Out of Step: Not Dead or Dying

by Brian J. Audette

Photos by Ashley Bradley

“We’re not trying to shape the world

So people think like us

We just want our own space to dance

No favors, no fuss”

-Frank Turner, Four Simple Words

During my first show at the Red 7/Red Eyed Fly successor venue Sidewinder last Tuesday night, Henry Kohen aka the one man band Mylets spoke the following words:

“This entire street has more good venues than most cities have. You guys are lucky”

It was a reminder born of his recollection between songs that while this was his third ever show in Austin over the past few years, it was his first not at the recently defunct Red 7 where Tuesday night’s show had originally been booked.

While the uncertainty has somewhat subsided, this summer was a tumultuous one for the Red River Music District, our unprecedented collection of a dozen or so music venues right in the heart of downtown Austin. It began with Red River anchor Mohawk and next door neighbor Cheer Up Charlie’s being hassled by the hotel development adjacent to them, over the natural rock wall that backs both lots and concluded with rent hikes that forced the closing of 7th street mainstay Red 7 and its more recent neighbor of the past three years, Holy Mountain. As is often the case in Austin the conversation surrounding these developments oscillated between doom-and-gloom prognostications of “the end of Austin music” and those bearing the standard of “progress.” As with so much else, the truth and the real future of the Red River music scene probably lies somewhere in between. There is no denying however that all four venues have been of much importance not only to Austin’s local musicians, but also to touring acts up and down the musical spectrum. More personally however, both of the now defunct venues were important to me and my sonic experiences in the “Live Music Capital of the World”.

When I moved to Austin six years ago, the first show I ever saw here was at Red 7. It was Sunday November 8th and I had a ticket to see forgetters, the new band fronted by the oft reclusive, always enigmatic, and (at that point) several years out of the limelight punk troubadour Blake Schwarzenbach. This was a huge deal to me as Blake’s previous bands Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil had been (in many ways) my gateway to punk, emo, and hardcore. At the time Blake occupied the most venerable slot in my personal pantheon of gods: He Who Gets It. It was a spot previously occupied by Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz and currently held by Frank Turner. Blake’s music was the score to my internal monologue and getting to see him live was a huge deal. The show was on Red 7’s outside stage, a space that in my 6 years visiting it hardly ever changed, maintaining an urban backyard feel throughout its tenure. There were a couple of acts on before forgetters and after purchasing a t-shirt at the merch table I grabbed a spot in the crowd at the very front of the stage. When Blake and co. came on I was up front for it all. I heard the whole set through Blake’s monitor and that along with Red 7 outside’s spare, ramshackle ambiance made me feel like I was a basement show, intimately associating with one of my punk rock heroes.


I didn’t frequent Red 7 much after that show, not until Emo’s closed and the bookings I used to see there mostly shifted to Red 7’s recently renovated inside stage and the aforementioned workhorse outside stage. After that point it seemed like one out of every two or three shows I saw was at Red 7, especially since I had jumped head first into Austin’s local scene in the interim. There were few bad places to stand at Red 7 during a show, even behind the sound booth inside wasn’t completely awful and while the inside got hot as balls during the summer, if you managed to stand just under one of the large vents of the beleaguered A/C system it wasn’t so bad. I can’t even count the number of acts I ultimately saw at there, but the list includes the likes of And So I Watch You From AfarRival SchoolsBlake Schwarzenbach (a second time!), a more locals than I can remember. I even sang on stage once during Fun Fun Fun Fest when Karaoke Underground took over for the night. I may have missed At the Drive-In’s storied reunion show there, but at least I got to sing “Transatlantic Foe” all the same.

My final show at Red 7 turned out to be just as important and magical as my first. As I wrote earlier, Frank Turner now occupies the former Black Scwarzenbach held “He Who Gets It” position in my personal pantheon and as it turns out, my final show at was to see Frank during SXSW this past March. In a Venn diagram of music I like, Frank Turner is nestled right in the middle between Hardcore Punk and non-traditional Folk. A Frank Turner show for me is like a religious experience and though it was the third time in as many years that I had seen him live, the fact that I was at that basement show outdoor Red 7 stage with Frank playing solo and surrounded by other fans who knew all the words like I did, made it an amazing experience. I had no idea then that it would be my last time at Red 7 and though I really should have been at the final Red 7 show with Mutoid Man (because Brodsky holds a place in my pantheon as well) I couldn’t make it happen. And so I rather unceremoniously bid farewell to one of my favorite places to see music in town.


Compared to Red 7 I guess my first show at Holy Mountain actually wasn’t that long ago at all, though I’ve been there dozens of times since. As near as I can remember my first visit to the venue was to see local pop punks Capitalist Kids in the summer of 2013. Over the following 2+ years Holy Mountain became the place where I went to see the majority of the local bands I followed. As a venue, it had a lot going for it, including easily the best sound for a room that size I’ve ever experienced. My only complaint would have been that the stage was too low, a fact that I only understood at Zlam Dunk’s final show during Free Week 2014, when the act of staying standing at the very front of the crowd meant that my knees repeatedly hit the the stage as the top most point of leverage on my body. Such is the price we pay for good music though. My final show at Holy Mountain was actually the final show, just over a week ago. While I was mainly there to see East Cameron Folkcore (who occupy a very similar spot in the Venn diagram as Frank Turner), I was glad to have been there for Holy Mountain’s last hurrah as well. It was a great place, especially for local music and it will be missed.

In the month since Red 7 closed down a new partnership between some of its former owners and the then current owner of Red Eyed Fly has seen the creation of a new venue. Where once there was Red Eyed Fly, a divey punk/metal bar that I had only ever been to during SXSW, we now have Sidewinder. I was a little bit skeptical at first. To me, that whole re-branding business is just something that happens on Bar Rescue, but now after finally having seen a show there I’m optimistic about Sidewinder’s future. As for the former site of Red 7 it was recently announced that it will again host a music venue, a new space run by the owner of Hotel Vegas. While the future of the former Holy Mountain space remains unknown at this time, we do know that owner James Taylor is leaving Austin and we wish him the best of luck in (I believe) Minnesota.

Holy Mountain

Good luck, James!

That’s where we are at the present. At net value, we’ve only lost one venue, but now the question is “what’s next?” The Red River Music District isn’t all of a sudden going to become more affordable. The rents will go up and the developers will come calling. Is there a future for Red River music? And should we be concerned if there isn’t? I think the answer to both questions is: yes.

I don’t believe that there is any kind of apocalyptic scenario where a Red River without music equals an Austin without music, but I do think that a lack of locally owned and operated venues hosting local bands in the heart of a city as musically active as Austin would be a bad thing. At the very least it would be a sad and inconvenient thing as venues would be forced (like so much else) to move further out, isolated from each other and the cultural heart of the city. My own personal nightmare scenario is a Red River Music District that’s nothing but shot bars, Stubb’s and an obligatory House of Blues.

What can we do to support the Red River Music District though? By all accounts Red 7 and Holy Mountain were doing well enough until their rent was hiked to an extreme degree, so obviously our patronage is not in question. And the fact is that there will always be greedy landlords who want to take advantage of the city’s development boom and cash in. When that’s not the case however, we should be ready throw out support (as many did for Cheer Up Charlie’s and Mohawk this summer) behind the venues and the advocacy groups and petition our elected officials to (to abuse an already abused phrase) Keep Austin Weird.

I think Red River has a great future ahead of it. I think the venue operators there are more in tune with what’s going on and more organized than they’ve ever been before and I think they can continue to bring great local and national acts to the heart of our city. When the going gets tough though, we need to be there for them. While I’m sure I would have seen forgetters, Frank Turner, Zlam Dunk, and numerous others elsewhere, I dig the fact that it was in a place where music pours out of numerous doorways into the night and that when my show lets out and I’m exhausted from rocking out, I can join hundreds of other people coming out of other venues having done the same thing. I’ve lived in a lot of cities, big and small and let me tell you: that’s unique. Or like Mylets put it last Tuesday night on the outside stage at Sidewinder:

You guys are lucky”

Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at brian@ovrld.com or on Twitter at @bjaudette.