Cactus Cafe: A Home Away from Home
What really got me into touring full time was my first trip to the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2005. Growing up in Portland, OR, I always figured there wasn’t much for me down in Texas, but an 18-day camping festival that celebrated songwriters sounded too good to be true. There were multiple amazing people traveling through Mississippi Studios, where I was employed at the time, who kept telling me that Austin had an unparalleled music scene and I really ought to go to Kerrville. So I ventured south, and I fell in love with the Hill Country as well as the strange and vibrant people I met. Flash forward to 2015, I have a family and a house in South Austin.
The first gig I ever played in Austin was at Flipnotics – a now defunct coffee shop with a tiny listening room attached. You could maybe pack 35 people at standing room only and I remember many a stop there on my road to the Cactus Café.
The premier listening room in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” the Cactus is located, strangely enough, in the student union building on the University of Texas campus. It’s right next to a Starbucks, and parking is frightfully scarce. At first glance it could seem so basic: a small black box theater with crimson velvet curtains and a tiny stage. Yet all manner of incredible evenings have been had there.
Just outside the double doors are students sipping coffee, completely unaware of the magic happening in the next room. Since 1979, artists such as Ani DiFranco, Townes Van Zandt, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, every Texas legend you can think of, and even Gene Ween have played at the Cactus, which packs out at 150 people, tops.
The place is now run by local radio heroes KUTX, and one of the greatest things about it is the staff. I can think of Chris in particular, who has been tending the bar for at least as long as I have played there. He firmly reminds audience members that this is called a listening room for a reason. He has asked me to shut up on more than one occasion as I gossiped at the back of the bar.
The Cactus is a second home to most every working songwriter in town. It has been our special night locale. It’s where we hold our CD release shows, birthday party shows, and tribute nights. The posters that hang all over the walls depict a history crucial to Austin’s mythology.
Austin is a place where people celebrate the ability to take life and twist it into melody and lyric, and the Cactus Café is where Austin goes to commune in just that.