AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Countless live music options, major music festivals and a history of big music names support this title.
But where did it come from?
It started in the mid-1980s when the Austin Convention and Visitors Council–now the separate Visit Austin and Austin Chamber of Commerce entities–thought up a campaign to highlight the city’s music scene.
The “Live Music Capital of the World” idea came during a conversation about how you can see live music any night of the week in Austin, said chamber spokesperson Bryce Bencivengo.
The brand appeared for one of the first times in Billboard’s July 20, 1985, issue. For musical context, the top pop album that week was Tears For Fears’ “Songs from the Big Chair,” and the top single was “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran.
An ad for the Austin Convention Center and Visitors Council features the new brand next to the groups’ logos.
The ad reads, in part, “Hear Austin HOMEGROWN nightly on Old Pecan Street/Sixth Street, Congress Avenue and in scores of venues all over town. There’s nothing like it happening in LIVE MUSIC anywhere.”
A train illustration shows band names on the train cars including “Christopher Cross,” “Joe Ely,” “Jerry Jeff Walker,” “Willie Nelson” and “Stevie Ray Vaughn.” The cars are traveling to the “Left Coast,” New York and Nashville from Austin.
The 1985 issue had a “Spotlight on Texas” section with an interview with then-governor Mark White, ads for local recording studios and features on Texas’ growing movie and music video productions.
In 1991, Austin City Council members voted to declare the city as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” council minutes show. Visit Austin now owns the “Live Music Capital of the World” trademark.
The former Armadillo World Headquarters became an early base for Austin’s music scene in the 1970s, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Traveling musicians made pitstops at the 1,500-seat venue, including Frank Zappa, the Pointer Sisters, Bruce Springsteen, some Grateful Dead members and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Most famously, the venue hosted Willie Nelson in 1972.
The Armadillo’s last show was Dec. 31, 1980, as downtown Austin development increased, the TSHA said.
Today’s live music venues include Antone’s, Parish, Emo’s, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, Scoot Inn, the new Moody Center, Mean Eyed Cat and countless other local gems.
Austin’s $1.8 billion live music industry is mostly fueled through large-scale events like SXSW and ACL, but the city’s music and entertainment districts give visitors and Austinites alike year-round music opportunities, said Omar Lozano, the music marketing director for Visit Austin.
“Having year-round opportunities that are accessible for potential visitors is essential to having a healthy music, tourism and nightlife economy,” Lozano said. “So it’s certainly essential for us to be able to promote that year-round when we’re the ‘Live Music Capital of the World.'”
But Lozano said the “Live Music Capital of the World” brand is larger than a slogan.
“Our live music community is very interesting, especially from starting is something super, super organic. You look at South By in the 80s and how that really developed as a DIY effort,” he said. “I’m just constantly amazed at the growth and the opportunities for visitors and for musicians to perform.”