Music capital

Originating Austin as “Live Music Capital of the World,” Take Two

Dear Austin,

I have a confession to make: I misled you. It’s not something a reporter wants to say, but here we are.

I did this in a story I wrote a few years ago, after a listener asked about Austin’s claim to be the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

Do you remember? Maybe not? Let’s sum up.

The story was for our ATXplained project. Austin Brown asked, “Where did the nickname for the Live Music Capital of the World come from?

The answer sounded like this: In the 1980s, Austin was known for its vibrant local music scene. This scene was threatened by a real estate boom triggered, in part, by a burgeoning tech industry.

“Soaring land prices, a lack of affordable housing and a lack of communication between music professionals and business leaders threaten the vitality of live music in Austin,” read an article in the magazine. Austin American-Stateman which could just as easily have been released today.

It was a time of anxiety, when people felt they had to choose between keeping Austin’s musical soul or embracing the city’s rapid growth.

Or maybe not.

As the music scene developed a national reputation, the Chamber of Commerce and the municipal government began to view it as a source of revenue. They created a position at the Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote Austin’s music and set up a live music commission.

The common answer to the question of where the nickname of the city’s live music capital came from is that it was a product of this commission.

This is the story I told: It was a collaboration between local musician Lillian Stanfield, Commission President Nancy Coplin and City Council member Max Nofziger.

But I wouldn’t post a correction if that was the end.

Soon after the play aired, I started getting calls and emails from listeners telling me I was wrong. One guy who contacted me was Ronnie Mack, who worked for the municipal TV station Austin Music Network. In the late 1980s, he said, a new slogan was needed.

Credit Mose Buchele / KUT

Ronnie Mack says he coined the slogan “Live Capital of the World” in the late 1980s.

“It struck me that I needed another name for Austin,” he said. “So I finally found this – Live Music Capital. “

According to Mack, the “world” part came later, as a nod to Armadillo’s world headquarters.

But he wasn’t the only one who claimed to have invented the title. As it turns out, some people thought former Texas Governor Ann Richards created it – which is just not true.

Then there was this mysterious email:

Dear KUT, I lived in Austin from 2006-2013 and wrote a Texas dictionary on my website of over 2000 terms. I also solved the origin of the “Big Apple” and the “Windy City”. If you ask me to help you, I do it immediately and for free, even though I’m penniless. “Live Music Capital of the World” was not invented in 1991. Nonsense!

The email came from Barry Popik, who researches the origin of words and phrases and lists his findings on this website.

He listed about 20 different names for Austin. To find out the true origin of “Live Music Capital”, he told me that I had to find an advertisement in Billboard July 1985 review.

Fortunately, there is an archive on the UT campus that has it on microfilm.


If you look all the way down in the corner of this classified ad, you see it. Before City Council History, Before Ronnie Mack’s Work and Before Governor Richards’ Administration: “The Live Music Capital of the World. “


Under the words there was a phone number. I called him. The Chamber of Commerce responded.

Two jugs of margaritas

It took a few more steps, but through the room I was introduced to a man who could answer my question. David Lord worked at the chamber in the mid-1980s, promoting Austin’s music to help boost tourism.

In 1985, he said, he took a band from Austin to a music industry conference in New York City to showcase Austin’s music. As part of this trip, the chamber decided to make an announcement in Billboard. But it needed a slogan.


Credit Mose Buchele / KUT

David Lord, who worked for the Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s, says he coined the slogan.

So one Monday night Lord and other chamber staff walked over to Headliners East, a missing but not forgotten Sixth Street bar, and started drinking margaritas.

“Someone in the band said, ‘I wonder how many places we can go to see live music on a Monday night? Lord remembered.

They took a look at the lists in the statesman and The Chronicle of Austin.

“We added them all up and we found over 70 spots,” he said. “And we decided as a band that we were indeed the live music capital of the world.”

Initially, Lord said he couldn’t remember who chained the words together. But when asked again in a second interview if he was the creator of the tagline, he said, “I’m going to claim it.”

Lord then created marketing strategies for other US cities like Lexington, Ky. And Tulsa, Okla. He said after leaving Austin he would laugh at seeing other cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on branding. In Austin, he said, it only cost “two pitchers of margaritas.”

I went back to my other sources to let them know that I had found a use of the slogan that predated their stories. None said they knew about it.


Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Nancy Coplin was the first president of the Austin Live Music Commission.

“I didn’t know about it or I would have stolen it,” Coplin said with a laugh.

“Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan, ”said Nofziger, enigmatic.

“We had no idea, at least I had none,” Mack said. “I found this independently. “

Popik, the guy obsessed with the origin of things, said it’s actually pretty common. Sometimes people half hear something, and when it comes back they think it’s all theirs. Other times, he said, people have the same idea around the same time.

In the case of the “Live Music Capital of the World”, you can see how it came to be. In the 1980s, the city was full of people trying to promote Austin’s music. It was a “capital” city and was home to the famous live music venue, Armadillo World Headquarter. Maybe different people came up with the same nickname independently.

But maybe my favorite explanation came from Mack. He said the story reminds him of something a lot of people say about the ’60s and’ 70s: “If you remember, you weren’t really there.”