“She wanted to know if she had to be present to win our raffle,” James Whelan of SIMS Foundation told me. “She hadn’t been out since the death of her husband, and she wasn’t sure how long she would be able to stay.” He went on to share that later that night, he saw her lost in the music, dancing. To him, that moment showed just how important live music is to the people of Austin.
Austinites proudly speak of our designation as “Live Music Capital of the World.” We exchange stories of great music finds, make friends through dancing, and enjoy live music alongside everything from grocery shopping to missed flights.
Yet in a softer, more reserved voice, the one that speaks of heartache and trial, we whisper about the other moments we have music. When we are heartbroken or just plain broken, and when the music is there waiting to nurse us back to full health.
“I credit the live music and dance scene with probably saving my life, and I am not trying to sound dramatic.”– Lisa
This is a tribute to Austin music in those moments, when its availability and accessibility make it a healing presence. Many Austinites have relied on music during those times, and this article attempts to do justice to a few of their stories.
Note: Given the sensitive nature of this topic, all respondents were given the option to blind their personal details. To further respect privacy, only first names are used for all those sharing personal stories. We thank all who entrusted us with their stories.
“This is my treasure,” Kim said to me, holding out both her hands like a bowl. “Will you love it?” Her question was not to me specifically, but to anyone who might start a relationship with our music.
Kim has certainly earned the right to be protective. She has attended a live show every day (yes, every day) for the last five years. Inspired by Larry Monroe, she started by telling herself she would go to a show every day for 366 days. But then a favorite band was playing on day 367, and so she continued.
“It’s probably helped me with healing more than anything else I’ve tried to be honest!”-Bridget
Explaining more, Kim shared that her project was born from a personal tragedy. After suffering this event, it was seeing live music that gave structure to her day. Live music was available each day; it was cheap (often free); and it was of exceptional quality. Thus, getting to a show became something she could focus on and accomplish each day.
With each show, her recovery continued, and she is now in a new place. It is Kim who inspired me to write about her treasure. Our treasure.
Lisa and George
“Please call us ‘Lisa and George,” Lisa told me as we finished our conversation. “I like our names together.”
Lisa’s story started at Mean Eyed Cat, where she had her first date with George. During their time together, George would encourage her to go dancing when he had to work late. Lisa loved dancing. In 2017, six years after that first date, George passed away following a short but hard-fought battle with cancer.
Much like Kim, it was Austin’s music that Lisa depended on in her time of grief. She explained that when she was grieving, she could not sleep. Meeting her hours of alertness was Austin’s live, quality music. Music was available seven days a week. “It’s like a hospital, or a 24-hour clinic,” she said.
Lisa went to see live music four or five times a week, most of it combined with dancing. “The dancers, they know what’s going on. They know when to leave you alone, when it is okay to ask you to dance,” Lisa shared.
Sometimes she would only be up for sitting and listening to the band. But it was in those venues, surrounded by music, where she felt comfortable recovering as she needed.
“I am so grateful for it” she said of Austin’s live music. “I hope I never need to know what I would do without it,” she finished.
He Saved My Life
Kathy shared her story of a specific musician: Redd Volkaert. In 2015, McCallum High School won a Grammy for having the best public school music program in the country. As Grammy winners themselves, Volkaert joined Ray Benson to present the Grammy at the school. They also gave a live performance.
“I knew about Ray, but I did not know who the guy sitting on the stool playing awesome guitar was,” Kathy said.
This intrigue led her to find Volkaert’s show at the now closed Strange Brew, and she started going to see his show each week. It was around this time that Kathy suffered a stress attack at work. “Everything was bad then,” she shared, “work, kids growing, relationships.” The first time she saw Volkaert, there were only a few patrons and it felt like a private concert.
I was so jazzed that I went up to Redd and said the only thing I could think of to describe it. . .He might have been scared of me after that.-Kathy
Kathy followed Volkaert from Strange Brew to his show at The Continental Club. When dancers got in her way of seeing the stage, she started dancing, which made her happy. Now she sees several bands a week, dances, and swims at Barton Creek. Each Saturday, as she approaches The Continental Club, she becomes happy and feels reset for the week.
Kathy credits her discovery of live music as changing her life.
Protecting Our Treasure
In recognizing the treasure we have, we should also take responsibility for protecting it, for all the Kims, Lisas, and Kathys to come. Standing at the forefront of protecting our treasure are organizations like Health Alliance for Austin Music (HAAM) and SIMS Foundation.
September 2019 gives us two opportunities to support these organizations. On Sept. 7, the Safer Venues Fest – Red River Cultural District will take place at venues on Red River.
The Safer Venues initiative is a training program started by SIMS Foundation and its partners. The initiative works with venue staff, to train them on identifying and addressing issues they witness at work, including mental health, substance abuse, and sexual assault. This means that as people take in the music, the staff at these venues will be trained to identify and address issues that may arise.
HAAM Day is Tuesday, Sept. 24 this year. On this day there will be over 200 performances from local musicians all over the city, and businesses and venues will donate a portion of their daily sales to support HAAM. A full lineup and venues are available online.
Beyond these organizations, we also have a part to play by seeing live music, tipping our bands, and finding new ways to show our appreciation. We hope to see you at both of these events in September, and at several shows supporting our treasure soon!
@theAustinot wants to know:
Do you have a story of how Austin’s music has touched you?