Farewell to the old Emo's

September 27, 2011

Is it odd for Chicagoans to mourn the demise of a club in Austin, Texas? Not when the club is Emo’s, consistently the grungiest but coolest venue in that music-crazed city, and not when the joint in question has been the scene of some of the best gigs in town pretty much since the start of South by Southwest.

(And it’s worth remembering that, outside of Texas, Chicago and its environs send more people to the annual SXSW music fest than any other place in the U.S.)

Located at the corner of Red River and Sixth Street, Emo’s has been the destination of countless staggering strolls down the main musical drag of the Texas capitol, and if the cutting-edge, generally hard-hitting sounds there weren’t always extraordinary, the beer and the vibe certainly were. It opened in 1992, and news of its recent and sudden closing comes via this article in the Austin Chronicle.

The initial word last week was that only the larger outdoor stage was closing. Now, veteran Chronicle editor Raoul Hernandez writes that the entire property has been sold, for somewhere in the range of a mind-blowing seven figures.

The good news is that the club is relocating to Riverside Drive, where the emphasis will be on a large new indoor room. But the bad news is that Emo’s might not be the only club abandoning Sixth Street, which, in striking contrast to the relationship between Chicago city government and its clubs, long has been not only tolerated but celebrated and actively supported by Austin politicians.

My sources in Austin say that more and more young, upwardly mobile Texans have been moving into the area around the music strip and are starting, once they become condo owners and a bit more settled, to vociferously complain about the crowds and noise, much to the aggravation of club owners, who point out the irony that all that action was what attracted them to the neighborhood in the first place.

This, of course, is the classic pattern of gentrification: It’s what drove Lounge Axe out of business on Lincoln Avenue. It’s what helped kill C.B.G.B. on New York’s Lower East Side. And it’s a problem that certainly is not unfamiliar to club owners in Wicker Park, which is just one more reason why Chicago needs a Mayor’s Music Office.

“Keep Austin Weird,” the T-shirts say down south. Well, it just got a little more normal and boring.