I have a long history with Austin, as does many people in my line of work. It is indeed a music city and is somewhere that hosts remarkable shows at unique venues. Though I’ve been coming here since 1986 my mind is drifting back to ’92 and ’93. I first played at the restaurant and club La Zona Rosa with Little Feat in 1992 and then played the first year of The Backyard with Leonard Cohen in 1993.
The Backyard is exactly what you would imagine; in 1993 it was a concrete slab down a hill behind a large house that had been opened as a bar and concert venue. The trees full of lights and the wet heat in the air, it was a place in the middle of nowhere where you could hear quality music while the traffic drove by on the other side of the house. It was nestled in a grove of oaks that didn’t appear to end. It was funky and a bit hard to load in and out of but magic would happen under the stars.
I returned a few times over the years and there were improvements. An actual concert stage took the place of the slab. I would come in with Little Feat in a Ryder Truck and then Yes in a semi. The last time through you began to notice that it wasn’t the only place on the road anymore. I was with Paul Simon in 2000 (I think) and they actually had a truck dock. People warned me that they had built up around the venue. I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw.
On all sides there are developments. In front they are actually building a Dallas/Houston style Galleria Mega-mall. Behind the stage where the endless trees were is a large truck dock, a Best Buy, a Petsmart and a whole strip mall full of the same old stuff.
Well, it still has some of the homey nature and killer catering it always had, but now there are noise ordinances and too many neighbors. How many places started in the middle of nowhere and then were shut down because grumpy people moved next to a concert venue and politicked them out of business?
I tried taking pictures to show the difference but it really doesn’t do justice to what has happened. Imagine your favorite summer holiday getaway now in the middle of a construction site or strip mall and you get it. I’m glad I got to be here in the first few years when it was just a little backyard.