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A History of Sixth Street

February 23, 2009

This history was used in a sermon for our move onto 6th Street at Austin City Life.

Sixth Street History

Where did 6th street come from? Formerly called Pecan Street (hence Pecan St festival), 6th Street began as the main thoroughfare into Austin (a nice flat trail) for farmland communities to the east. It quickly became a major commerce district. By the 1860s, log and frame houses, wagon yards, livery stables, and saloons were present along Pecan Street, as were pigs and cows from time to time.

Live Music on 6th

When did 6th become known for live music? It all really started in 1975 when Cliff Antone opened a Blues club at 6th and Brazos (now Antone’s). It was here that Stevie Ray Vaughn and “Paul Ray and the Cobras” got started, generating the live music reputation of 6th.

Keep Austin Weird

How did Austin get Weird? The late 70s ushered in a era of live original music in Austin. Paul Ray describes 6th street as follows:

“It was cheap rent and cheap beer, cheap pot, girls in halter tops and cut offs and you could be just whatever you wanted to be. There were rednecks and long-hairs sitting next to one another at the bar telling jokes to one another. People got along. It was just a different scene.”

Three words. Keep Austin Weird. That’s what happened, in all its glory and depravity. Great blues and gross sin. You could be whatever you wanted to be. Six was an eclectic, accepting, creative, and corrupt scene. We have much to celebrate from the creation of 6th street—great music, creative energy, good beer, artistic tattoos and a place where you can be yourself and people will accept you. That weird, tolerant, eclectic spirit has permeated the whole city and there is much to love about it. The American church would do well to learn from this kind of cultural relativism.

80s Downturn

Why has 6th Street become less known for good, live music? In an interview Ray remarked: “I think by the late ‘80s it had become, for lack of a better description, cover band hell. It was all about bands playing cover music basically trying to bring in people so they could drink.” As the ’80s started winding down, many say, came the years the music died. It became a real frat and tourist scene with mediocre music. “I think it’s true you can make money selling daiquiris to kids, who are just learning what alcohol does, than you can running a music venue. It’s a bottom line question. A lot of clubs would have liked to have stayed open, but I think the landlords raised the rent because they saw the possibility of more money,” Forsyth said.

2001 Riot and Stabbing

What was the secret to 6th’s success? KUT radio jock Paul Ray: “I think organic is the way Sixth Street started. It’s the way it got where it is and I don’t think you can legislate it or do studies on it. It needs to be organic. Otherwise, it’s not going to work because the people will decide if they want to go down there.” In my opinion, organic things can have staying power and impact as long as they are nurtured. That’s the current problem with 6th; it hasn’t been nurtured.

2004 Hilton Convention and 6 St Study

What is the future for 6th Street? The rise of Hilton Convention center and a ten thousand dollar study offered hope for Sixth street resurrection. A few good venues have emerged, in particular Stubbs and The Parish. Much more will need to be done to restore the historical character, quality music and culture to 6th, but it seems that those things are on the rise.

[1] One of my sources in this study was a series of articles done by news 8:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cota permalink
    February 24, 2009 9:37 am

    can you tell us more about the heading “2001 Riot and Stabbing”? didn’t see anything about it there?

  2. February 24, 2009 5:07 pm

    The riot was during a Mardi Gras celebration. Crime control has been increased by the constant presence of cops since then.

  3. Andy Cass permalink
    April 20, 2010 3:04 pm

    The decline of Sixth Street. I worked the Sixth street area as a DJ from 85 through 95 and I can tell you exactly why it crumbled. First was the legal age to drink change. Overnight the business on Sixth street was cut by more that half. I believe this was the reason many of the live music clubs shifted to cover bands; to draw in more people. Second was the increase in police presence and their increased changes of the streets management ( having people walk in a circle on Halloween instead of a free for all; more safety but less fun). Third, and frankly, people grew sick of the same old music being played at all the dance clubs; I walk into dance clubs today and hear a lot of the same stuff I was playing 20 years ago. Last, nicer and more upscale clubs wast of congress and the live music scene on Red River have drawn many people away.

    Back in the day Sixth street was the only thing going on in town, traffic used to be jammed up from I-35 to Congress; taking at least 30 minutes to travel 8 blocks. Most clubs had lines down the street every night of the week. Those days are gone, but it was fun.

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