A baggie of pot sat on the floor just a few feet away. Someone dropped it, I figured, looking around to see if anyone else spotted it yet. No, and the baggie was kinda of perched precariously in the walkway around folks sitting on the carpeted floor. I waited to see if anyone doubled back to pick it up, but people just kept walking past it, over it, even almost kicking it. So I grabbed it, grinning, gleeful with my good fortune.
The Armadillo World Headquarters lasted 10 short years from 1970 until 1980 but left lasting outsized memories that belie its brief existence.
The late, lamented, legendary music hall will be remembered this weekend in Austin, 50 years after it opened for a raucous decade of making musical history and shaping Austin culture before it faded away far too soon.
Sure wish I could be there for the celebration.
I don’t remember what band I saw that night I found the bag of pot. I don’t rightly recall who played my first show there, either, and in truth, I don’t recall a lot of the performers I know I must have seen there. I know I saw David Bromberg, Doug Sahm, John Hartford, Toots & the Maytalls, Papa John Creach, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Some acts I saw more than once, like Jerry Garcia’s various bands, Bob Weir a couple of times, solo and with Kingfish. I really didn’t go to nearly as many shows there as a lot of my other friends did, though. Usually, I was working evenings or didn’t have transportation.
No, hanging out in the beer garden munching nachos and drinking cheap pitchers of beer was closer to my speed. One old friend moving out of the rent house we’d moved into said anyone looking for him could find him in the ‘Dillo beer garden pretty much every afternoon. Later, when I worked at the Brown Schools’ Ranch, our Lariat team started having monthly off-campus team meetings at the beer garden, where we were more likely to let loose with our concerns in a supportive team setting — with plenty of beer & nachos, of course.
Still, a few moments stand out frozen in my memory:
Watching Frank Zappa introducing a song, saying, “We don’t usually do this, but this girl’s name is Mary and she plays the fiddle.” With that, the band launched into “Orange Blossom Special” with Sweet Mary Egan of Greezy Wheels joining Jean-Luc Ponty is some truly outrageous twin fiddle playing, including sawing their bows around each other’s heads and rolling on the floor, still wailing away. Who knew Frank could swing country?
The time Keith & Donna Godchaux of the Grateful Dead were touring as part of the Jerry Garcia Band, my friends, Nancy & Larry, wanted to wish them, especially Donna, a warm welcome. So they brought a small bouquet of roses to the show to throw to her onstage. Unfortunately, Nancy threw the roses straight into the open bay of Keith’s piano, shooting sparks across a net of microphone wires there, basically “blowing up” his piano. The band ended the song quickly and as Larry & Nancy shrunk back into the crowd, I watched Keith trying to light a cigarette to calm his nerves. Took him 4 matches to get it going.
I remember me & Billy the Kid deciding to sneak into the main concert hall from the beer garden to see the Kinks. Billy had worked in the kitchen before and said if we each just walked straight through as if we belonged there, no one would stop us. I watched him check it and then followed a minute later when he didn’t return. I quickly filtered up to the front to blend into the crowd, just as Ray Davies stalked the front of the stage, sloshing beer on us at the front, singing “Demon Rum” — a sweet if sticky and later stinky memory.
And of course, there was the final Zappa show in the fall of 1980 when we all knew the Dillo had to close by year’s end. He did two final shows in late October and we just wouldn’t let him leave after the second one. When we insisted on yet another encore, he sauntered out and said, “I guess you want me to say something about this place closing.” He started talking about how everything was going to shit (this was just before Reagan was first elected), and did we really think the future was going to get better? Or would it be worse? And given the gloomy prospects, “Do you really want to take a beloved institution like the Armadillo there?”
Alas, what we wanted didn’t matter. That was my final show at the Armadillo World Headquarters. My memories remain hazy but it still feels like it was just yesterday.
Read more about the history of the Armadillo World Headquarters in Eddie Wilson’s wonderful book, co-written by Jesse Sublett.
And head on out to the celebration this weekend!