THE HOLE STORY
Local success stories Spoon, The Gourds, Shakey Graves, Timbuk 3, Bob Schneider, Fastball, Black Joe Lewis & Gary Clark Jr have all gone on to wider acclaim after honing their chops on the cozy stage in the front window of the Hole. In recent years, touring acts like Old 97s, Mother Hips, John Doe and Jonathan Richman have graced the larger, more professionally-equipped stage in the middle of the venue.
Stop by the club on any afternoon, and before you are one drink in, you can easily find someone who will regale you with a mind-blowing musical story. Like the time Stevie Ray Vaughan sat in with Bill Carter and the Blame, wailing guitar until 3am, while Vaughan’s limo waited out front collecting parking tickets, and to win $100 bet, a customer dove through the limo’s sunroof.
Pete Thomas of The Attractions once sat in with the band until way past last call, quitting only when a feisty waitress finally said, “Hey, drummer-boy! Time to go home!” Ryan Adams somehow silenced a packed house of rowdy festival-goers with an intimate solo set. Johnny Cash producer Cowboy Jack Clement played a showcase with top Nashville session musicians. Andrew Bird worked his magic as Ani DiFranco admired from the audience. David Byrne danced at a disco-themed hoot night.
Spoon shot the video for their song “Jealousy” in the men’s room. Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley spent many a night under the pool tables after club crawls down Guadalupe Street. On separate occasions, Courtney Love and Dave Grohl—either tagging walls, cleaning beer off their heads, or otherwise—spent longer than appropriate amounts of time in the men’s room. Fastball and some of their fans chased a guitar thief around the corner and trapped him in a nearby alley. Don Henley of the Eagles walked in one night just in time to sing background vocals with Mojo Nixon on his classic MTV single “Don Henley Must Die.” Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, and Lyle Lovett played for tips in their early days. Beaver Nelson proposed to his wife from the stage.
Ivan Neville sat in with the house band at a Last Waltz reenactment. Alejandro Escovedo reunited with his 80s glam band Buick MacKane. …and You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead played their Austin debut as a two-piece and ended their set by scattering their borrowed gear on the sidewalk. Santa Claus once made a dramatic exit through the glass window after a karaoke number gone awry. The LeRoi Brothers drummer and guitarist brawled onstage, then took it to the sidewalk while the singer reassured the audience watching the action through the street level window it was “all part of the show, folks.”
Little known to many, cult legend songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey‘s first and only album was recorded in the vacant space in the early 70s before the club opened. The Velvet Underground‘s Sterling Morrison was a weekly resident guitarist in the late 70s. REM once stopped by to jam and take sidewalk snapshots under the most recognizable marquee this side of Vegas. St. Vincent played a solo set amidst a tangle of misfiring effects pedals. Kelly Willis played her first gig in Austin opening for Evan Johns. Emmylou Harris ate popcorn at the bar before harmonizing with Rosie Flores onstage.
Natalie Portman shot a few serious games of pool. Quentin Tarantino heckled the band with obscure requests. John Stamos played some decent drums at a free-for-all Sunday night jam. Drew Barrymore and that “I’m a Mac” guy got close at a beat-up picnic table in the former shotgun alley turned beer garden. Psychedelic Furs played pinball. Leonard Cohen enjoyed a cheeseburger and watched the co-eds walk by from a table on the front stage. Jenny Lewis played her Austin debut on a Sunday night with her former band Rilo Kiley.
The Texas Tornados played the front room stage in 1990 to celebrate the release of their debut album, and midway through their set DJ Fontana and the late Scotty Moore, the drummer and guitarist of Elvis Presley’s original band, stopped in and ended up sitting in with the Tornados to end the set.
In the early 2010s, some of Austin’s most innovative talent took over Tuesday nights at the Hole in the Wall. Clyde and Clem’s Whiskey Business and The Bread burned down the front stage every week, and Bridge Farmers punctuated bluegrass fury with heavy psych sounds. From Planet Kickass, The Van Buren Boys gave audiences rock n’ roll in a nutshell, and we all watched in awe as Bankrupt and the Borrowers pushed the limits of plastic and wood and brass. They grew into local and international favorites East Cameron Folkcore, who out of tragedy created inspiration, family, and music that Kevin Curtin says “holds up a mirror to society.” We miss you, Jon.
After a handful of earnest bar owners, and a couple of near-death experiences with the bottom line, the Hole in the Wall now flourishes in its current era as a live music staple, with 6+ hours of wildly diverse musical acts a day, an energetic staff of dedicated young bar pros, and our very own Hole Kitchen serving up hamburgers and comfort food in the back in our San Antonio street access back bar.
So stop by whenever you feel like a stiff dose of authentic Austin. A few rounds later, it’s safe to say you might be involved in creating a Hole in the Wall legend of your own.
The stories could go on until well after last call…
“Oh, you want the Austin experience and don’t want to go to Hole in the Wall? Go fuck yourself. This place is a goddamn landmark. No, literally. It has its own entry on the Texas State Historical Association website. Somehow, this place, with an inside that stays true to its namesake, has fought off the steamroller that is time and progress, unmoved while Urban Outfitter-ers and yoga studios arise like little Mount Dooms all round it. Other great venues have fallen over the years, yet this booze-and-music-infused gem remains. Every band you love that you didn’t realize came from Austin has played here. It’s basically the poor musicians’ version of the Grand Ole Opry. And being on The Drag, UT’s main strip of student-oriented shops, its crowds can be transient, like a bus stop or army camp. What else do you need to hear? The decor and vibe is exactly what you’d expect at place that’s been around forever (like 1974), and it’s been fighting to survive since before you knew what cool was. Go pay your respects.” -VICE
"The bar is as proud of its storied past as it is of being a place where an unknown band can throw down and blow some minds. One can feel the energy of past performances being channeled through the bands playing there now. The stories and list of luminaries who have played and partied there is miles long–too many to mention here." -The Austinot
"The Drag forever changes. Students, workers, bums, and businesses recycle almost annually. One marquee maintains everlasting: a green and yellow double-decker sign between 26th Street and Dean Keeton flashing with a border of partially burnt-out bulbs. It reads in wavy letters: the Hole in the Wall. Pull on the old haunt's Louisville Slugger door handle and you'll find a gritty, laid-back oasis in which musicians hang out and students run scarce. Same as it's been through 40 years of service. The Hole's front room remains an institution among Austin musicians. For decades, it's served as a jump-off point for local bands cutting their baby teeth on a seven-and-a-half-channel mixer and bucket of microphones." -Austin Chronicle
"...the Hole in the Wall...remained a very popular live music venue for college students and others alike. Many musicians, some of whom went on to national prominence, played the venue. By providing a setting in which an eclectic array of artists have been able to perform in front of an equally eclectic audience, the Hole in the Wall was a major contributor to Austin’s unique and dynamic music scene for more than forty years. " -The Texas Monthly Texas State Historical Association
(Pictured above: the late, great Doug Sahm, shooting some pool at the Hole in 1996.)
The Hole in the Wall is one of Austin’s most legendary venues for all the right reasons: we love our regulars, we book incredible live music, our staff is family, and we’re committed to our community. Founded in 1974, the Hole in the Wall sits just across the street from the building on the University of Texas campus where the Austin City Limits show was taped for decades and where KUTX radio still broadcasts.
Throughout Austin’s turbulent cultural storms, the Hole in the Wall has remained the Austin music scene’s go-to club for generations of beginner bands, established touring acts, and famous rock stars to throw back a few, have a laugh with the locals, and, as one of our most revered regulars, Doug Sahm, once said, “get down to the nitty gritty.”