Austin, Honky Tonks and Shopping Carts

Wedding on a Dusty Lake

Not too long ago, before the drought. Texas had lakes. As bad as that sounds, there is a real benefit from the quarter to half mile expanses of sandy lake bottom that are currently exposed near empty docks that have been threatened by wild prairie fires that have plagued the state. The empty space makes a natural firebreak and helps to control the spread of a fire. Some friends planned their wedding for the banks of Firebreak Buchanan, north of Austin, and the conversation naturally turned to what life was like before when there was more water and less technology.

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Weddings in Austin BD (that's Before Dell) regularly featured the kind of Texas honky tonk music that the area has made famous, and some still do because the city is still the home of Austin City Limits, South by Southwest and a large number of really lively clubs where music is the reason to be there. Monica and Henry can remember the heyday of Austin BD, and their celebration on the shores was highlighted by the performance of long time friend Shelly King, Texas State Musician for 2008. The stories of this kind of backyard celebration with remarkable talent were a large part of the conversations of the wedding guests.

Monica and Henry
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I am new to Austin. I know the Austin that includes a shopping mall designed to look like all of the quaintest (and best) features of a major city. Open air dining and pricey boutiques with high rise apartments and condos all surrounded by open prairie and grazing long horns. Just the kind of environment that I gladly left behind (not the prairie, the high rises) with no regret or second glances. Apparently the techies who have settled in Austin's high tech boom never experienced the slums, smog, overcrowding or other less savory aspects of urban life and find it refreshing to sample the delights of a big city within walking distance of cow patties.

Austin, as I know it, can be illustrated by a recent trip to a local grocery. I went into the express check out line with just a few bulky items in a shopping cart. After placing them for scanning, I moved the cart out of the way so that those behind me would have space to reach the conveyor. When I returned to pay for the groceries, the man behind me looked at me and said, “How very Austin of you!” I did not give him a lecture on simple courtesy that most of world had discovered centuries ago or even tell him that those ideas were not invented here in the hill country. I just smiled and finished the business at hand. I have tried without any success to convince people in Austin that my family began recycling when you had to peel the labels off of bottles and cans before you made the trip to the recycling center and carefully separated glass items by their color and plastic was not even accepted. I left the grocery with the knowledge that Austin AD (after Dell) believes that it invented not only recycling and health foods, but also what Emily Post called manners.

You can purchase bumper stickers and tee shirts most anywhere in the area that read “Keep Austin Weird!”. While I believe that this rear guard action is closing the barn door after the horses have stampeded, the wedding on the shore of the rumor of a lake pulled me into the aura of Austin BD. Velanne Howle wrapped me in that aura with her stories of growing up north of Abilene before settling near Austin and becoming involved in the music and musicians that created the region's fame. Velanne became Mayor of Luckenbach, Texas after the death of Hondo Crouch. Velanne's stories of Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wiley Hubbard, Willie Nelson and the other visitors who made the frame grocery and dance hall famous remained in the background while we discussed the changes in Austin culture.

For one evening in the general proximity of Lake Buchanan, I saw Austin BD through the eyes and stories of Velanne, Monica, Henry and Aimee. We danced and drank beer from long neck bottles under a harvest moon. There was even a wonderful moment or two when it looked like a thunder storm would sweep through and at least settle the dust, but the night stayed true to Texas 2011, so not even a drop of rain. I listened to Velanne and wished that I could have seen Austin BD, known the people who gave it the character of Austin City Limits and the spirit of Luckenbach. Our culture grows enormously every time a city creates an environment that encourages people like Velanne to talk with reverence about people, ideas and art while they tell the stories of living in a time of magic. Chicago and the blues, Detroit and Motown and Austin and honky tonk are just a few examples of when the magic happens in a city. Sometimes you can even see what causes the climate change as Katrina has changed the face of New Orleans and you wonder if jazz will ever be the same. Those times are cherished memories for everyone who hears the music filling clubs and back yards all over a city.

In Austin, the music is still there and the clubs are still there. It is the atmosphere that is different. The tech boom has been laid over Austin like a smothering blanket. To hear the music, you have to dig through an oppressive, hill country, political correctness that is the antithesis of long necks and honky tonks. Sometimes ideas get stronger when they are forced underground and sometimes they move to a better spot like intellectual nomads seeking creative soil. So, I am thinking of buying one of those bumper stickers, not to put on my car, no, I want to put it on a shopping cart in a grocery store so that I have an answer the next time someone comments on good manners. I am also thinking of spending more time in bars. Finally, I am really hoping that it will rain.

Shelley King

This video is grainy and raw like music from Austin is supposed to be. Shelley's performance at the wedding was personal and uninhibited to really capture the relationship Austin has with its musicians.

Drought in Texas

The Google map image shows Lake Buchanan at its normal level. Well Google updated their images so the normal level is now the drought stricken level. All that tan is where the water used to be. The first image was taken the day of the wedding.

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Velanne is posed with the receding shore of Lake Buchanan in the background.

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