Whither Red River?

Could the right Antone’s move help a downtown cultural district survive?

Could the right Antone’s move help a cultural district survive?

HAAM Battle of the Bands 2012 musicians at Antone's
Where will Austin's next Home of the Blues be? Sandy Kurtzman

When the news hit last week that the legendary Antone’s night club had not only been sold (again) but would be moving (again), Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan was on it.

“Latest Antone’s news … says they are headed to 6th and … ?” she posted on Facebook. “I’m pulling for somewhere in the Red River Cultural District, because that would be BOSS.”

"That Red River Cultural District is part of our DNA. You can’t just pick it up and put it in another city.  It’s very Austin.” — Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan 

Antone’s new owners had indeed confirmed that the club would mostly likely be relocating somewhere downtown, possibly on Sixth Street, but were mum about prospective addresses. Still, rumors flew, and many of them involved a certain recently vacated, vaunted anchor club’s former location in proximity to the intersection Houlihan alludes to.

Houlihan certainly had civic momentum on her side. Only a month earlier, the Austin City Council had voted unanimously to declare Red River Street between Esther’s Follies on East Sixth Street and Symphony Square at 10th Street a cultural district — a resolution AMP wrote and sponsored. Club owners up and down the district put their all behind the cause, and some of the key players agree that the proximity of Antone’s would be a boon.

“I hope that it will be closer to Red River for a number a reasons,” Houlihan explained in a phone interview last Friday. “Part of it is the reason we wanted the Red River Cultural District: to make sure that this little section of Austin that is so unique, with so many venues you can walk to — goth, hip-hop, punk, singer-songwriters stuff — is recognized. There are so few places like that it in country — in the world, even.”

Antone’s would be a great fit, she said, because, that stretch of Red River “is part of our DNA. You can’t just pick it up and put it in another city. It’s very Austin.”

“The Red River district is something very special and unique to Austin." — Holy Mountain's James Taylor 

James Taylor, co-owner and general manager of Holy Mountain, echoed Houlihan’s sentiment in an interview with CultureMap. “Historically, it has been a neighborhood where live music and the arts have been happening,” he said. “It’s something very special and unique to Austin, so anything that could be done to preserve that and its historical significance is good.”

Taylor has additional reasons for endorsing Antone’s possible move to the district.

“In a big city, I think it’s important to have centralized districts, it’s a good thing,” he said. “The Red River Cultural District [resolution] passed by council centralizes an entertainment and live music district.”

Antone’s future return to downtown from Riverside Drive, where it moved from West Fifth Street less than a year ago, also raises questions about the viability of club districts not located in or very near downtown. Of the three clubs that seemed to herald a new live-music hot zone in Austin when they opened on Riverside — Emo’s, The Beauty Ballroom and Antone’s — only Emo’s will remain after the legendary blues club makes its move.

Antone’s started on Sixth Street, and we want make sure it stays downtown." — Antone's co-owner Tayloe Emery 

Like anyone outside of Antone’s management, Houlihan can only speculate on why, or even if, the last relocation didn’t work. “The timing for Riverside may not have been right,” she said. “There has been a lot of construction happening [there], but  it’s possible that there weren’t enough residents living where the club is yet. I haven’t spoken to Emo’s and wonder if they face the same challenges.”

Houlihan added that in the future, Austin might be able to support a number of club districts in a number of places around town. It’s something that’s always happened and is still happening on a smaller scale around the city, she added.

Tayloe Emery, one of Antone’s new owners, seems to agree with both lines of thinking, but for this particular club, he confirmed, the preferred location is definitely somewhere very central.

“We think that the music culture of downtown is important,” Emery said by phone today. “We respect all the music downtown, and we look at Stubb’s and Mohawk as two very important clubs. Antone’s started there, and we want make sure it stays downtown. We hope to bring it back to Sixth Street, but where is yet to be decided.”