Retro Austin

10 original Austin music venues that still rock today

10 original Austin music venues that still rock today

Gary Clark Jr. Antone's show
Antone's was a leader in creating Austin's reputation as a live music mecca.  Photo by Chad Wadsworth

Live music venues abound in Austin, aka the Live Music Capital of the World. The world also knows the Capital City for its music festivals, particularly ACL Fest and SXSW. But Austin had a vibrant live music scene long before the slogan, festivals, and the plethora of clubs and stages in trendy areas — long before many Austin music-lovers were born, in fact.

Here are 10 places from those early days that still rock today.

Antone’s Night Club
Antone's opened in 1975, one of the original music venues on Sixth Street and a leader in creating Austin's reputation as a live music mecca. Notable musicians who have performed here include Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, John Lee Hooker, Delbert McClinton, Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Jimmy Reed, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, B.B. King, and Gary Clark Jr. Now located on East Fifth Street, the club offers live music seven days a week, sometimes for as little as a $5 cover.

Cactus Café
The Cactus Cafe & Bar, an intimate venue, opened in 1979 in the University of Texas Student Union. It books local, regional, national, and international acoustic music acts. Many well-known artists played here early in their careers, including Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith, and Ani DiFranco. Others that have graced the stage at this music room include Alison Krauss, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Townes Van Zandt, Loudon Wainwright III, Bill Monroe, Richard Thompson, Guy Clark, the Dixie Chicks, and Patty Griffin, just to name a few.

Continental Club
The legendary Continental Club opened in 1955 and ranks as one of Austin’s oldest continuously running clubs — at one point a swanky supper club, burlesque club, and blue-collar bar that opened at 7 am. As a live music venue, it hosted Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Paul Ray and the Cobras, Joe Ely, Bill Carter and the Blame, and many others in the 1970s and '80s. A 1987 renovation returned the interior to very nearly its original 1950s version, and the club continues to present “roots rock, traditional country and blues, rockabilly, and garage rock.” Acts that have performed on this stage include Junior Brown, Robert Plant, Alejandro Escovedo, Wanda Jackson, Toni Price, James Burton, Dale Watson, James McMurtry, Jon Dee Graham, and Heybale.

Deep Eddy Cabaret
This self-proclaimed dive bar, named for a former swimming hole on the Colorado River, opened in 1951. Free red beans and rice and live blues music every Tuesday night, occasional live music other times, as well as movie nights, pool, and screening of UT football games.

Donn’s Depot
Donn Adelman entered the Austin music scene in 1961 and still plays piano and sings, often accompanied by a bass player and a drummer. He established Donn's Depot in 1972, in an actual train depot and railroad cars, and performs there on Tuesday and Friday nights. The rest of the week, the club showcases a cast of regulars, with rotating acts on Saturday nights.

Hole in the Wall
Founded in 1974 on the Drag across from the University of Texas campus, this aptly named venue helped launch a number of local bands to greater success, including Spoon, The Gourds, Shakey Graves, Timbuk 3, Bob Schneider, Fastball, Black Joe Lewis, and Gary Clark Jr. Often, big names drop in to jam, listen to music, or play pool or arcade games. Describing the stage and club as “cozy” is decidedly an understatement, although large front windows help.

Saxon Pub
This South Lamar Boulevard icon opened in 1990 and has hosted well over 22,000 performances. The listening room is a preferred venue for local musicians — Kris Kristofferson even likened it to “playing in his own living room.” After talks of moving to a new development in South Austin, the legendary Saxon Pub has announced it will stay put in its storied home. 

Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
A barbecue and music joint established by Christopher “Stubb” Stubblefield in Lubbock in 1968 until the mid-1980s, the original hosted big music names such as Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Muddy Waters. Stubb moved the barbecue and live music joint to Austin in 1986, located on north I-35. He closed that location in 1989. After his death in 1995, partners revived the operation in the historic building at 801 Red River St., with a large outdoor stage and amphitheater.

Threadgill’s
From the 1930s through the 1960, the original Threadgill's on North Lamar Boulevard, a gas station that sold beer, was the Austin music scene. Founder Kenneth Threadgill brought together a wide range of musicians and fans, creating an open-to-anything culture that helped to make Austin weird in the first place. When the famous Armadillo World Headquarters was forced to close, owner Eddie Wilson bought Threadgill’s and picked up right where the Armadillo left off on New Year’s Day, 1981. He added a Southern style restaurant inspired by the menu at the Armadillo, so folks can enjoy a hearty meal along with live music.  

Waterloo Records
Yeah, this place is technically a store selling recorded music, but it also stages regular live performances — most of them free. Waterloo Records opened its doors on April 1, 1982, in a tiny space on North Lamar Boulevard, later moving to a larger space at Sixth and Lamar.