Bright Lights, Little City: Andrew Hilbert

I DISCOVERED AUSTIN VIA A MATISYAHU CD

by Andrew Hilbert

I'm a California boy. Sorry folks, there’s not much I can do about that. It's just where I happened to fall out. Before I moved to Texas, I thought it was nothing but desert and cow shit and I didn't think I'd be here too long. The first I'd ever even heard of Austin was via Live at Stubb's, Matisyahu's live album that made him a star for about five minutes. I moved to San Antonio first and was immediately taken aback by all the trees. It was nothing like every movie I'd ever seen about Texas.

SXSW was a major destination for me. I first started calling it ES EX ES DOUBLE YOU because I had never heard it uttered via the lips of a human being before. Then I read an article on a tech blog that proudly proclaimed only outsiders call it by its full name. Locals call it southby. After 8 years of living here, I'm closer to a local than I was before because I'm now pronouncing it pain in the ass.

You see, it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day about how much Austin's changing, and that's your right, but there's a ton of great stuff here that exists nowhere else in the world. I once saw a guy get arrested for DUI while he was on a horse.

When I was in California, I was restless and bored. I graduated from college just as the market crashed, and I had resigned to being a box boy at Costco forever. I was into reggae, like every good ol' college boy, and after a particularly hard session of drinking Costco-branded-Costco-sized tequila, I stumbled upon this Matisyahu CD. I said something like, "What the fuck is this?" and popped it into the CD player. Every song sounded the same.

"This guy was huge in Austin, dude," a friend said. "They have this music festival and he blew up."

I imagined a cowboy taking his horse to the trough outside a saloon while reggae boomed out of it.

Weed isn't even legal in Texas, how could it be cool for reggae?

Before I knew it, I was in Texas. It had nothing to do with Matisyahu.

I met my wife in Austin. Our first date was spent at Home Slice and walking up and down Congress. I tried to impress her with how cultured I was. I wore a button-up shirt, I wore brown jeans, I smoked cigarettes frequently, I talked about how much I liked In-N-Out. It's a miracle a second date happened. Our second date was at the Mohawk and was followed up by a late night session of climbing trees on the capitol grounds. Austin was feeling like home. Our third date was at the Alamo Ritz for Master Pancake Theater. It wasn't just a one-horse town. There was a lot to do and you could do a ton of stuff within the distance it took to throw a rock.

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I made my center of cultural experience Book People, and when I left my job in San Antonio, I moved to Austin and applied. It's where I made all my friends, where I discovered hidden corners of Austin—; it's where I learned to become myself. As a writer, I know books don't pay the bills so I got another job as a barback at Radio Coffee & Beer. I thought I was going to work two jobs the rest of my life, but it became pretty clear that Radio was going to be my new home. My best friends are at Radio, the customers and the co-workers. We're allowed to be creative while working and we've all played a role in defining Radio as a creative hub for all types of artists. I've been there since day one and I'm still there and loving it.

I didn't come here with a condo in my eye. A series of mistakes got me here. Look, I still have some California tendencies. I'm a Lakers and Dodgers fan, but I'm coming around on Whataburger. But it isn't the sports teams or the corporate fast food that make a city or a state great. It's the art. It's the people. It's Matisyahu. And that's why Austin is the greatest city in the world.  


Bio: Andrew Hilbert is the author of Invasion of the Weirdos and Death Thing. He is the co-founder of Cockroach Conservatory. He is co-host of the podcasts Books & Beer, We Shot Mr. Burns, and the Cockroach Conservatory Spacecast. Keep up with him on Twitter at @AHILBERT3000 or at cockroachconservatory.com.


Bright Lights, Little City: Guerilla Brewing

Little City's Eric Wolf owned and operated Lovejoys, a bar and brewery in downtown Austin from 2006-2012 where he first cut his teeth in the brewing and the craft beer industry.

No one ever said making beer was supposed to be easy, and at Lovejoys, I assure you that it was not.

Eric Roach and Daron White brewing an early batch on the new system, circa 1997

Eric Roach and Daron White brewing an early batch on the new system, circa 1997

In the mid-90’s, with his newly opened beer and coffee bar already thriving and recent changes to Texas’ brewing laws, Lovejoys founder Chip Tait and some of his Austin Homebrew Supply pals (Eric Roach, Daron White, et al) devised a plan to start brewing their own beer on-site. The franken-brewhouse that they built was unique to say the least - a leaky, square mash tun surely held together by the punk band stickers that covered its exterior, a plastic cold liquor tank that might be cold if the walk-in was working well that day and the brewer remembered to fill it the night before, and an indestructible beast of a custom-welded brew kettle with a clearly hazardous and likely out of code direct-flame burner. The conical fermentation tanks were probably the only pieces of the system intended for use in a brewery though they were oddly sized and crammed into a too-small closet with a cheap window a/c unit providing their only temperature control.

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Equipment limitations aside, brew days brought a host of other challenges. Extreme conditions and limited space made the head brewer role at Lovejoys one of the toughest gigs in town. In what was essentially a hallway behind the bar, the space was tight with very little ventilation and poor drainage. It was always hot as hell and the floors were always wet and slippery. If you could avoid slipping and falling on your ass during a brew day then you were likely tripping over the mess of transfer hoses, pumps and extension cords covering every inch of walkable floor. Burns, cuts, shocks, and head bumps were inevitable and anyone who ever brewed a batch at 604 Neches surely has the battle scars to prove it.

Because we were only brewing for our direct customers and because we had neither the intention nor the capacity to distribute beyond our walls (it was illegal for brewpubs to distribute then anyway) we had a ton of freedom to experiment. The taps rotated constantly and we had no style requirements so we weren’t afraid to take chances. If something didn’t turn out as intended we just changed the name. A blonde ale got too warm during fermentation and went a little funky? Call it a sour ale! Miscalculated the amount of hops needed for that one? I guess it’s an IPA now. The brewery’s  limitations necessitated creativity and risk-taking and many of our greatest hits were the result of our misses.

The beer names ranged from clever to vulgar but were mostly bad puns (Dennis Hopper IPA) or named after a brewer’s dog (Samson’s Best, Sparky’s Special Ale among others). Energizer IPA was born when a brewer dropped his flashlight in the kettle during the boil and was resurrected years later when someone forgot to pay the electric bill (hint: it was me) and the power was shut off toward the end of a brew day. We ran every extension cord we had down the alley to plug the pump in on Jackalope’s patio a block down and finished the final transfer in the dark. For the sake of the story, I like to believe that it was the best damn beer we ever made, but I honestly don’t remember. Imagine that...

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During the time Lovejoys was open, and primarily still, most brewpubs had a very specific atmosphere - big glass windows with shiny tanks on display under bright lights, long picnic tables, wooden flight boards, pizza and chicken wings, and typically the same 4-5 beer styles. We were nothing like that. We took pride in being the anti-brewpub. In fact we didn’t really think of ourselves as a brewpub at all. We were a bar that also made a little beer in the back room and hoped enough people dug it to justify making more. We showed total disregard for trends and had zero flash. The beer was always cheap and was usually good and we worked our asses off to make it happen. It was guerrilla brewing at its finest.

Brewer Todd Henry filling a growler of AJ Porter

Brewer Todd Henry filling a growler of AJ Porter

Bright Lights, Little City: CHRIS OGLESBY

“Bright Lights, Little City” is a space for our friends, staff and customers to share anecdotes about the city we love. This month, we’re proud to share a piece by Chris Oglesby.

Do you have your own Austin story that is waiting to be told? You can submit it here for a chance to be featured in our next month's Bright Lights, Little City. 

In Which: Billy F. Gibbons Performs at My Book Release Party.

From the first weekend I moved to this little city in summer 1990, I became more aware of a deep arterial connection between Austin and my west Texas hometown Lubbock. I had read an article by Austin journalist Molly Ivins observing how Lubbock is a good place to be from (implying “no longer there”) and why many of Lubbock’s more creative denizens tend to migrate to Austin. I noticed this phenomenon right away firsthand.

Like many peers in the slacker days of early 1990s Austin, my first bed in Austin was a futon couch belonging to fellow Lubbock expatriates, and my first weekend we went down to 6th Street, which was less lively then. I proclaimed, “I wish we’d see someone we know,” and within minutes a good friend from Lubbock passed by like he owned the street. And so it began. Austin is a little city.

The Lubbock Game evolved in Austin among my fellow flatland expatriates, and the Game goes like this: We ask “Do you know where he/she is from?” (RE: musician/actor/artist/etc whom we’re watching or listening to at the moment) And the cognoscente groan emphatically, “Lubbock.” The answer is always Lubbock.

The apparently large percentage of Austin’s influential artists who admit publicly, “When I lived in Lubbock…,” is uncanny. Examples include Flatanders Joe Ely, Butch Hancock & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Greater Tuna co-creator Jaston Williams, Lost Gonzos Bob Livingston and Gary P. Nunn, The Texana Dames cosmic dance band, A-List producer & pedal-steel player Lloyd Maines, blues legend Angela Strehli, songwriter Kimmie Rhodes, and okay you get the idea, right? Austin is a little city.  

Long story short: this obsession for years living in Austin led to me receiving a contract with University of Texas Press to publish a book from my writings & interviews with many of those Lubbock-area artists who deeply influence Austin culture and beyond. The book is entitled “Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music.” The title is based on something Jimmie Gilmore supposedly said to someone else, and I now confess that it’s way too long for a book title; almost no one remembers it or says it right. I later told Terry Allen that I wished I had named the book “Dirt” and he agreed that Dirt is a better name. Anyway…

Back to Austin, September 2006: University of Texas Press publishes my book (ISBN: 978-0-292-71434-2), it receives an appropriate amount of good reviews from critics. I got an award for research. The musicians involved seem to like the book, as do the straight folk back in Lubbock, which is no humble balancing feat.

So this is when Bob Livingston, of legendary Lost Gonzo Band fame (think: “Home with the Armadillo”, Jerry Jeff Walker, Cosmic Cowboy Michael Martin Murphey, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Redneck Mother”, etc.), contacts me with his idea, “Chris, if you can find a place with a stage and backline, I bet if you have a book signing party several of us musicians would show up to play.” I reply that I agree it’s a good idea but I don’t want to ask such a favor of the artists. However Gonzo Bob assures me, if I find the right place he’ll corral them and musicians will come. Austin is a little city.

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Stubb’s BBQ & Live Music downtown on Red River arguably is one of Austin’s all-time premiere music venues, and do you know where the titular founder C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield came to Austin from, and where the co-founders of Stubb’s BBQ grew up? Did you guess Lubbock? Good for you. So that is how I’ve known the founders of Stubb’s most my life and felt free to ask; nonetheless, I am immensely grateful when they offer the downstairs stage and bar, along with paid sound-crew, for a Sunday night book-signing party at Stubb’s. Generous indeed. Austin is a little city.

Sunday November 12, 2006. One of those events that is impossible to describe to anyone who was not there but in short it was like a huge all-star family reunion of anyone in Austin with connections to Lubbock, a joyful fellowship of artists who hail from the Hub City. Many artists who had never performed together had the opportunity to do so. Mighty hugs, huge authentic laughs, spontaneous dancing. Gonzo Bob took over as de facto stage manager while I autographed copies of the book provided by UT Press (Full disclosure, my editor at UT Press is Allison Faust, who comes from…did you guess Lubbock?) Impromptu performances by Connie, Traci, and Charlene Hancock of the Texana Dames with patriarch Tom X Hancock; Flatlander Jimmie Dale Gilmore sang with his son Colin Gilmore; Zydeco star Ponty Bone rocked his accordion; songwriter/guitarist David Halley rolled on guitar; Legendary sidemen supported throughout the night: fiddler Richard Bowden, guitarist John X Reed, keyboardist Dee Purkeypile; performance artist and national treasure Jo Carol Pierce, and international award-winning poet Paul Bullock, did their things.

Enter Billy Gibbons and Billy Bob Thornton. Okay, before I forget, Stu Cook drummer for Creedence Clearwater Revival was also hanging around in the crowd this night but never got on stage as far as I know. (I do not make this up; Austin is a little city.) Southern rock veteran Jay Boy Adams is another artist who graces my book with his stories. In the 1970’ & 80’s, the Jay Boy Adams Band toured with and opened for ZZ Top, and Jay doubled as Billy Gibbons’ guitar tech while ZZ Top was onstage. November 2006, Gibbons was in Austin to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Texas Grammy voters with his friend Billy Bob Thornton there to present. So Jay invites them to attend our little book-signing party. Bob Livingston says to me, “Billy Gibbons wants to play.” I say, “Let him.” There happened to be a film crew on site for some unknown serendipitous reason, so if you don’t believe me, here is a link to video:

Afterwards, Jay horse-collars me outside of Stubb’s and says to me endearingly, “What did you think of that, you little fucker?” I said “Well, there’s when I got married and now that is the second greatest thing that ever happened to me.” Thank God, Austin is a little city.

 

Artist Christopher J. Oglesby creates paintings in Austin Texas; please visit his website www.prettycoolart.com

Oglesby also created www.virtualubbock.com dedicated to West Texas music & culture; authored a book about creativity & numerous magazine articles about life in Texas; and he has produced more than 100 successful music events in Austin and beyond.

Bright Lights, Little City: James Hand 

The ongoing “Bright Lights, Little City” column is a place for our staff and customers to share their Austin anecdotes — no coffee required. This month, Little City’s Joel Shuler starts us off with the melancholy of Country music. 

In his revisionist history podcast, Malcolm Gladwell puts forth the hypothesis that Country music makes people cry because it is not afraid to be specific. And with James Hand, you get the feeling that he ain’t delving into self pity as much as he is just stating the specific facts of his life. 

"When you stopped loving me, so did I
Ain't it strange, now we both see eye to eye
Neither one of us, cares if I live or die
When you stopped loving me, so did I" 

Then again, maybe the only thing that could make me respect the guy more than his genuine authenticity is if the opposite were true — if he worked in Dell’s tech support department troubleshooting business servers during the day and at night could flip a switch and bam, out comes James Hand. 

I have two James Hand stories that I find myself going back to. When I first moved to Austin, I couldn't get a job. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could fill a day of an Austin tour of “places that wouldn’t hire me.” I would go to Ginny's Little Longhorn a few times a week to blow off some steam and drink through whatever spare change I had left from groceries, buying cans of Pearl for a buck. When I heard James play for the first time, I was so impressed I felt the need to buy him a beer. I offered to buy him a Lonestar, which, given my financial means at the time, meant I was likely going home a few sheets shy of my original intent. His response: "No sir, I am going to buy YOU a beer." It was the best damn beer I have ever had. 

About 10 years later, I took the Amtrak from Austin to Little Rock to visit my grandmother before she passed away. Knowing it was the last time I would see her, I was in a pretty morose mood, which was not helped by the rather gloomy view the Amtrak route gives you of the US - not so much A City of New Orleans picturesque Americana as it seems to be a run-on view of America’s back alleys and junkyards.  On the way back the train stopped in Fort Worth outside the stock yards, and who boarded the train with his guitar? He looked spent, and I was too. I didn’t feel the need to engage like I had a decade ago. It seemed like the best thing I could offer him was some space and peace and quiet. And I had all I needed. I was on a train, in Fort Worth, outside the stockyards, sharing a passenger car with a modern day Jimmie Rodgers. 

Got a better Austin story? Send it our way, if we publish it in one of our newsletters we'll send you a Little City shirt and bag of coffee.