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Exclusive: First Look inside new Emo's East venue, determining fate of the original

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Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_exterior
Emo's East exterior in August. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_stage
Looking towards the stage from back left corner bar.  Stage will be raised four feet and roughly 22ft x 36ft. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_Frank
Owner Frank Hendrix outside Emo's East. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_interior side
Front left bar and exit to patio. Windows to be inserted. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_emo's red river outside_august 11
Emo's exterior on Red River. Photo by Caitlin Ryan
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_exterior
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_exterior rendering
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_stage
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_interior rendering
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_Frank
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin Ryan_Emo's East_August 2011_interior side
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_emo's red river outside_august 11
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_emo's east outside_august 11
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_emo's bathroom_august 11

In a world of booking agent bidding wars, increasingly high demands from artists and ever-improving production quality from competitors, how does a small, beloved, crusty punk rock club—which arguably once owned the Austin music scene—stay relevant? By building a bigger, badder club that will attract those bigger, badder bands on a five-day-a-week basis, like Emo's East.

Since the 1990s, Emo’s Downtown has been a must-play venue for touring bands. But, over the past several years, it's become visibly outpaced by the remodeling and opening of new clubs like The Mohawk, The Parish, Austin Music Hall and, most significantly, The Moody Theater.

“We always want to be doing cutting edge music, and what's happened in the last four or five years is that the bigger bands, the more relevant bands, are bypassing us because of the facility. We are limited to what we can do in that confined space downtown,” says Frank Hendrix, Emo’s owner since 2000.

 [Emo’s East] is something that, when a band rolls up, we'll be on par with any club in the country; we don't have to make any apologies for our green room or the production or anything. 

In fact, the downtown venue was originally built in the 1870s; the outside stage served as a livery stable, while the inside stage was a carriage house. “It was never designed to do what we are doing with it. We made the best of what we've got.”

A year and a half ago, when Hendrix got word of an available space on East Riverside, the team decided to up the Emo’s ante. They quickly signed a lease and began renovating, setting them back several million in building costs—an expense they will have to recoup over the next 10 to 15 years. Tapping local architect “wizard” Michael Hsu to lead the build-out, Hendrix looked to three other clubs in the U.S. for inspration: the 9:30 Club in D.C., the Knitting Factory in New York and the Music Room in Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel.

“[Emo’s East] is something that, when a band rolls up, we'll be on par with any club in the country; we don't have to make any apologies for our green room or the production or anything,” Hendrix says. “The Moody Theater coming to town really raised the bar for everybody. Bands are wanting a little more these days, and we just didn't have all of the amenities we needed downtown.”

The team that books Emo’s will remain the same, a group that combines the powers of Austin’s C3 Presents, Denver's Soda Jerk, local agent Dan Holloway and a variety of outside promoters. But expect to see the ticket prices increase a bit; you’ll be upcharged for better amenities along with bigger name acts.

What the audience will pay for (and, hopefully, benefit from) includes elephant bark flooring (great for acoustics and soft on the feet), 100 tons of A/C, a group of tiled bathrooms, three large bars, double sheetrocked walls (again, for sound), a large outdoor smoking patio and 500-plus parking spots.

The bands will kick back in a green room with flat screen televisions, a washer and dryer (life on the road is tough) and shower facilities; and, of course, they'll have ample tour bus parking with a private back entrance.
 There are also some people that compare our bathrooms to a bus station in Bhopal, India. It's got plusses and minuses... It's gritty, but it's uber gritty.
Great for both band and ticket-holders? A 48-foot ceiling that transitions back to a 12-foot height, meaning there is hardly a bad line of sight in the house—a far departure from Emo’s current outside stage, where you have to cram yourself against other sweaty bodies and crane your neck any which way to get a decent view.

So what about those who found the overflowing (used) toilets, intimidating bartenders and overall disrepair charming and authentic?
 
“Well, it's a double edged sword," Hendrix says. "There are also some people that compare our bathrooms to a bus station in Bhopal, India. It's got plusses and minuses... It's gritty, but it's uber gritty."

There are no firm plans to close or remodel the original venue downtown—it will remain booked through SXSW 2012, after which its fate will be determined. And though Hendrix has hired some big guns from Chicago, New York and San Francisco (like the Knitting Factory's Eddie Hudson), he will also be pulling over some employees from the downtown space so people will see a few familiar faces upon arrival (bartender with the long black beard, anyone?).
 
For now, there are 60 people onsite daily, working to complete the project that once had timeline of 18 months in an absurdly fast gestation period of nine months. The "hard" date on everyones mind is an opening on or before September 25th, when Queensryche is booked.

We will all have to trust Hendrix when he says Emo's will be sure to keep diverse genres, band-size representation and ticket prices in mind. For smaller acts, the 1,700 capacity room can be partitioned into one with an 800 cap, a feature borrowed from the 930 Club. (For comparison’s sake, Emo's downtown has a cap of 1,000 between both inside and outside stages; The Moody Theater sits at over 2,700; Stubbs comes in at roughly 4,000.)
 
"Just like Emo's has always done, we understand that everybody's broke," Hendrix explains. "You're broke, I'm broke. It's a bad time in our country, and we work off of volume. I'd rather have someone come in three times a week and spend twenty bucks every time than come in one time, spend 100 dollars and leave pissed off. The key to our success has always been cheap shows and cheap beer."

Why not pay a few extra bucks and enjoy that cheap beer in an impeccably built facility? You may miss the nostalgia, but at least you won't be standing in a stranger's piss.

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Emo's East is located at 2015 East Riverside Drive. Editor's Note: Location formerly the BackRoom.

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