Musicians all over Austin were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday night with the news that Sixth Street singer-songwriter haven, Momo’s, had abruptly closed its doors. Although "renovation" is the official reason for the closure, the news has some players on the local music scene speculating that this is further proof of a downtown development plan that is shifting away from live music venues.
Not much is known about what caused the closure beyond a post on the club’s Facebook page from Tuesday night that read in part: “The building that is currently home to Momo’s is under construction and undergoing a large renovation. Under present circumstances, Momo’s will no longer be operating at this location. The building owner is working with Momo’s to secure a new home and hope to find one as soon as possible.”
Club owner Paul Oveisi — who recently relocated to New York to manage the Hill Country Live music venue but had never wavered in his plans to keep Momo’s in operation — didn’t return phone calls or emails seeking comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
Whatever the reason, the closure marks the loss of a huge number of performance options for local artists. Momo’s was one of a shrinking handful of Austin venues that booked acts playing original music seven nights a week, all year round. A little quick back-of-the-envelope math makes it fair to say that nearly 1,500 performance hours a year will disappear without Momo’s in the city’s live music mix.
“Momo’s was unique in that it made a large portion of its time available to everybody, so even if you started out playing a happy hour on a Tuesday, with some luck that would grow into having a chance to play a headlining spot on a Saturday night,” said local musician Dave Madden, who said he’s played Momo’s more than 100 times since moving to Austin seven years ago.
“I used it sort of as my home base recently and this (closing) was a surprise to everybody because their calendar was full of acts. I was supposed to play keys there with somebody on Friday night and had my own show later on in January.”
Madden said he learned of the closure Tuesday night via a short phone call from Oveisi’s girlfriend and singer, Suzanna Chofel. She wasn’t able to offer much more detail than that already given in the Facebook post, but said that the move was a complete surprise to all involved.
“I’m sure if they had known they were about to close they would have had a big blowout of some sort to mark the occasion, since they would have a big throwdown for just about any reason they could,” Madden said.
“There’s a large pool of musicians who are going to be looking for an alternative place to play now, and lots of those won’t fit anywhere else. That place was a rare luxury because you had an owner who loved the place and loved the music he was putting in there.”
Opened 11 years ago, Momo’s found its true stride in recent years when Oveisi took an active role in booking the club, opening it up to musicians specializing in folk, pop, rock, funk, world music and more. While the Momo’s profile wasn’t as trendy as the hipster-centric venues along Red River, it had a reputation as a reliable venue with good taste in acts that treated its performers well.
“It was the first place in town I could get a gig because they were so responsive, their sound system was pretty great, I always got paid and never had to worry about anything,” said singer Kait Berreckman, who played the club a handful of times since relocating to Austin from Nebraska. “There were always people there, too, even when I booked a show there on Super Bowl Sunday without realizing it, people came to that place because they really liked it and were loyal.”
The ultimate fate of Momo’s plays into a larger picture of an Austin music scene that’s quickly changing: Legendary punk/indie club Emo's will close its doors after 19 years this Friday, and the looming Waller Creek Tunnel project threatens to price many of the spots along Red River Street (the backbone of the live music community) out of existence.
James Moody, owner of Red River club Mohawk and a founder with Oveisi and others of the political action group Austin Music People, said the sudden closure of Momo’s is another sign that Austin’s political and business leaders need to take action to preserve live music in a city that has built its reputation on it.
“It’s another blow to the scene, undeniably, and I don’t know what it will take for people to realize that slowly the reasons they moved here in the first place, music being the main one, are disappearing,” he said. “The city needs to step up now and decide whether they want to be the capital of new buildings, or the live music capital. You can be both, but you have to make that decision and city leaders need to start being vocal about that.”