American Observation: A Rock Band’s Move to Austin, Part 1

I moved to Austin, sight unseen, three and half years ago. I was driving into town from El Paso with a total babe in the car; it was her car. We had our apocalypse-choice belongings, neatly and tightly arranged, push-packed into the cab of our red Jeep Liberty.  60% Drums, Amp, Guitars // 20% Clothes // 10% Art and Supplies // and other tangibles finished it off. It was dark as we turned off from Congress Avenue and into the Ladybird Lake-side Hyatt parking lot. We booked at a ‘friends and family’ rate through Eli Darden, a famous man in small circles.

That night Amanda and I walked north across Ann W. Richards Bridge (the ‘Bat City’ bridge of renown) intent on seeing 6th Street as our reward for a safe arrival. At 2nd Street, a white convertible with a young blonde ran a light and nearly hit us in the crosswalk. He did not look back. Relieved of misfortune, we strode onward to the ‘Dizzy Rooster.’ We ordered Lone Stars (the ‘National’ beer of Texas), took seats at the bar, and turned to watch the 3-piece, country-singing cover-band. It was cacophonous, bemusing, fun, and lightly attended. Drifting customers and two bartenders in backwards ‘worn’ ball-caps, shorts, tees, and sneakers rounded out the crowd. They were watching and attending to the drinkers standing around, but only from their side of the bar. This scene made us happy…Dirty Sixth Street exposed. 

The next morning, we moved into our efficiency apartment off the Drag. It was a few blocks north of the University of Texas, where Matthew McConaughey practices coaching and youthfulness. Amanda and I slept on a foam mattress pad on the floor for the first eight months. Come to think of it, in all we’ve slept on the floor together (with and without cushions) for over two years. We went on walks around our place that first week, looking for work. We humped Hemphill, Hyde Park, North University, Gypsy Grove, West University, Tarrytown, Downtown, and Cherrywood to Manor. So, naturally I found work three blocks from our home. Black’s Barbeque where I prepped, cooked, and carved. It’s the ‘oldest same-family’ BBQ in Texas, still using original pits and “smoking for longer than Willie Nelson,” so I was told.

Like Willie, Amanda and I moved here to find an audience. We had been performing as a band for about a year in the North East. Gas at the time was historically expensive and venues for songwriters (who weren’t famous) were uncommon. So, we debated what move would satisfy playing a lot without driving too much. Portland was the other finalist, but sunshine won the day. 

In Austin, we have found an Ecotone of Geography and Culture. Here the karst Hill Country of Edward’s Plateau offers crystal, cold waters to quench the thirsty Blackland Prairie. Here a kaleidoscope of colors paint the backdrop: white lime-dusty roads, blue bonnet spring wildflowers, purple sunsets, flashy green Monk Parrots, red face ‘cedar fever,’ and burnt orange Longhorns. Here the Tejanos saddle up with Techies. This is not a weird city. Albuquerque is a weird city. Austin is a cool city and this was only the beginning.

Written by Nathan Mellott; Follow him 

@nathanmellott on IG

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