest II event at Giddy Ups. I had so much fun playing original tunes with friends and performing my dad's tunes with the Jubal Clark Coalition band! And it was equally satisfying listening to George Ensle, The Keepers, John Casner, Herschel McFarland, the Glenn Brown Band, Sheri Frushay, Shiva's Headband and others throughout the day and evening. I enjoyed hearing their newer material, but I especially admired the way many of them honored their comrades who have passed on to that great Honkytonk in the sky by playing some of their tunes. This tight-knit band of brothers and sisters used to hang out together in the bungalows, bars, and cafes of South Austin and encourage each other in their songwriting efforts. Collectively, they conjured up a whole new genre of music. In the process, they also forged a subculture that helped put this city on the musical map.
Before leaving, we took a walk along the well-groomed banks of the Colorado. There were people gliding along the tamed-waterway on paddle boards, and in kayaks, canoes and pedal boats. The smell of native plants wafting through moist, warm breezes connected me to earlier days when my parents used to take us down to the river. The currents were much wilder then. The shores were overgrown with dense thickets of foliage and littered with mounds of washed-up rubbish. There were no prepared pathways to take to the water's edge. I'm pleased that the city has beautified this portion of the river, now referred to as Lady Bird Lake. But the gentrification has come with a cost.
I really miss the indescribable feelings of calm, hopeful vitality that was in the air a few decades back. The wildness and weirdness has all but been eradicated by the frantic, scurrying people who have moved in, in search of hope and magic. Giant cranes and super-structures continue to spread across the cityscape, crowding out the old personality of the city and imposing a different kind of weirdness. The old charm has been commodified. You will find plenty to "consume" here, but tranquility isn't on the menu. Some of the sources of wonder still survive, but each time I return I am less certain whether it is the actuality of the surroundings or the memories they evoke that is stirring a sense of magic in me.