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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 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."

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.

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