Austin Opera House: Way Down Texas Way

The South Austin Popular Culture Center is proud to announce an exhibit focusing on the Austin Opera House.  This concert hall, a partnership between Tim O’Connor and his friend Willie Nelson, opened in July 1977 with a special performance featuring Waylon Jennings.  This club was not your typical Austin-hippie-hangout; it was more known for its “outlaw” country slant.

The Austin Opera House was truly multi-dimensional. There was nothing like it in Austin. All this was right on site:  A recording studio was grown there by Freddie Fletcher, Willie’s nephew.  During the early 80s bands like Asleep at the Wheel maintained their offices on site in one of the apartments that were out back of the concert hall. Films like Honeysuckle Rose and Songwriter were filmed there, along with a Ray Charles/Willie Nelson HBO special. Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded a live album there titled Live Alive.  A wide variety of music was booked…like Todd Rundgren, Tom Waits, Third World, Suzanne Vega, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roy Orbison and George Jones and local bands like Alvin Crow, Steam Heat and the Uranium Savages were used as opening acts whenever possible.  Willie performed there regularly, often with Asleep at the Wheel as the opening act and always with loyal fans waiting in their lawn chairs outside for hours before the show.  In 1984 Bud Shrake presented his play Pancho Villa’s Wedding in the small ballroom.

Yet, for all that, the Opera House was underappreciated and doesn’t get the press and accolades other venues of the time have received like Soap Creek Saloon, the Armadillo World Headquarters and the Split Rail.  Most of the other concert halls around town were also open every day as a bar and/or restaurant.  The Austin Opera House was open only for specific concerts and events and so didn’t have that daily interaction with its demographic like the other venues.

This exhibit should help shed some light on what went on there and its effect on Austin’s culture during the approximately 15 years the concert hall was open.

You’ll get a sense of the Austin Opera House through curator Leea Mechling’s selection of gig posters, photographs, paintings, newspaper articles and personal stories by staff members and folks who attended the shows.

You’re invited to check out the exhibit that opens June 30th with a reception starting at 7:09pm.  Ty Grimes and some of his musical friends will provide era-appropriate music starting at 8pm.   There’s a $5 suggested donation.  Funds receive support the Center’s programs (like this).

This exhibit will run from June 30 to August 26, 2012.

Please remember there is no parking at the Center, so pull on around to Collier Street (just adjacent to the Center) and park there.  SAPCC is just a very short walk away.

For more information, please contact the Center:  telephone: 512.440.8318 or by email:  You can also send us a message on Facebook.

Usual hours of operation are Thursday through Sunday 1 – 6pm and by appointment or chance.

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Video from Austin Opera House Exhibition Opening

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1516-B S Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78704 | (512) 440-8318
Usual hours of operation are Thursday through Sunday 1 – 6pm and by appointment or chance.
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