The Vibrant Life of an Austin Venue Owner

Jake Matz, Staffer

Austin, the “Live Music Capital of the World”, is home to dozens of venues across the city, all catering to different groups. With over 250 locations for concerts spanning the Austin area, there’s one for every musician and showgoer.
Many venue owners started their stages on a whim, and the Austin music scene supported their niche, according to Ben Siegel, owner and manager of the country music venue Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden. Siegel said the Austin community helped him bring that dream to life.
“It’s awesome,” Siegel said. “I’m getting to live out my dream and turn a vision in my head into reality, and that’s always a gratifying thing. The hospitality business is a tough business, so you gotta want to do it, but again, I’m doing what I love, so I love it.”
Few places in the world can match Austin’s volume of venues. The city has created an identity behind its live venues and wide array of music, and Siegel said it continues to draw more and more tourists every year as its reputation grows.
“I think Austin has built up a reputation around the US as ‘The Live Music Capital of the World,’ so I think when people come here, going out to see live music is top of mind,” Siegel said. “I’ve also found that there are lots of people who travel now simply to go out to bars and restaurants in a new city, and seeing live music fits in nicely with that. I’m not sure if this many venues could survive in another city, but, I think if all things were equal, Austin is able to sustain more venues than a similar city due to its reputation.“
However, an abundance of venues has led to controversy and confrontation among citizens in the greater Austin community, according to Siegel. Noise complaints, pollution and other complaints have been prevalent with residents near venues.
“We had to work closely with our neighbors,” Siegel said. “To be able to play live music and live in harmony with them, we have found that balance–but that was a problem for a while.”
Jack Wilson is the general manager of Radio Coffee and Beer, a cafe that doubles as a hotspot for Austin’s local music scene. He said running a live music venue in a city like Austin has been as challenging as it is rewarding.
“Owning a coffee shop that morphs into a venue at night has been incredibly challenging for a lot of logistical reasons that are probably boring,” Wilson said. “But building the venue side of it has been one of the most fun and rewarding parts of my life.”
Hundreds of different genres of music can be found in Austin’s live music, and the list grows each day. Austin’s venues each find their own niche, be it with artists or unique environments.
“There are a lot of different types of ‘venues,’” Wilson said. “There are venues that have folding chairs like a movie theater, that have a matinee and two encores a night. There are venues that open at 8pm downtown and close at 2am. There are venues that don’t serve alcohol.”
The venues could not thrive without Austin’s music. Local artists have developed their craft at venues around Austin, and many musicians have even reached out past the boundary of Travis county.
“The caliber of musicians in Austin is at an extremely high level,” Wilson said “After traveling the country as a musician and booker, I can say for certain that only a handful of cities host as many trained music professionals. People come here to play music. People come here to see people play music. So I guess I don’t think that other cities could support this many venues. Hell, we can barely support this many venues.”
Beyond the music, the concert-goers can be sure to find a welcoming group of people that the owners have nourished. And eventually, the venue can become as much a destination as the concert.
“They bring whatever community is associated with the act, which is kind of the best part of being an inclusive booking agent,” Wilson said. “Every club will inherently develop its cliques and its scene, but the more you can branch away as a promoter and include more bands, more scenes, over time you start to see different communities pass through, merge and become one. It’s really heartwarming honestly, to bring people together, to introduce friends.”
Austin music is not just enjoyed by the hosts; many LASA students have frequented such venues. LASA sophomore Twyla Rhode visited the Mohawk this summer.
“I saw a show at the Mohawk this summer and had a really good time,” Rhode said. “The crowd was super energetic and the atmosphere was electric. I managed to get a spot right in front of the stage where the music was super loud, and everyone was packed tight moshing. Even though it was super hot outdoors in the dead middle of summer, you could tell everyone was enjoying the show.”
Some venues have a more personal feeling than large concerts such as ACL, according to Rhode. With smaller numbers, managers at these venues have achieved an intimate experience.
“The band was kinda niche and from overseas, but there were a surprising amount of dedicated fans who had come to see them that night, and the crowd knew the lyrics to every song,” Rhode said. “The small-venue atmosphere was really nice too, getting to meet the lead singer at the merch table before the show and being able to almost reach out and touch the band was something I’ll definitely remember.”