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The show must go on: Austin venues are doing what they can to deliver live music despite COVID surge

The Saxon Pub, along with most other local venues in Austin, are staying open this time around. (Korye Logan/CC)

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.

Risk assessment

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 lawthat 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."

Live music is here to stay, at least for now. Hole in the Wall has live music every weekend on the patio and The Saxon Pub is booked every night in September.


Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.

Mac and Cheese Fest and Free Art Exhibit
Waterloo Greenway, Good Vibrations Installation

🗓 All weekend

🎨 Creek Show Art Exhibit

Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities

All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park

✨ Mozart's Light Show

This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.

6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

🗓 Saturday

🥊 Kickboxing in the Park

This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.

10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park

🛍 The Front Market

Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.

11 a.m - 5 p.m | 📍Ani's Day and Night - 7107 E Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78741

🗓 Sunday

🧀 Mac and Cheese Fest

Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.

11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway