Some Austin music venues reopen to smaller crowds—but with thin margins and canceled tours, others never will
For a moment, everything almost seems normal.
The Friday night crowd at Riverside's Come and Take It Live is small but spirited. A few people watch Austin-based metal trio Muzzle Blast from the concert floor; others smoke on the patio or congregate around the bar, with far less than six feet between them and nary a face mask in sight.
Come and Take It Live is one of a handful of live music venues that have reopened since the end of May, following citywide shutdowns in mid-March to curtail the spread of coronavirus. As the Austin economy lurches back to life—and as the number of reported COVID-19 cases continues to increase—venue owners face a difficult proposition: Do they reopen their doors and hope their precautions help prevent infection, or do they stay closed and risk burning through their final reserves of cash?
For Come and Take It Live owner Anthony Stevenson, the answer was a simple matter of survival.
"Keeping a roof over our heads and keeping our employees fed is at the top of the list," he says.
Come and Take It Live is currently operating at half of its roughly 800-person capacity. Stevenson says he has encouraged venue staff to wear masks, made hand sanitizer readily available and tried to avoid contact when checking IDs or closing bar tabs. Still, he admits it's difficult to enforce any safety precautions once shows get started—especially as the state continues to loosen restrictions.
"I feel like people are becoming more and more comfortable already, and it's hard to adhere to guidelines when we don't know what they are 100%, because they have been changing," he says.
Many venues—particularly those on Red River Street, Austin's live music epicenter—remain closed and probably will for the foreseeable future. For many of these venues, to open at anything less than full capacity would be financially unsustainable due to their already razor-thin profit margins.
"Live music venues have a 98% cost model, which means that if you're really killing it in the business, you're making about 2% net," says Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District, which comprises more than 50 local businesses.
Cowan distinguishes between two types of live music venues in Austin: those that incorporate it into a larger business venture that includes retail, food and more; and those that make their revenue primarily from shows. Many Red River venues fall into the latter group, and they earn the vast majority of their annual revenue from tours and festival-adjacent shows. As long as the entire touring industry remains on hold, many midsized venues likely won't be able to justify reopening.
"Every big concert tour that has been scheduled here for the rest of the year, there's a likelihood that it won't happen," Mohawk general manager Tyson Swindell says. "The whole industry has re-routed their tours. It takes six months to plan a tour. You can't just pull the plug on it and then copy and paste everything over to three months down the line and hit 'go.'"
Cowan and Swindell both emphasize they are not public health experts and cannot give any scientifically backed forecasts for the future of Austin's live music industry. Still, Cowan predicts that if the coronavirus outbreak persists, several more venues will go the way of Barracuda, Plush and Scratchouse, which all shuttered last week.
"Managing expectations is really important," Cowan says. "If we can save 25-30% of the venues in Austin at this point, since we're disinclined to provide rent relief, we're going to be really fortunate."
- Nearly 100 Austin festivals canceled, postponed or at risk as ... ›
- Austin's musicians get creative with drive-in concerts - austonia ›
- Austin musicians in dire straits as pandemic keeps doors closed on ... ›
- 90% of Austin's live music venues won't survive past October - austonia ›
- Donors rally behind Austin dive bar Donn's Depot amid COVID - austonia ›
- Austin nonprofit HAAM announces 2020 fundraiser lineup - austonia ›
- Snoop Dogg, Nelly to perform at drive-in Austin festival - austonia ›
- Downtown Austin Alliance launches COVID-19 recovery plan - austonia ›
- Austin musicians to rally at City Hall for COVID-19 relief - austonia ›
- Austin musician Jackie Venson hits 1.5 million live streams - austonia ›
- Austin music venues qualify for the majority of $15M COVID-19 relief package - austonia ›
- Austin City Limits debuts special honoring Stevie Ray Vaughan - austonia ›
- New local live music emerges mid-pandemic - austonia ›
- A dream venue for all ages: Dreamland Dripping Springs - austonia ›
- Production company Margin Walker shuts down due to COVID-19 - austonia ›
- Austinite Parker McCollum claims top spot on Billboard charts - austonia ›
- SXSW announces virtual annual event with Keynote Willie Nelson - austonia ›
- Red River Cultural District and Vans team up on a limited edition design - austonia ›
- Bass Concert Hall is reopening with $3M upgrades after pandemic - austonia ›
- Austin Public Library will reopen 12 branches on May 10 - austonia ›
Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
As Austin FC took the stage for their first-ever match, they appeared more experienced than their track record. The club held LAFC to a scoreless first half, keeping about equal possession of the ball.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks.
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.