The show must go on: Austin venues are doing what they can to deliver live music despite COVID surge
Festival season is underway in Austin and the live shows must—and will—go on.Austin's plethora of venues aren't letting this COVID surge close them down after the year they've had. With the city at Stage 5 level of COVID risk, venues are operating the way they see fit as people crave live music more than ever before.
While there have been some postponements, notably Blues on the Green and multiple shows at ACL Live, most summer and fall shows and festivals are carrying on as scheduled—even if they don't look like prepandemic times. ACL 2021 will continue as planned, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, and Hot Summer Nights, a four-day free festival across 11 venues, returned over the weekend with a mask requirement.
The Saxon Pub, closed from March 2020 to May 2021, was one of the last venues in town to reopen, says owner Joe Ables. Going into fall, the venue is going on with scheduled shows. "Hell yes," Ables said.
To do its part in decreasing COVID risk, all employees at the Saxon Pub are vaccinated and required to wear masks, as well as asking patrons to wear them. Running a business during a pandemic doesn't come with a handbook and Ables said he's just trying to do what's right.
"Masking: We're asking you to wear one. We wear one, you wear one for us," Ables said. "I don't feel comfortable, forcing anything on anybody. We're very fortunate we have a very mature crowd, a very intelligent crowd."
Masking and social distancing are just about the extent of COVID precautions venues can take. A new state law that went into effect in June prevents businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry, or they risk losing their state licenses as restaurants Fresas and Launderette almost did.
Hole in the Wall is letting scheduled artists dictate how they want to proceed with shows amid the surge.
"We're supporting artists in whatever ways are good for them," said Lynn Cowles, Hole in the Wall events coordinator. "If musicians want to play outdoor shows on our covered patio, they can stick with the dates we have booked with them. If they would rather not play live on account of the recent increase to Stage 5, we fully support their decisions as well."
A need for live music
Both venues and music-lovers need each other.
While some venues like the Elephant Room—that was only open for a month this year—have opted to close due to COVID, others would be putting the future of their venue at risk.
Ables told Austonia The Saxon Pub was so deep in debt being closed for so long. Similarly, Cowley expressed she would expect financial help from the city if venues were expected to shut down again. "If local, state, and federal funders continue to recognize the valuable contributions live music venues make to the economic and creative livelihoods of central Texans, then I anticipate they'll continue to provide financial assistance to live music venues if we do have to close again," she said.
In the Live Music Capital of the World, there is a hunger for live music as seen in how quickly tickets sell out for shows and the hundreds that will gather for shows like Gary Clark Jr.'s at the new Moody Amphitheater.
Lauren Clary went to see Gary Clark Jr. perform at the new Moody Amphitheater this month with friends (left to right) Doug Nguyen and Trent Castleberry. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
South Austinite Lauren Clary, who recently attended the Gary Clark Jr. concert, has her reservations about shows but is excited to attend many more in the upcoming weeks.
"I want to go and enjoy myself because I did my due diligence of getting my vaccine. But at the same time, I feel really bad that it's going on because it's so many people in one spot," Clary said. "I just love to see live music evolving."
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.