THE ARMADILLO AT 40
Listen to Home with the Armadillo, Texas Music Matters’ award-winning hour-long documentary here:
On August 7, 1970, a new music venue opened at 525 1/2 Barton Springs Road in Austin.
The city would never be the same.
The Armadillo World Headquarters was basically a cavernous abandoned armory–cinder block walls with a peaked metal roof, tucked behind a quonset-shaped “Skating Palace”. But it was cheap, and it would-as Eddie Wilson imagined it-help to fill the role played by the soon-to-be-closed music venue called the Vulcan Gas Company.
In retrospect, the ‘Dillo turned out to be more than a music hall. It became a place for Austin to see young rising stars (like some kid from ‘Jersey named Springsteen). It was a hangout for both hippies and cowboys, who discovered they had more in common than previously imagined. It was ground zero for a new homegrown, laid-back rock fused with country and blues. It was home to a team of artists whose posters and printed ephemera would shape the graphic ‘look’ of Austin. It was a commune. A restaurant. A performance space. It was a kind of school for hippy entrepreneurs. It was a kind of informal church for young people who wouldn’t fit in anywhere else. It was, in short, where Austin’s funky identity was born.
By the time it closed in the wee small hours of New Year’s morning, 1981, it was an institution, a must-play venue for national acts. The youth generation it served were fast building families of their own and helping to form a new mainstream. The Armadillo would be reduced to a parking lot.
But in many ways, the spirit of the ‘Dillo lives on-in Austin’s progressive political movements, in the politics of “78704″ (the zip code of South Austin), in the city’s attachment to all things peculiar, and the ongoing cultural love affair with the weird.
The radio documentary “Home with the Armadillo” produced by KUT’s Texas Music Matters unit has been awarded Best Radio Documentary by the National Headliner Awards–one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious journalism competitions. If you haven’t heard it, make sure to tune in Thursday night, May 12 at 10pm Central time on KUT 90.5. We hope this will be just the start of your own ‘homecoming’ with the Armadillo.
Welcome home, y’all.
ABOUT THE ARMADILLO ORAL HISTORY PROJECT (AOHP):
In summer, 2009, Austin resident Ann Leifeste (an Armadillo attendee while a student at UT in the early ’70′s, and a veteran of public broadcasting’s WNET) approached KUT about gathering raw material for a documentary on the Armadillo World Headquarters. Texas Music Matters, KUT’s music journalism project, leapt on the idea, recruiting musician and music history aficionado Nick Marcotte to help build the infrastructure for a full-blown Oral History Project to be archived online and at the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Within days of Ann presenting her initial idea, announcements were broadcast on KUT, asking residents to come forward to share their stories about the Armadillo. The response was overwhelming-so much so, in fact that the on-air promos ran only a couple of weeks in September. Since then, Ann and Nick have been responding to emails, scheduling studio times, and personally gathering hundreds of hours of interviews.
The result, so far, is a priceless oral history archive-a living time capsule- of a vital chapter in Austin’s musical story. It is a story told by the people who were actually there, from hundreds of different perspectives.
The Armadillo Oral History Project is intended to be an ongoing effort, a repository for scholars, and a public resource available to all.
If you have stories to tell, we want to hear them and share them with the world.
Contact the AOHP at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Dillo” in the subject line.