Armadillo World…Parking Lot?
In the late 70’s, I was living in Phoenix, AZ and playing in a successful duo called McColl & Tracey. We were getting opening act gigs and doing some touring when we got a call from a friend who happened to own a bar in Colorado. He wanted to know if we wanted to come up and play with a guy from Austin, TX named Rusty Wier. We accepted and made our way north. What ensued was a week of music, mayhem and a rather large bar tab. More importantly, a friendship was forged and whenever Rusty would hit the road, we’d open for him and back him up. He filled our heads with stories of the Chequered Flag, Vulcan Steam Company and of course, the Armadillo World Headquarters. Being young and ambitious, we decided to head to the land of the Cosmic Cowboy. Having said our farewells, we packed the van and trailer,
rounded up 2 dogs and a cat and made our way east arriving in the capital of Texas on Groundhog Day 1981. Naturally the first thing we did once we shook off the road dust was to go find the world famous Armadillo. What we found was a brand new parking lot. Unbeknownst to us, New Year’s Eve 1980 was the swan song for AWHQ and the demolition started the next day—exactly a month before we arrived. In spite of this disappointment, the excitement of Austin kicked in.
The first act we saw in Austin was Steve Fromholz who ultimately became a good friend. My first performance in Austin was on a Sunday at Taco Flats. We went on just before a unique character named Blaze Foley. We played clubs that are forever a part of the Austin musical heritage with people who are revered and admired. Names like Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen. Todd Snyder was a busboy at a restaurant where I had a regular gig. He would make up a song, we’d work it out on the break and then bring him up on stage to regale the patrons.
McColl & Tracey had run its course after 15 years. I continued as a writer and solo performer and soon became involved with the creation of the comedic group Midlife Crisis. We played as a duo, trio, four piece and more but our best work was done on comedy stages as a small combo. After about 14 years, we realize we’d flown right past midlife unless we were going to live to be 118 and MLC became a legend in our own minds. Austin has provided a fertile ground for all things creative. I was fortunate to be introduced to the O Henry World Championship Pun Off. Yes, only in Austin. After winning it, I moved in to the emcee/judge role and for 20 years had a hand in the production of this uniquely Austin event. In 2007 I was named International Punster of the Year.
And now? Austin isn’t the town I moved to all those years ago but it’s still light years ahead of anywhere else I’ve been. I’ve been an artist in residence for the past 12 years at New World Deli and have watched it become a haven for singer/songwriters and original music. In other words, a
little piece of the old Austin vibe.
- - - Joel McColl