We started hearing the rumors last December. “Emo’s is closing.” Wait, what?! They’re CLOSING?! Why? When? How? Upon hearing the rumors, we were immediately grief-stricken. Hearing that one of our favorite music venues, not to mention one of Austin’s most historic, might be closing its doors, had us experiencing the full range of emotions. Panic. Sadness. Anger. Confusion.
Then SXSW came along, and it was business as usual for the nearly 20 year-old Red River music venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in the business since opening its doors in 1992. One of the most notable has to be Johnny Cash, the legendary man in black, who played Emo’s in 1994 and shared the bill with an emerging musician named Beck.
Only a handful of years before that, the building where Emo’s stood was used for boarding horses and carriages for hire. It was originally built in the late 1800s, with the outside stage serving as a livery stable, and the inside stage housing carriages. It certainly wasn’t designed with live music in mind. To their credit, Emo’s turned the spot into a proving ground for thousands of local and touring musicians, and helped establish the flourishing Red River music scene that exists today.
Now with Emo’s East they are upping the ante, and building a brand new, top-notch music venue informed by years of experience. A little over a year ago, the Emo’s ownership decided to take over the building that previously housed The Back Room, the once popular venue at 2015 East Riverside that, in its heyday, hosted the likes of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Jane’s Addiction.
Upon touring the new venue that will make its debut as Emo’s East on September 11th, our initial skepticism was replaced by excitement and awe. Emo’s owner Frank Hendrix gave us the grand tour, and with all of the changes and upgrades they have done to the facility, it’s hard to imagine The Back Room ever being there. They completely redid the exterior in corrugated steel, and the inside features a wealth of amenities for both fan and artist alike.
“Most of our staff are touring musicians,” said Hendrix. “So in planning the venue we sat down with them and asked “What do you look for when you are on the road? When you show up to a venue, what would you like to have?” Their input proved valuable, resulting in a green room equipped with a washer and dryer, shower facilities, flat screen televisions, and plenty of parking even for the most monstrous of tour buses.
Hendrix initially considered shutting down the Emo’s downtown location to remodel it, but that still would not have alleviated many of the lingering issues they have been fighting with over the years. “We wanted to stay close to the center of town, and from Emo’s front door to here you are 10 minutes away,” said Hendrix. “With the history involved with The Back Room, it proved that people will come to this location, so it was kind of a no-brainer.”
For the concert-goes, Emo’s East will offer 100 tons of air conditioning, three giant bars equipped with TVs, a “floating floor” made of elephant bark that is easy on the feet, and an outdoor patio area that will come complete with seating, trees, and various food trailers. They are also re-topping and striping the large parking lot, installing new lights, and implementing security cameras so that you don’t have to be afraid to walk to your car at the end of the night.
As far as the actual concert experience, we’ll let Emo’s Production Manager Eddie Hudson expand on that:
“Basically it’s like the Ferrari of audio systems,” said Hudson. “It’s going to be one of the nicest systems in town. It is state-of-the-art, and brand new. It’s D&B, which is one of the leading manufacturers of high end audio equipment for live performances. They actually approached us and were really excited about putting something in this room to make it a showcase room for them. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be clear, it’s going to be powerful, and it’s going to be one of the best systems in the area. The only system in town that we can really compare it to in Austin is ACL Live.”
“We may have to host a fundraiser to pay the electrical bill,” said Frank Hendrix with a laugh.
To lay out the venue as best as possible, Emo’s worked with local architect Michael Hsu to determine how to get the perfect line of sight and best acoustics possible. “We incorporated a little bit of The Knitting Factory in New York and the 9:30 Club in DC, and the room kind of resembles the club at the Hard Rock in Vegas,” says Hendrix. “We kind of took the best of every club we could think of and incorporated it into the design.”
Contrary to those initial rumors of Emo’s demise, they will soon have a bigger imprint on the Austin music scene than ever before. They will continue to produce smaller shows on both stages at the original Emo’s, and are planning to have shows up to four nights a week at Emo’s East. They are actively booking Emo’s through SXSW of next year, and after the festival they are going to reevaluate and maybe do some remodeling to the outside stage.
Where Emo’s was previously losing out on bigger acts because of a less-than-ideal facility, they will now be able to offer bands a great new venue with all of the specs they are looking for, with a capacity of around 1700.
“In this business, to be relevant, you have to grow,” Hendrix said. “We understand that some people are going to be skeptical, but we are simply taking the Emo’s brand to the next level. It’s something that we are really proud of. It’s a learning process, and every show we are going to learn something new.”
The process will start on Sep 11, when The Butthole Surfers will christen the new venue at the Emo’s East Grand Opening. 400 Blows and Bodytronix will round out the bill. Here’s a look at the rest of their upcoming calendar:
We admittedly got rather nostalgic while putting this article together. With a new Emo’s room opening it got us to thinking about all our old school (and newer school) Emo’s stories from over the years. So we decided it would be fun to collect a few stories from a handful of Austin media, more musically-inclined folks, and people who have performed there. We simply asked them to share an Emo’s experience that was interesting, funny, nostalgic, or just plain weird. Here are the responses we received:
When I was 13 my mom dropped a few friends and I at Emo’s to see this punk band Apocalypse Hoboken, but after getting in we found out they’d run out of money and bailed on their tour. We were the only ones in the entire club who stayed and watched the opening band, who hit me in the face with a broken drumstick. It’s kind of a wonder I got so into live music. – Jack O’Brien of The Bright Light Social Hour
I remember the first time The Lemurs played Emos outside stage during free week in 2006. We had just started to get some local buzz and we’re scheduled to play the 11pm Friday slot before I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness… It was easily the largest show we’d played – ten times the size size of crowd we were used to performing for. While setting up during a very quick set change our keyboardist, Sean Conner discovered that he left his key mixer in the van/trailer, which unfortunately was parked REALLY far away. After a 15 minute run of shame there and back and finally setting up – we got a chance to perform a short 4 song set. The crowd was stoked and so we’re we, but it was certainly a bizarre combination of simultaneously feeling ultimate victory and complete defeat. We’ve since gone on to play that stage more times than I can remember and I’d like to think we’ve more than made up for it in the last 5 years! Viva Emos! – Danny Reisch, The Lemurs, Good Danny’s
One time at Emo’s I walked into our greenroom on the night of our show, just after we finished, and before I walked in all I heard was some gal saying, “peaches and cream, peaches and Creeeam!” and mild whimpering which appeared to be sex noises. I had to pee really bad and had to gas up the tank in case there was an encore, so I cautiously entered. What I saw when opened the door was a middle aged woman bent over the black leather couch, you know the couch that no one ever wants to sit on. She was putting something in her nose from one guy’s flesh toned hose protruding from his pants. Another girl, may have been 18, was on a chair getting her boobs fondled by a gentleman who appeared to be in his late 60’s.
I apologized for entering for some reason, even though the room was for the band. I had to reach over an exposed tit to get my tequila stashed behind the couch. I was kind of amazed how me being in the room didn’t bother them a bit. I went pee and which seemed like an eternity and when I came out the old man had bailed. The girl on the couch at this time had everything hanging out of the top of her already low cut shirt and it looked like she was attempting to give a lap dance to her peaches and cream guy friend on the couch. I had two shots of Ambhar tequila, (my favorite) as I got a tap on the back. It was the drunk chick who was mugging down with the old guy, she slurred something to me about a swig of my tequila. I looked at her and told her that she just made out with her grandfather and he has her tequila downstairs. She asked me who the F@CK I was and I told her that I was the asshole who’s laptop you are sitting on.
I asked her and her “peaches and cream” friends to leave our dressing room before I called the child protective services. At this time the guy was starting to become ugly towards me but stopped and said something along the lines of, “hey you’re that guy from the psychelic band. ” I replied with yes, “I’m also the guy who doesn’t want your dick flopping around in our dressing room brushing against our cellphones and toothbrushes.” They both put everything thing back in their pants and bras and the guy tried to bribe me with contraband of all sorts. He emptied his pockets of many unmentionables and left it on the counter top. I had another swig of tequila and escorted them out of the room and locked it behind me. I jumped on stage and we finished playing a few more songs. I happened to look out and saw an old man in his 60’s getting manhandled by some rough looking Emo’s staff. I found out later that he tried to steal some of our records. I later looked up what “peaches and cream” meant. – Alex Maas of The Black Angels
Being a fan of “western” music, growing up in India had one major disadvantage — you hardly got a chance to see your favorite bands or any rock bands really in concert. When I moved to Austin, I immediately immersed myself in the live music scene, making up for a lost decade and a half. Although eye-opening nights at Liberty Lunch, the occasional epic South Park Meadows or Austin Music Hall concert, and the “Free For All” Sunday night residency at Hole in the Wall kept me busy early on, I truly started discovering the realm of underground and independent music I always craved when Emo’s took centre-stage. It became my destination of choice every weekend to catch hot Austin bands like Knife in the Water, Young Heart Attack, Rhythm of Black Lines, and also memorable touring acts like The Donnas, Man or AstroMan?, The Datsuns, Ash, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the list goes on. The booking at the venue was impeccable, at least for my personal taste, and the times I had at Emo’s laid the foundation for my education and also paved the way for many of my future ventures in the music business. I’ll be sure to pour out a beer in the infamous men’s bathroom urinal before all is said and done. – Adi Anand, Transmission Entertainment, Austinist.com
My favorite part of moving here when I first moved to Austin was partaking in Emo’s Free Week. I moved here back in 1999, so this was before it became the event it is today, it was really just at Emo’s from what I understood. It was so cool to catch the best of the best locally on the stage and for free (well, I guess $5 since I was underage). To see what Free Week has become it is a great thing for local artists. I think one of the best experiences I have had at Emo’s is coming here as a free faced teen and being an audience member at Free Week, then I played Free Week in a band and now I see bands I manage play there. Nothing more satisfying than seeing a packed show supporting local music. When I moved here to Austin, I came from Houston and I am willing to bet a lot of people don’t even remember Emo’s had a Houston location so I have sorta grown up with Emo’s my whole life with live music. – Ryan Cano, The Loyalty Firm
My first show at Emo’s was in October of 2003 with The Mars Volta and Saul Williams. From what I had heard about the place I was expecting something along the lines of a Texas sized CBGB’s and it didn’t disappoint. That’s whats so cool about the place, it was always just gritty enough to separate itself from other venues. No fancy green rooms, photo pits and if you wanted a good spot you had to fight for it. Over the years I have seen hundreds of shows there and I’m even hosting a show there on Saturday and despite that I still have the same feeling I did the first time I walked in. People might be a little weirded out at first that the new venue is a little more polished but I think the fans will break it in. – Richard Gonzalez of Ultra8201
In college I was just so in love with this one guy who to me was the hottest, coolest thing ever. (The fact that he was an ex-heroin addict who had just been released from jail in Plano clearly didn’t matter-not relevant to the story, but I find it funny). And lucky me, one day he FINALLY asked me out on a date to see The International Noise Conspiracy at Emo’s. HELL, yes. When we got there I got the good ‘ol big black X’s on my hand and being around 25, he didn’t. Me being the genius that I was ignored the doorman’s threats about washing them off and didn’t even wait to get lost in the crowd before washing them off. About five minutes later the same doorman had my shoulders in a death grip and dragged me to the outside patio. Instead of simply escorting me out, two other friendly-as-ever gentlemen jumped in, swung open that big fence, and shoved me right out.
I immediately called my “date” who I had spent ten minutes with during the car ride downtown. Total. Ten minutes. He didn’t answer, or ever return my call. I sat outside for about an hour with no ride, and at this point in my life I (for whatever reason) clearly didn’t understand the cab system. I eventually got a ride home from someone else, still not having heard from homeboy. Finally on MONDAY — when we were forced to see each other at school–he wanted to tell me how sorry he was and how I “totally missed like the best show ever”. Clearly said apology worked — because oddly enough–we went out for another few months….what can I say? I was a dumb minor. Even though I still haven’t seen The International Noise Conspiracy to this day, thinking about this story in retrospect sort of makes it feel worth it. – Kristin Owen of Do512
Photos thanks to Ed Lehmann