Arguably Austin’s most famous music venue ever, Armadillo World Headquarters is most often associated with the coalescing of hippie and redneck cultures in the 1970s and the rise of Willie Nelson to superstardom. But those who attended shows there regularly could regale you with tales of a far broader experience.
Armadillo proprietor Eddie Wilson’s recent memoir helped to shed light on that breadth, with more than 400 pages of stories about the Armadillo’s fascinating decade-long run. A generous selection of posters reveal just how much stylistic ground the venue covered: bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, soon-to-be rock superstar Bruce Springsteen, soul-funk machine Parliament/Funkadelic, traditional blues master James Cotton, the iconoclastic Frank Zappa.
So when local music advocacy organization All ATX decided to make “Back to the Armadillo” the theme for its fifth annual benefit concert and CD, it was akin to throwing the doors wide open. Outlaw-country has its place in this year’s presentation, but mainly the emphasis is on Austin’s long-held reputation as a music city that defies genre borders.
The location of this year’s concert lines up nicely with the theme as well. After four years at ACL Live, the All ATX bash moves to Auditorium Shores, which is basically across the street from where the Armadillo once stood. The grounds will be set up to accommodate both reserved seating in the front and general-admission standing room in the back.
As in past years, the mostly local bill features a national headliner. John Fogerty, somewhat surprisingly, never played Armadillo World Headquarters, but the rootsy rock ‘n’ roll spirit of his band Creedence Clearwater Revival would’ve fit right in there. Hometown Americana stars Shakey Graves and Jack Ingram will play just before Fogerty on the top end of a six-hour show that will run from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
But the main attraction thematically is an “Armadillo World Headquarters All Stars” segment that will feature three names long associated with the venue. Michael Martin Murphey, back then sans the middle name, became one of Austin’s biggest stars of the era and gave the scene one of its identifying tags when he titled his 1973 sophomore album “Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir.” Gary P. Nunn immortalized the venue in his song “London Homesick Blues,” with its indelible refrain “I wanna go home with the Armadillo.” And Shawn Sahm’s father, Doug Sahm, epitomized the 1970s Austin musical melting-pot of country, blues, Tex-Mex, rock ‘n’ roll and other styles.
Arrive early for the part of the show that most directly ties into the accompanying “Back to the Armadillo” CD, which is expected to be available on-site. Nine prominent Austin acts will play two songs each, including the track they recorded for the disc: Fastball, Kelly Willis, My Jerusalem, the Peterson Brothers, Beto & the Fairlanes, Night Drive, Jon Dee Graham, Jane Ellen Bryant and Eric Tessmer.
The 19-track disc also features cuts from Ingram, Charlie Sexton, A. Sinclair, Leopold & His Fiction, Ray Benson, Ruby Jane, Monte Montgomery, Charlie Faye & the Fayettes, Patrice Pike with Water & Rust, and the South Austin Moonlighters with Chris Gage.
The Armadillo theme allowed for a broader stylistic range on this year’s disc than previous volumes have had. After a 2013 debut that featured original songs by all of the contributing artists, the All ATX projects had been genre-based: British Invasion bands in 2014, psychedelia in 2015 and blues in 2016.
Randy Miller, who co-founded All ATX with his high school friend Gary Keller of Keller Williams Realty, says he delighted this year in the constant curveballs that the participating artists tossed his way. “We put together a big list of the national artists, and of the regional and Texas artists who played” at the Armadillo, he explained. “We sent it out to the musicians, and they chose what resonated with them.”
“You never know what they’re going to choose; it’s almost always a surprise for me,” he said. “I mean, for Bruce (Robison) and Kelly (Willis) to choose ‘Dirty Work’ by Steely Dan — and they knocked it out of the park.”
Other intriguing choices in the CD’s track list include western-swing king Benson tackling Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic”; indie-rockers My Jerusalem tipping their hat to Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker on “L.A. Freeway”; string sensation Ruby Jane taking on the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”; and Sexton digging out one-hit wonder 10cc’s melodramatic “I’m Not in Love.”
At the concert, video screens will display historic Armadillo photographs by the late Burton Wilson along with show posters from the artists whose work helped to define the venue’s aesthetic. Eddie Wilson, who now runs the Threadgill’s restaurant that stands roughly where the Armadillo once was, credits those poster artists with extending the venue’s legacy well beyond its 1980 closing.
“The music gets all the credit,” he says. “But the art is what caused the Armadillo to still be in everybody’s mind, because it’s on the wall.”
The move to Auditorium Shores coincides with All ATX’s partnership with local concert company C3 in presenting this year’s show.
“For us, it’s a chance to grow it even bigger than it’s been in the past, and work with some people who really know what they’re doing when it comes to promoting and producing concerts,” said Nick Shuley, vice president of marketing for All ATX. “It was just a big opportunity to get the message even further than it has been.”
Proceeds from the show benefit four Austin organizations: Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the SIMS Foundation, Black Fret and the Austin Music Foundation.
All ATX “Back to the Armadillo” concert
When: 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29.
Where: Auditorium Shores, 730 W. Riverside Drive.