1970s Austin No. 7: The decade changed life of designer

We asked thoughtful locals why the 1970s left such a lasting imprint on Austin. We received many provocative answers, which we’ll share here first. 

Feel free to send yours to mbarnes@statesman.com.

Fern Santini, interior designer with the Austin touch

Austin in the seventies. Changed my life.

Coming from a conservative, small town southeast of Houston, Austin seemed like an exotic foreign country in the early seventies.  On my first night in town, we snuck into the Armadillo (underage of course) and saw Van Morrison — seven encores later, I was hooked. My love affair with Austin started that night. This was where I was meant to be.  

The friendship between legendary Longhorns coach Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson helped spark Austin’s music scene in the 1970s.

I had grown up thinking you had to choose your type of music –did you listen to Buck Owens or the Rolling Stones?  (The fact that the Stones were huge Buck Owens fans had escaped me). 

The Armadillo World Headquarters, open for the short decade of the seventies, changed that narrative for everyone. The fact that hippies and rednecks could sit in the same building and appreciate each others’ music became a badge of honor, something distinctly Austin.  Music ran the gamut from Joan Jett to Bill Monroe, from Frank Zappa to Kinky Freidman, Talking Heads to Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Most of all, the Dillo gave Willie Nelson an audience who understood and loved his music, then Willie changed music forever and Austin in the process.

So, I listened to Joe Ely and Gram Parsons at the Dillo, saw Muddy Waters and other legends at Antones, Doug Sahm and Marcia Ball at the Soap Creek Saloon. Bought concert tickets at You Scream Ice Cream, bought my “Onward Through the Fog” bumper sticker at Oat Willie’s. Spent many afternoons at Barton Springs. Oh my.

My takeaway from all that?  Austin in the seventies was about music for sure, but it was really about diversity, embracing it, not being afraid. Celebrating our differences, learning from one another, being creative. Taking chances. Sometimes magic comes from breaking the rules, or not even knowing what the rules are. Living life by the seat of your pants for a few heady years is a great education in the world. It certainly was for me. 


1970s Austin: No. 1 Elizabeth Christian
1970s Austin: No. 2 Forrest Preece
1970s Austin: No. 3 Eddie Wilson

Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and austin360.com.

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