This is the first in a series of articles paying tribute to Austin’s most beloved music venues—from big to small, from fancy sound systems to questionable wiring. We’ve asked local musicians to share their favorites and what makes them so special.
We’ll link to any individual fundraising campaigns but remember, you can always donate to Banding Together GoFundMe from Red River Cultural District and the national initiative, Save Our Stages to help keep live music infrastructure afloat until we’re out of this hellscape.
Founded in 1974 by Billie Cugini and her son, Doug, the Hole sits across the street from the building on the UT campus where the Austin City Limits show was taped for decades and where KUTX radio still broadcasts. Lindsey Verrill of local act Little Mazarn described it as “part living room, part legend, part dive bar.” Adding, “If Hole in the Wall goes, I might leave.”
According to the Texas State Historical Association website, the Cuginis already owned some truck stops in town, so they decided to open a bar with a casual atmosphere near campus, “which would attract not only students but also local hippies, street musicians, and truckers delivering goods to the university.” Cugini said the club was never intended to be a live music venue. However, since it quickly became a popular hangout for local musicians, he decided to allow some of them to perform there.
Since those nascent days, local success stories Spoon, The Gourds, Shakey Graves, Timbuk 3, Bob Schneider, Fastball, Black Joe Lewis, and Gary Clark Jr have all gone on to wider acclaim after honing their chops on the cozy stage in the front window. 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.
Lindsey Verrill reflected, “It’s got this hauntedness to it. Like wow, Lucinda, Townes, and Blaze just sat around here drinking and jamming. At the same time, there are also douchebags. And at any moment some amazing unknown band could walk on stage and blow your mind or some terrible terrible band could drive everyone out. There’s no sound person. The stage is covered in truly disgusting filth and most of the outlets don’t work. They won’t turn off the sports and people will cheer for football during your set, but only a few. I know people who only smoke at the Hole. I met all my best friends there. Jeff [Johnston – the other half of Little Mazarn] lived behind the Hole for 25 years. The Hole is home.”
The Hole’s history page on its website is flooded with stories featuring the most culturally influential characters you can think of. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Courtney Love, Dave Grohl, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Alejandro Escovedo, Emmylou Harris, St. Vincent, REM, Quentin Tarantino, Leonard Coen—they’re all there. Vice loving dubbed the Hole “the poor musicians’ version of the Grand Ole Opry.”
The Hole has been in danger of closing more than a few times due to rising rents. All local venues need our support more than ever. If you want to experience a true Austin historical establishment as much as one can in a pandemic, the Hole is currently hosting a patio series with local artists. Check out their Instagram for more information.
– Shannon Lee Byrne