State of the City part 6: City Culture

In part 6 of State of the City, Shelley Seale takes a look at Austin’s vibe.


With our city growing and changing around us, we take a closer look at the issues shaping Austin today.

At the Heywood Hotel, Setzer sees many guests drawn to Austin both as a vacation destination and a possible new home. “Those who have been here before are shocked at how much it has changed,” she says. “Austin is a hot destination, and travelers are seeking out local Austin experiences. Hopefully they are able to key in on the vibe that makes our city unique, and propagate it to their new endeavors.”

It is perhaps, after all, the unique Austin vibe that has drawn so many people here for decades. Some people wonder if Austin is losing its weirdness, but Setzer finds that it has retained its bootstrap mentality and finds a real sense of community here. “It’s hard to beat Austin for livability, and the sunshine and incredible food scene don’t hurt,” she says. “Austin is my first love. It’s where I met my husband, it’s where I’ve built my business, and I get the pleasure of introducing folks to it daily.”

The music scene that put Austin on the map is still going strong, according to Austin Music People Executive Director, Jennifer Houlihan. “We remain the Live Music Capital of the World, with more than 250 music venues and more than 130 nonprofit organizations dedicated to live music. We have live music in our yoga studios, barbershops and markets; under and on our bridges; at our marathons and parades. If you can’t find good live music in Austin—from symphony to Stratocaster—you just aren’t looking.”

But the music culture of the city is far more than just good times. The industry brings more than $1.6 billion a year into the local economy, including music revenues and music tourism. Live music is tied to every facet of the economy, from housing and transportation to public safety and cultural tourism to park usage and education.

“That means music is not just the cultural soul of our city, but a major economic driver and a growing political force in its own right,” says Houlihan. “Being the Live Music Capital of the World is worth billions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year, just as lumber or banking might be in other markets.” She encourages people to remember that while music is big business here, much of that benefit is due to the work of those who struggle to get by on minimum wage, tips or juggling multiple jobs.

“There was a time when you could hang out toward the bottom of the totem pole and still make ends meet in Austin. Those days are gone,” says Houlihan. “Some artists go corporate and leave music behind, and we lose a creative voice; others move away to a place where they can live a good life on a shoestring.”

Houlihan notes that Austin is no longer the sleepy little town it once was. “That ship has sailed. The question is, who’s going to work and dream and participate in creating the future, and who’s going to pine for bygone days.”

Originally published January 18th, 2015 in The Austinite Magazine.


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