Holy Mountain sits in the beating heart of the Red River Cultural District. When it’s not being used as a concert venue where music enthusiasts can discover up-and-coming acts, patrons are still welcome to stop by the bar for a drink. The layout is open and welcoming, with only a small, iron-barred fence separating the venue from the sidewalk. A huge garage door remains open for guests to float from the stage to the outside patio, where artists smoke cigarettes and chat with fans after a show.
Story by Belicia Luevano
Photos by Miranda Chiechi
General manager James Taylor has seen the venue grow into a space loved by musicians around Austin since its opening on New Year's Eve in 2012. Either you know James because you've ordered a mixed drink from him, heard him play a set with his band, Harvest Thieves, or taken it back to your nostalgic punk days of Paramore and Fall Out Boy at his DJ set at Barbarella's on Jimmy Eat Wednesdays.
But after three years of shows and parties, the venue will close its doors on Oct. 1.
The venue was notified of a 40 percent rent increase in February, and price negotiations reached an impasse in June, much to the dismay of several prominent local artists. “We were both very disheartened to hear that a venue so crucial to the local music scene was unable to continue in Austin’s changing financial climate,” Chipper Jones guitarist James Lambrecht says.
Hard Proof drummer Stephen Bidwell shares the sentiment. “The rent hike was really crappy to hear about,” he says. “I know people are in property to make money, but gouging people at the expense of what our city is allegedly all about is pretty sinister.”
Holy Mountain is just one of several small to mid-size local venues closing its doors to the public. Last month, Red 7 hosted its last show, transferring all future events to Sidewinder, which has moved into Red Eyed Fly. Hotel Indigo will open at 8th and Red River early next year. Rumors are swirling about Hole in the Wall, located right next to the University of Texas at Austin, shutting down when its lease expires in December. On the other side of town, Austin Music Hall, which holds approximately 4,500 people, will be demolished at the end of the year to make way for an office tower.
“We’ve all seen the effects of growth and development on music venues here in our town, but this was the first time that it really hit home for us,” says Harvest Thieves singer Cory Reinisch. Like many local and small-scale touring acts, the alt-country group found a safe haven in Holy Mountain. “That place has been my home away from home,” Reinisch says. “It’s real easy for me to get sentimental about that bar.”
With a capacity of around 200 people, Holy Mountain’s size created a smaller space for local bands like Comforter and Tamarron to host tape-release parties, as well as rising acts like Joywave and Turbo Fruits to make a stop on their nationwide tours. “From our perspective, it was one of the few great places in Austin where up-and-coming bands, touring and local, were able to hone their craft,” Lambrecht says.
Taylor says he hoped to fill a niche by making Holy Mountain available to these smaller acts. “I think we were part of an ecosystem,” he says. “There needs to be small venues that aren’t just bars with a PA —You have to have incubators where bands could grow and feel comfortable to grow and be treated professionally.”
To celebrate its three-year run and formally say goodbye, Holy Mountain will host a three-day party this weekend featuring 14 local acts, simply called The Final Weekend. Friday will feature eclectic rockers Chipper Jones, Major Major Major, Hard Proof, Magna Carda and Mobley. Metal bands Eagle Claw, Not in the Face, Feral Future, Tia Carrera and Destroyer of Light will rage well into the night on Saturday. The Final Weekend will draw to a close on Sunday with a country-themed show, featuring Mike and the Moonpies, East Cameron Folkcore, Ben Ballinger and Harvest Thieves, with Taylor on drums.
Holy Mountain may be closing its doors, but those who have played there can recollect. “I can only hope that the club’s spirit will live on in the hearts of musicians and concertgoers alike who were lucky enough to have been a part of it all,” says Adrian Sebastian of Major Major Major.
Taylor remains hopeful about the future of live music in Austin, despite several major venues closing. “I think [the future] will be great. I think Sidewinder is going to fill the void of Red 7 and Holy Mountain closing, and Hotel Indigo opening will bring new customers every night,” he says. “We gon’ be fine.”