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Taking in the sunrise atop Mount Bonnell

Featured Article

An Austin Original

Exploring our city's musical heritage - and future - with local legend Bob Schneider

How does life in Austin inspire your songwriting?

When I arrived in Austin 30 years ago, I was amazed at how diverse the music culture was. There was straight country, country punk, punk, noise rock, funk, rap, reggae, jam bands, experimental stuff, and all this music was being played at the same clubs or within earshot of one another. It's the first time I heard the Butthole Surfers and realized, 'Oh music can be anything'. There was - and is - this open mindedness to music. It was freeing, and I ran with that idea. Maybe not at first but for sure in '95 when I got sober and started The Scabs. That's when I put that idea of 'anything goes' to the test, and I’ve pretty much been doing that ever since.

How has your love for the city changed with each passing decade?

Well, Austin used to be this overgrown sort of college town when I first got here. You couldn't build anything that obstructed the view of the capital for years, and the whole place just had this sort of hometown friendly vibe that I fell in love with. If you were lost you could ask anyone directions and they'd go out of their way to help. The drivers were friendly because there wasn't a lot of traffic. It was so inexpensive to live here, you didn't have to work much to pay your rent, then spend the rest of your time doing what you loved. That's all changed and most of the musicians I know have moved to San Marcos or Dripping Springs - wherever they can afford to live and be an artist. The heart and soul of Austin is still that overgrown optimistic open weird college town, but every year it gets a little harder to recognize that part of the what Austin used to be.

Is there anything about the Austin of twenty years ago that you miss?

I miss all the music venues that we've lost over the years. Liberty Lunch, Threadgill’s, Steamboat, The Black Cat, Nutty Brown - very recently... Places where you could play and get most of the ticket revenue and make a living. Most of the venues that are left are very corporate. The days of charging $10 and still being able to have enough to buy groceries are gone. There are a few exceptions like The Saxon Pub, Continental Club and Antone’s - but they are the exception, not the rule.

What songs about Texas do you think our readers new to Austin should check out?

My favorite song about Texas is Lyle Lovett’s 'That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas.’ I doubt he'd write that song nowadays though! I guess honorable mentions would be 'Luckenbach, Texas' by Waylon Jennings and 'All My Ex’s Live in Texas' by George Strait. That reminds me, I need to write a song about Texas one of these days!

What are your favorite music venues to play in Austin?

My favorite gig is my Monday night residency at The Saxon Pub, mainly because each show is completely unique and I use that night to try out new material I’ve written that week, as well as dusting off old songs that I haven't played in a while. There can be some real magic on those nights. I think Austin audiences are pretty tough on musicians. They expect a lot, and really won't support someone for very long if they aren't constantly putting out great material. 

You’re known for playing on special holidays like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s…

Those are special shows. I put together a band, The Moonlight Orchestra, that really might be the best band in Austin. It features the very best musicians in Austin, including the Tosca String Quartet. I put a lot of work into making sure I feature some of the most incredible up and coming talent I can find, and there are moments that just transcend anything I’ve ever seen. I also keep it classy and family friendly, so you can bring your mom or children or girlfriend and not worry about me saying something that might upset someone. That would not apply at almost all the other shows I play at 21 and over clubs.

Why do you think Austin is a city that creates space for artists to explore their talent?

Like I said earlier, I think Austin was a great place for artists to explore and grow their talents when it was cheaper to live here, but I don't think that's the case anymore. Obviously, you have a huge population of college students living in Austin who are making art, but as soon as that's over, they have to get a high paying job or leave. That wasn't the case during the 1950's-2000's. People came here, fell in love with the culture and stayed and made Austin a decidedly different and 'weird' place to live, especially for the middle of Texas, which has always been a pretty conservative state. I still think there is pride in that 'idea' of Austin, but a metaphor that comes to mind is that of a beauty queen, who was once young and beautiful and is now in her 70's and still thinks of herself as this young beauty, but when you look in the mirror, not so much. Now, I will say this: I still love that old beauty queen with all my heart and wouldn't cheat on her with any other city in the country.

Do you have any favorite books about Texas that our readers should know about?

My favorite books about Texas are and 'Empire of The Summer Moon' by S. C. Gwynne and 'Lonesome Dove' by Larry McMurtry. Those are 100% required reading for anyone, here or anywhere else for that matter. The entire Larry McMurtry catalogue is set in Texas and you can't go wrong.

What are your plans for the rest of 2022?

Same as before. Write songs to the best of my ability and play them for people, here and across the country, and keep doing what I love. 

  • Taking in the sunrise atop Mount Bonnell
  • The skyline of the city Bob describes as a 'beauty queen.'