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.
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Joe Bryson, “Mr. Inner Sanctum,’ currently president of Real Estate Alliance
In my mind, the “scene” coalesced during that time. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, we became a culture unto ourselves. We were able to elect a mayor and council members. The vast majority of people in this culture came together to protest our involvement in Vietnam.
Joe Bryson, Neil Ruttenberg and other staff of Inner Sanctum record store, 1978.
We started and had businesses that catered to us: Armadillo World Headquarters, Whole Earth, Oat Willies, Inner Sanctum, plus the many music clubs that came & went during this time — New Orleans Club, Jade Room, One Knite, Soap Creek, Castle Creek, etc. Print media like the Austin Sun, The Rag, gave it focus Radio like early KLBJ, K98, KUT promoted the music of the day.
The innocence and naivety of the 1950s and early ’60s faded away. We became our own living culture that started to exercise it’s power politically, financially, & culturally. Like a child growing up, we became aware of who we were and our personality as a group. We could exist on our own.
There really wasn’t anything to culturally to counter that, except the “country folks”, many of which were becoming us. When the music started to assimilate country into the rock scene, the blues clubs started to happen, concerts out in the wild (Hill on the Moon, Steiner Ranch, Willie’s Picnics) we became the music culture of Austin. Of course drugs (especially psychedelic ones) helped sear this cultural identity into an “us vs them” consciousness.
Being a major university town, this became a good percentage of the general population. Artists could make a living. The Drag vendors were in full swing. The word was getting out on Austin. As it did, more and more people of like mind started to move here. Most everyone that was here, stayed. Sixth Street became a focal point for entertainment (Antone’s, Steamboat, Toad Hall, etc.)
We started to have culture-wide events like Eeyore’s Birthday Party, the Helms Street Halloween Bash, AWHQ New Year’s Eve) that started to develop the “weirdness” that is celebrated today. Besides the weirdness, there was an evolving healthy organic & vegetarian lifestyle. People could enjoy the outdoors at Hippie Hollow, Barton Springs, Enchanted Rock.
This all became the dominant culture in Austin. We had reached critical mass. We were the culture in Austin. Even as Austin grows, it’s still the undercurrent in this city. It’s diluted by general population growth, but it’s still here with SXSW and ACL and the Austin Music Awards.
I’ve lived here for 50 years (50th anniversary this June). I have not lived anywhere else, but the “counterculture” has only become this dominant in a few other cities. No other in Texas really. This is it for this state.
All in all, it’s been a fun, healthy, and sustainable lifestyle in this city without a lot of backlash from the “establishment”. Why would anyone stop when it’s been this good? That’s why it’s had the lasting impact on the Austin culture.
I used to say that Inner Sanctum was the coolest place to be in Austin during the daytime. There were lots of cool places to go to at night, but in the daytime, we were it.
Without a doubt, Austin is the coolest city in Texas. Texas is the best state in the union. This country is the best country in the world. So I used to say, “For half of every day, I felt like I was sitting on top of the world.” I really felt like that too. I couldn’t have been happier than to do what I was doing. Somehow I got very very lucky in my life. There are many similar stories and lives in this city. Why would we go anywhere else?