One nice girl's reminiscences about the Hole in the Wall
How I Spent My Last 20 Years BY GRETCHEN PHILLIPS
Last night, June 30, 2002, the Hole in the Wall closed. It's so
emotional that I can't feel it. The Hole in the Wall was a shitty
hole of a bar on the Drag that had been there since 1974. I first
started going to it in 1983 when this woman I was doing it with
at the time had a Tuesday night residency there. You had to have
your own PA in order to play there then, which she did. I was 20,
she was 30; it didn't last long, which was a good thing.
But it got me going to that place of incredibly cheap beer, even
by Austin's standards at that time. It was, more than anything,
a drinking bar. Then in 1987, I want to say, South by Southwest
started. I was in Two Nice Girls at the time, and we were asked
by the organization to please play for free at this local music
conference. We didn't want to play for free, I remember that vividly,
but they kept bugging us, and finally we said we would.
We were booked at the Hole in the Wall, which we somehow found
further insulting. We played after the Wagoneers, who were just
great. An older woman in the audience interrupted their show by
threatening the super-tall, lanky drummer that he better stay away
from her daughter or she would kill him. In fact, they got into
a yelling match in the middle of the Wagoneers' showcase. It was
just the sort of out-of-control drama that the Hole inspired.
We didn't know what to expect from that rowdy crowd when we played,
but I guess we did okay, because we met our future manager there,
and by that summer, he got us a record deal with Rough Trade. So
I remember my first gig at the Hole as the one where I got signed.
Later, we went to the Hole to record background sounds for our
song "I Spent My Last $10 (on Birth Control and Beer)." We knew
if we went in there during Happy Hour, that it would epitomize a
hetero honky-tonk. And it did serve very nicely. Two Nice Girls
didn't continue to play there, best I can recall, but it was a place
I'd play at for various side projects.
Like Rehashville, my band with Robbie Jacks that performed only
songs from the movie Nashville . And Make a Joyful Noise, the crazy
gospel band that existed one time only for a truly spiritual show
that uplifted the kneeling drunkards of the Hole.
After Two Nice Girls broke up, I played the Hole in the Wall more
often, since I couldn't pack 'em into Liberty Lunch quite like the
old days. The Gretchen Phillips Xperience played our first gig ever
at the Hole. It was me on guitar and Andy Loomis in a red polyester
dress playing the Casio and a little bass. 'Twas at that show that
Rebecca Cannon of Sincola fame first saw Andy Loomis and decided
that she was going to get that man.
The first time I saw Sincola with Terri Lord on drums was at the
Hole in the Wall, and boy, that was a great show. I saw how good
that band could be. And then a few years later my band with Terri,
Darcee, and Jo -- Lord Douglas Walston-Phillips -- made its debut
at the Hole in the Wall. We continued to play there over the years.
We had our Olympics show there where we dressed as various Olympic
athletes; Darcee Douglas was very memorable as an Olympic ribbon
dancer. We had one of the waitresses singing with us on some cover
song ("I Want You to Want Me" perhaps?) at the drunken end of the
night. Ooooh, it was fun.
And of course the Hole in the Wall was where I sold my signed k.d.
lang T-shirt for $250 at a great benefit and auction that GPX and
Girls in the Nose had in order to raise money for our trip to D.C.
and NYC for the Stonewall anniversary thingy back in 1994. It was
so packed that people were watching the show from outside because
they couldn't get in. That was one of the few good things about
that tiny stage with the shitty PA: It backed onto the front window,
so you could catch a show for free outside if you needed to and
could be content merely watching the bands' asses rock.
Oh, I saw some good shows there, too. Crazy Pocket FishRmen shows
where they consumed astronomical amounts of alcohol and still played
great. Wad, starring Jo Walston playing amazing guitar in an otherwise
just okay band. Kathy McCarty's SXSW showcase some years back where
she held the entire audience of enraptured devotees in the palm
of her hand. Not an easy task at SXSW, where it seems that much
of the crowd is just industry jerks there to talk loudly amongst
themselves and drink on expense accounts.
The Hole in the Wall was a good club to really take risks at as
a performer. There were always lots of regulars, and by that I mean
old and sometimes young alcoholic men who went there after work
every day and stayed until closing. You didn't make any money off
of them at the door, because they'd been at the bar since 5pm.
Sometimes they could get belligerent, but they added such a weird
wild-card element to the crowd, at least to this lesbian, that I
would feel free to match a certain insanity that was just constantly
present inside those walls. Those really stinky with cigarettes
and booze and vomit walls. I'm for sure going to miss them.
I've been going to that bar for almost 20 years. It was a really
good place to play, even though it was a shitty place to play. Actually,
maybe its shittiness made it good. It made the Hole in the Wall
be about something else: loud rock music played by hundreds of local
musicians who are living in the potentially shitty moment and transcending
it completely by the compelling energy, promise, and fulfillment
that's present and alive once you forget everything else and just
rock as hard as you can with your bandmates and the teeming crowd
of drunken, stinky souls.
It is so much fun. It reads really corny, but it's true: Hole in
the Wall, I will miss your hallowed halls.
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