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Backstage Pass: Welcome back

5/22/2003 5:00 AM

By: Andy Langer

A sign in front of the Hole In The Wall says it all: "The Hole In The Wall Rides Again." The other side of their message board is even simpler: "Welcome Home."

And indeed, after nearly a year of gathering dust, folks are back inside the legendary Guadalupe live music venue that originally closed its doors last June.

With an unannounced "soft opening" last weekend, regulars began reclaiming their stools and tables. They were there toasting not just the return of an Austin institution, but also the man who brought it back -- new owner Clay McLaughlin.

McLaughlin, a partner in the Austinıs Pizza chain said The Hole In The Wall has nothing to do with how he wants to run it.

"It has everything to do with who's coming in and why. And everybody that's coming back are coming back because they want music, cheap drinks and friendly faces behind the bar again. They're dictating it. I'm really just kind of along for the ride. The Hole In The Wall has a life of its own."

For nearly 29 years, the Hole's heartbeat was mostly musical -- from Lyle Lovett to Fastball and Doug Sahm to the all-stars of The Rock 'N' Roll Free For All -- it was home away from home for an eclectic cast of Austin musicians.

While the live music offerings at the new club won't pick back up until later next week, booking agent Matt Allen says heıs having no problem finding acts interested in playing.

"Everybody wants to play here," Allen said. "It's amazing. Itıs going to be hard because they did do 20 bands a week- probably more. I'd rather focus on half of that, the best half of that."

In the meantime, club-goers say they're enjoying an Austin-centric jukebox. And Allen says he's spending 18 hours a day trying to book some of those jukebox favorites into June's live music calendar.

"You never know," Allen said. "When we opened the doors I was shaking and all nervous. We worked so hard on Friday to get this place open but you still don't know. But when people come in, look you in the eyes and say 'Thank you. Thank you so much.' It's pretty amazing. It makes you feel good."

The Hole In The Wallıs new managers say theyıre hoping to begin offering live music later next week. And although the club was closed for much of itıs 29th year, theyıre nonetheless also planning a 30th Anniversary party later this summer.

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