Austin demographer Ryan Robinson recently confirmed what Austinites have long suspected, feared and anticipated: by 2030, Austin’s population will surpass 3 million people.
The only thing that rivals the number of people moving to Austin daily – that’s 110 by the way – are the opinions on our city’s glut of people. Some think we should embrace it. Others disparage the growth, arguing that our swollen and congested city sacrifices character and quality for commerce and currency.
Few residents and businesses have been able to resist adjusting to the changes, but some rare bastions of old world Austin remain, seeking to preserve what it was that we loved about Austin to begin with. After so many years of change, some might argue we’ve forgotten what it was that sparked the nation’s curiosity with our little town. Every Thursday from April through September, however, Unplugged at the Grove reminds us.
Inspiration Behind Unplugged at the Grove
In 1992, Shady Grove owner and proprietor Rusty Zagst started as a busboy at what was then a somewhat well known Austin restaurant called Chuy’s. Not sure if you’ve heard of it.
By 2007, Rusty was the managing partner of Shady Grove, which was under the same ownership as Chuy’s at the time. Rusty has witnessed firsthand the changes that have turned Barton Springs into an unending hub of activity. “I’ve been on this street for decades,” shares Rusty. His demeanor is animated, as he describes that although the Austin landscape has changed, his purpose with Unplugged at the Grove has not.
This Music Is About the Community
To Rusty, Unplugged at the Grove is about more than commerce. “We do this because it is important to the community.” Shady Grove seeks to do something audacious by combining the kind of quality music you could expect from ACL, but with an overwhelmingly local lineup.
In partnership with KGSR, the radio station with a passion for giving local artists a voice, musicians like Amy Cook play to an audience eager to experience exceptional live music that’s close enough to touch. Cook, whose lilting melodies belie the power of her craft, is a testament to the unique blend of quality and proximity that Unplugged delivers.
If there was any question whether Austinites appreciate the effort, the first two weeks of this season’s Unplugged at the Grove have left no doubt. The event opened with more visitors than they’ve seen in Unplugged’s 22 year history. Anything with that kind of popularity in our city usually ends up bottled and sold.
Keeping the Venue Local
If they wanted, Shady Grove could match the Austin growth dollar for dollar, choosing to maximize on their popularity by selling to the largest audience, jacking up the prices of food and drink or bringing in better known artists instead of focusing on local talent. “They could bring in outside artists to this venue, but they don’t,” says Cook, whose musical journey began in Austin. This is Cook’s third time to play Unplugged, and she delivers with a set you could get lost in.
Before she takes the stage, however, she and I talk about Shady Grove. With a nostalgic look in her eyes, she peers through the pecan leaves at the condos overlooking the patio. “This was the first restaurant I ever played at, and those condos used to not be there.”
The scenery may have changed, but the brownstone amphitheater has retained what we love so much about the Live Music Capital of the World.
Preserving a Purpose
Shady Grove could stream the concerts to the nation, profiting off of a potentially global audience for Unplugged, but Rusty says that isn’t their purpose. “Live music is art that needs to be experienced.” This is an ideal that Rusty, along with his partners and staff, seek to preserve for the community. Unplugged delivers music for all of Austin.
For the most selective critics, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a local venue offering this kind of consistent quality. Families can enjoy live music that ends early enough for bedtime. With Austin’s music scene increasingly dominated by a younger audience, Unplugged creates a home for both the young and young at heart.
Although Unplugged may be the headline of the restaurant this time of year, Shady Grove is still a restaurant. The tamale cakes I’m eating won’t let me forget to remind you of that.
Don’t miss an opportunity to visit Shady Grove for this season of Unplugged at the Grove. The food is worth the trip and the crowd is worth the nostalgia.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Which Unplugged show are you looking forward to the most this season?
Mathis Kennington is a local couples therapist and Austin enthusiast. To learn more about Mathis, visit him on Google+.
Disclosure: As of this writing, Shady Grove is a sponsor of The Austinot. All opinions are my own.
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