As a long time visitor to Austin, Texas, and a resident since 2013, I have a special affinity for the iconic bars that have always had live music. In the Live Music Capital of the World, we are blessed with some of the best music, and some of the funkiest, dive bars that showcase it.
During COVID, two of the most historic ones, The Continental Club and Saxon Pub shut down entirely. They don't have outdoor space, and both are small and dark, like all good dive bars. They couldn't stay open with or without masks, as 25% and even 50% capacity wouldn't have been profitable. So they closed.
This Memorial Day weekend, they both opened with live music, pre-COVID capacity, and a celebratory feel. I went to the Continental Club on Friday night to hear The Blues Specialists during the free early show, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.. At 8:30, after the set, they cleared us out to set up for The Greyhounds who played at 10:00 p.m. The music continues throughout the weekend.
The Continental Club has been "rockin' South Austin since 1955." I've been going since the late seventies. At one time, it felt like you were leaving Austin to go there, as it was the only music club on South Congress among the diviest dive bars and other even less wholesome environs. After crossing the Congress Bridge leaving downtown Austin, there was nothing until you reached The Continental Club. Now it's surrounded by a trendy sushi place, a high end men's store, and closer to the bridge, high-rise, high end transplants from California and New YorK. The Continental Club and a few other diehards, such as Guero's Mexican restaurant and outdoor music venue Guero's Oak Park, continue to represent the Keep Austin Weird vibe we locals prefer.
Saxon Pub hosts Ulla Special Early Show at 4:00 today, and the Resentments at 7:00 p.m. On Memorial Day they present Johnny Nicholas at 6:30 p.m. Saxon Pub has been around since 1990, and was described by Kris Kristofferson as being "Like playing in my own living room."
I heard Willie Nelson's daughter Amy Nelson, and Arlo Guthrie's daughter Cathy Guthrie, sing there once in their guise as "Folk Uke," a folk music duo singing their own and their famous fathers' music. They invited another singer to sit in, which is a common occurence at Saxon Pub. Sometimes those invited to jam are film celebrities in Austin to make a movie or T.V. series.
The stage is easitly accissible to the patrons, so it does feel as if you are in a homey salon. On the Saxon Pub website, their motto reflects the camaraderie, "No judgments here. EVERYONE is welcome. This is a home for music. People that play it and people that like to listen."
I have to admit, that even though I'm fully vaccinated, it felt odd to be back to normal, as in listening to live music in my favorite "dive" bars sans masks. It also felt like I was coming home at last.