Lockhart becomes ‘Little Nashville’ without the traffic
By Kyle Mooty
There’s little doubt which came first, the brisket or the 6-string guitar, but from the combination was born a tasty tune in Lockhart.
Adding to its axiom as the Barbecue Capital of Texas, Lockhart has quicky and not so quietly opened its doors to musicians, many of which found the small-town atmosphere more accommodating than the nearby capital city of Austin. It’s not as much that Lockhart found the music, rather the music found Lockhart.
Some moved all the way to Nashville, but many just hopped down the road for a change of scenery while keeping intact their Austin contacts.
“Lockhart was the closest,” said Steven Collins of the band Deadman, who moved to Lockhart with his wife and two young kids in 2007. “It started happening about five or six years ago. Most of what I hear out of Austin was you had a lotta people moving in from either New York or California and they were bringing cash with them to buy their homes outright and that drove up property taxes for places where musicians usually rent. For musicians, there’s no adjustment to inflation on what they earn. They just couldn’t survive in that climate.
“A lot of people were finding they could live in Lockhart. It’s a similar phenomenon that happened in San Francisco in the 1960s. It was affordable to live there at that time. It’s not now, but it was then. You find that phenomenon when others are coming together, and they make something that’s happening. That’s happening here now. When I got here there wasn’t a place to play downtown, really. You could play country music and that was about it.”
The town only had a couple of places to play not very long ago, and those were usually reserved for traditional country or Western Swing. Now, several establishments within the city limits have live music, and its several-month long Courthouse Nights bring noted artists to town for free concerts.
Anytime a conversation of musicians in Lockhart begins, James McMurtry’s name is quickly broached. Yet, that conversation can be a long one.
Will Rhodes, of Willigan’s Island’s pickled beans and okra as well as a clothing line, is also a talented musician who has played in a variety of groups along with being a popular deejay around Central Texas. He too made the move with his wife to Lockhart after he was traveling here from Austin about four days per week for his “pickled” business. Soon, Rhodes said Lockhart began “blowing up” with musicians.
“There were studios in town before musicians were really moving down here pre-COVID,” Rhodes said. “It was nice because when you’re recording in Austin and you’re living there, it’s like, ‘Damn, I know we’re all being creative, but I gotta feed the dog.’ But if you get 40 miles out of town, you tap into your creativity. Forty miles was just enough out of Austin. So, a lot of musicians were making records here before they moved here.”
In an interview last year with KVUE television of Austin, musician Stoney Gabel said among the major differences in living and working in Lockhart is that when you’re in Austin, “you worry about getting a parking ticket anywhere you go in. Or you’re paying for a high-priced dinner before the gig.”
Parking is hardly a problem, for now, around Lockhart.
Talia Bryce is the executive director for a pair of music festivals – Old Settler’s and Farmgrass — in Caldwell County just outside of Lockhart. Originally from New York City, she moved to Austin in 2006, finding it “a quirky and vibrant little town where someone who had been playing guitar for barely a year and wanted to start a band could find endless opportunities to jam and tons of support.”
Bryce met her husband, Tym, and they soon began a family. She is also a member of the band, Lost Pines.
“As Austin continued to explode and playing music primarily in the hill country, running a wedding venue in East Austin (Tillery Place, now shuttered) and a nonprofit music festival in Niederwald (Farmgrass) kept me moving all the time anyway, my husband began longing for the wide-open spaces in which he grew up (a ranch in Manchaca),” Bryce said. “I was resistant at first as Austin was as ‘country’ as I’d ever lived, but I agreed that if we could find a spot where I could still get to Austin in under an hour, as I was still working primarily in Austin at the time, I would consider it. And it had to have an HEB.
“We visited Lockhart on a First Friday in 2018 and the energy of all the newcomers creating exciting opportunities and starting new businesses in this small town felt like 2006 Austin to me. Soon after we found our new home in Dale and moved in early 2019. There was a bit of an adjustment, but once the lockdowns hit, we couldn’t have been more sure that we made the right decision. Our kids had acres to run around and natural beauty all around them and we were free to keep living our own lives in a way that I don’t think would have been possible in a big city.”
Rhodes believes Lockhart affords creativity from people all genres of art, a creativeness that may get lost in the shuffle of a larger city. And when the shutdowns occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, that was the final straw for many to make the move.
“There was no work for a while,” Rhodes said. “It was really hard for musicians. Some of them were playing in bands, jumped on another tour, and another tour. I feel like for artists that was a really depressing period. When they couldn’t afford Austin anymore, they escaped.
“There are some cats that moved here like five years ago. We see each other and it’s like ‘Remember the old days?’”
To remember such days, as well as promote those still to come, the Lockhart Area Music Association (LAMA) was formed.
According to its social media site, “LAMA seeks to share resources to help Lockhart area businesses profit from music related events, to help develop venues, artists, and music industry expertise, and to lend both an ear and a voice to the community, government, and business interests related to the local musical entertainment industry. The LAMA organization represents and seeks membership and support from a cross section of local businesses, organizations, and individuals. LAMA offers membership to all those interested in improving the creative and economic viability of the Lockhart area music industry.”
J.J. Grigar has lived in Lockhart for 47 years and is a member of the band, The Fossils, which has been playing in the area for 21-plus years.
Grigar remembers a dance hall where El Rey Bar & Nightclub is now (known then as Seawillow Bar & Grill), and The Fossils also played on the square at the former coffee shop Javamotion.
“There weren’t very many places to play,” Grigar said. “We played at Rites of Spring and other events. We were pretty much the local band. It really picked up tempo five or six years ago.”
Fletcher Clark and the Evening with the Songwriters took off.
“Javamotion was the first bar in town to have liquor by the drink,” Grigar said. “The owners built a stage. We packed that place. It was the only place on the square to play.”
Grigar, who said The Fossils played often around San Marcos and Austin, once played for a birthday party Dolly Cole hosted at her Caldwell County home for actress Debbie Reynolds with the guestlist including Phyllis Diller, Andy Griffith and Jim Neighbors.
Soon, the building that now houses Loop ‘n Lil’s had live music. Chisholm Trail was another venue for music artists as well as the Red, White and Blues Fourth of July Show.
Eventually, the local barbecue establishments began hosting musicians, giving the artists “great exposure” according to Grigar.
Otherwise, Grigar said no musician would recognize what little there was to offer a while back in Lockhart. “Hell no,” he said. “Not even close.”
Music on the Square in Lockhart originally began in 2003, something Grigar said began with former Mayor John Allred. The event was on Sunday afternoons on a monthly basis and featured local musicians as well as some from out of town.
J.J. and his wife, Janet Grigar, own Logos. Many of the musicians, including Austin Burge of Chaparral Coffee, opened businesses in Lockhart.
Chazz and Naomi Bessette, owners of Sunflower and Friends, are also talented musicians. In the KVUE interview, Chazz called Lockhart “very eclectic.”
Bryce said people were looking for a reason not to go into a city to view musical talent.
Rhodes is a member of a group that plays Grateful Dead Tributes both in Austin and Lockhart (Pocket Park) on occasion.
“There’s a huge artistic thing going on here,” Rhodes said. “One of the downfalls is there was just no place to play in the past. So, on weekends we’d travel to Austin every night. I won’t lie to you, no one likes driving back at 2 in the morning from Austin.
“Then, at the tail end of COVID, you started seeing an influx of people like Adrian Quesada, who will be on the Colbert Show with the Black Pumas. He sold out two nights at (Austin City Limits). His and his wife (Celeste) moved here. So, there’s kinda like this weird vibe with creatives coming here.”
The artist now are too numerous to mention, but Jonathan Terrell moved here recently and he just signed a record label deal. There is also Danny Reisch, Emily Gimble, Bruce Robison, Natalie Ribbons, Jason Chronis, Danny Rush, and many more.
Jenn and Ben Hodges own Fiddler’s Green Music Shop.
Both Dustin Welch and his wife, HalleyAnna, were on recent podcasts with the Songwriters Across Texas that can be seen online. They chose to move here a few years back.
One of the signs that Lockhart was loaded with talent was the “Last Waltz” performance at Gaslight-Baker Theatre where all of the acts were performed by local musicians.
“There’s something here that draws people.” Rhodes said. “There’s of course, barbecue, but there’re a plethora of artistic people. They may not be on a level with James McMurtry or Adrian Quesada, but they’re big time.
“I get it. We’re the Barbecue Capital of Texas. People come here when it’s 109 degrees to eat barbecue. What people don’t realize is there is a lot of rock and Indie Rock, music that’s left of the dial. It’s really insane the talent that’s here. It’s a domino effect. It’s a creative community.”
Several of the artists said the landscape of Austin had changed so much and the costs of living was simply too high there.
“I think most musicians who move to Lockhart are looking for more bang for their buck as we all get priced out of Austin,” Bryce said. “The slower pace and ability to survive on less here allows for more time for creativity and because live music is more scarce, I think people appreciate it more. I think Austin has become so oversaturated that people are looking for a new breeding ground for creativity, and Lockhart seems to have all the right elements. Every time I go into Austin, driving in traffic and finding a place to park, avoiding construction detours and scooters – it all just feels so exhausting. It just seems easier out here, especially with young kiddos. So for me, moving to the Lockhart area was really when everything fell into place. It just felt organic.”
Rhodes added, “We’ve turned into a very creative community. I hope we don’t get eaten up. It’s always gonna come down to what can the artists afford.
“There’s absolutely nothing like this in the state of Texas. This is what you were feeling when you were living in Austin in 1983. A lot of us are scared this feeling will be lost like that was. Back then you could hang out with Joe Ely of The Clash, or someone else. But there is something really going down here in that sense. The musicians that were here have really come around and accepted younger cats.”
Collins said his first visit to a First Friday in Lockhart had a country band from France playing in town.
Depending on which study you read, Nashville and Austin are considered among the top music cities in the world, but an average ticket price for a concert in Nashville is $130 and $111 in Austin. In Lockhart, most events are free, and the artists are not very far away.