Looking out over an elegant bar area, a cozy back lounge, an adjoining restaurant space and an outdoor pool that faces the Austin skyline, the modest stage of Geraldine’s feels like a pretty special place for local musicians to perform.
The new venue, which occupies the fourth floor of the new Hotel Van Zandt in the Rainey Street district, will present live music seven nights a week, starting with Tuesday’s solo performance by Matt Hines of indie-folk band the Eastern Sea. It’s an intriguing development, given that much discussion about the downtown hotel boom’s effect on Austin music has been focused on conflicts between hotels and nightclubs.
The Van Zandt, part of the Kimpton chain of boutique hotels, is positioning itself as a music-friendly space. Even its name plays to that end, evoking legendary Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Large portraits of Townes, created with assistance from his son J.T. Van Zandt, adorn the walls of a second-floor lobby.
“Monday through Wednesday, we’re going to have mainly singer-songwriters, a more listening-room feel,” says Lauren Bucherie, the hotel’s music and social director. “And Thursday through Saturday we’ll kind of amp it up, a little more full-band.” Shows will start at 9 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; jazz brunches are in the works for Sundays.
Admission will be free for all shows at Geraldine’s, which is directly accessible from an elevator entrance along the building’s front facade. Bookings for the venue’s opening week include Drew Davis on Wednesday, Guy Town on Thursday, KP & the Boom Boom on Friday and Ben Cina on Saturday.
A look ahead into the next few weeks gives a sense of the range of genres Geraldine’s will feature, from more traditional singer-songwriters (Charlie Faye Nov. 28, Suzanna Choffel Nov. 30) to boundary-pushing indie-rockers (Ben Ballinger Dec. 2, Emily Wolfe Dec. 5) to country acts both traditional (Aaron McDonnell Nov. 26) and alternative (Harvest Thieves Dec. 4).
Bucherie says special attention was given to the construction and design of the ceiling, and to the installation of the audio system by Big House Sound. Longtime local expert Lynn Gathright will be the room’s sound engineer after serving in a similar capacity at recently shuttered north end showroom the Roost.
Bucherie came to Austin seven years ago after getting a business degree at the University of Las Vegas. For many years, she ran a company called the Sessions that produced live music events and videos, and she managed local artists including the vocal trio Keeper. She says she appreciates the Van Zandt opportunity because “I get to continue to support the creativity that I love, but it’s backed by big business.”
Geraldine’s enters the downtown scene at a time of notable transition for live music. Recent shifts along the Red River axis — like Red Eyed Fly changing to Sidewinder, Holy Mountain closing, the old Red 7 space apparently in flux — got much of the attention, but new venues opened on Congress Avenue (the Townsend) and Trinity Street (Tellers), and West Fifth Street soon will welcome the revived Antone’s.
Another hotel space, in the lobby of the new Westin Downtown, rolled out an impressive live-music schedule when it opened this summer, but it discontinued performances at the end of October. That’s not necessarily a bad omen for Geraldine’s; the Driskill Hotel’s lobby bar continues to feature live piano and acoustic performers, as it has for decades.
Bucherie says she understands Austin is changing, but she sounds determined to help manifest positive outcomes from those changes. “I was kind of nervous reaching out to everyone about the new gig, because I know people are kind of up in arms about a lot of the new buildings popping up downtown,” she admits. “But I was like, ‘No, this is different.’
“I think what has been lacking in Austin is a (hotel) space where musicians themselves want to hang out. Other cities have the Ace Hotels, or the Standards, and in those cities, musicians like to hang out there; it’s a laid-back culture and it’s fun for them. I hope that Hotel Van Zandt can become a part of that fabric.”
Symphony Square series
Though it often hasn’t been used to its full potential as a live music venue, the small outdoor amphitheater at Symphony Square on the north end of the Red River district recently received a makeover and is hosting concerts on Friday nights.
Booked by Jeremy Parker of local production company Musical Services Group, the six-week series has featured performances by Dawn & Hawkes, Walt Wilkins and the Peterson Brothers, with three more still to come before a winter break.
This Friday, Grammy-winning accordionist Joel Guzman brings his Los Aztex ensemble to the space, followed by traditional country from Doug Moreland on Nov. 27 and the eclectic Mingo Fishtrap on Dec. 4. More acts are tentatively in the works for the spring. Admission is $12 for the shows, which start at 7:30 p.m.