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Music Venue Meets Worship Space at St. David's Over SXSW

J. Paul Brick
Arlo Guthrie plays in Bethell Hall at St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin, during South by Southwest in 2012.

This is the 10th year St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin has been a South by Southwest music venue. Nearby Central Presbyterian Church was the first church to be a venue for the festival, and it still is. Musicians will also perform at Promised Land Church this year.

KUT’s Jennifer Stayton stopped by St. David's, where she is a member, to talk with director of special events Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel about what it's like when music festival meets worship space. 

Here's their conversation:


Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel: Actually South by Southwest approached St. David's 10 years ago. We were the second church. Central Presbyterian across the street was the first church, and they still are a venue. They're a beautiful venue and it worked so well there that they approached St. David's. And we started with just one venue here in Bethel Hall, and a couple of years later it was such a success that we added the second venue, which is the historic sanctuary.

Jennifer Stayton: So we are sitting in Bethel Hall right now, which is one of the venues. So both of the venues inside St. David's, the music happens in the worship spaces?

LKP: Both of our sanctuaries -- our contemporary sanctuary and our traditional sanctuary -- are the two music venues, and then in between we open up what traditionally people would call Parish Hall -- we call it Summoner's Hall -- as the cafe Divine Lounge, where we sell beer and wine and brisket and soup and chili to the patrons of South By

JS: You sell beer and wine?

LKP: Yes, we sell beer and wine and Maine Root Soda and brisket. We have two full-time chefs here who are brilliant, so we eat very well. And it just makes sense for us, during South By, to also sell concessions that include beer and wine.

JS: So logistically what does a church have to do to be able to sell beer and wine during a music festival?

LKP: Like every other venue who does not have a TABC [Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission] license, we have to apply for and be approved of a permit from TABC, which we do every year. And then they put some restrictions on us that are no different than any other venue. So we can only sell beer and wine, and we have to stop selling at midnight, but it's a fairly easy process.

JS: Tell me a little bit about the other preparations that go into getting the church facility ready to be a venue for South by Southwest.

LKP: Since we would not be open otherwise during that week, there's a lot of planning that has to go on. There has to be coordination between the two venues and our house managers, with South by Southwest, with the stage managers to ensure that we have the right staging, the right lighting, the right seating capacities in both venues and that those capacities are honored. We have to schedule, obviously, staff and many, many, many volunteers to make this happen. We have to have security in place, and for us we do that with our clergy.

JS: Wait, your clergy are your security?

LKP: Yes, we are very fortunate that most people who come to see music here will just automatically behave better. Whether that's out of guilt or respect, I'm not real sure, but I'll take it. And so our security is that our clergy members volunteer to work on those nights and they are in collar. And they welcome people and they give directions, and I think just their presence helps to keep everybody remembering that this is a place of worship.

JS: Do you think that people sort of act differently than they might, you know, if they were just a block or two away on Sixth Street or at another South by Southwest venue?

LKP: To a certain extent I do think that. People are so actually grateful to be here. We hear every single year the comment about how cool it is to be able to drink a beer in a church. But then we always hear the nice comments also, that you actually get a place to sit down, and we have real toilets with actual toilet paper and our floors aren't sticky with mystery stickiness. So I think it's a really good alternative to other venues; it's kind of a good respite.

JS: How do musicians and artists respond to playing in a venue that may not be like most of the venues they're used to playing in?

LKP: Most of the musicians really like playing here because it's a more relaxed atmosphere and because we are not open like a traditional club. They get to load in a lot earlier in the day than at other clubs, so they can take their time. Then of course the acoustics in both sanctuaries are phenomenal so they really, really enjoy that. And, because it is a sanctuary, most people who come to watch the show actually will be quiet and won't be talking during the performance -- where that happens at a lot of other clubs, especially if they're bars where people are more distracted, and they're more engaged with each other than with the band.

JS: Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel is director of special events at St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. Lisa Kay, we thank you so much for your time today.

LKP: It's my pleasure. Thank you Jennifer.

JS: This year's St. David's venues will host South by Southwest music showcases Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. So no quick turnaround for Sunday morning services after performances late Saturday night. Promised Lane Church showcases Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Central Presbyterian Church is a South by Southwest music venue Tuesday through Saturday nights. 

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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