'You can feel the energy': 'Songwriter's Happy Hour' tries to recapture the feel of the folk revival
“I wanted to recreate an old coffee house feel where people just sit really quietly, they're not on their smartphones, they're totally engaged with the person performing,” says artist and musician Ethan Azarian about his new weekly show at the Hole in the Wall, called Songwriter’s Happy Hour.
Azarian – thanks to some funding from the City of Austin’s Live Music Event Program – has created a sort of old-school singer/songwriter showcase that harkens back to a much earlier folk music revival.
“In the early sixties, there was a folk revival – my parents were part of this – in Cambridge and Amherst Mass,” Azarian explains (side note: Azarian’s father, as he nears his 90th year on planet Earth, is still performing under the name Tom Banjo). “And people would get into coffee houses and cafés and really listen to each other perform. And some of those people got to be famous, like Judy Collins came from those early sessions, Buffy Saint Marie, Taj Mahal. And I wanted to [recreate that at] the Hole in the Wall on that corner stage. And when I say 'corner stage,' everybody's gonna know what I mean about the corner stage at the Hole in the Wall. All the musicians shake their heads, yeah, that's a great place, that corner stage.”
One obstacle in recreating an early ‘60s coffeehouse vibe is that attention spans are a lot shorter in 2023 than they were in 1963. Despite that, Azarian is hoping that audience members will concentrate more on the performers than on their own smartphones.
“I think one of the things that you're doing is you're trying to create something that might be more interesting than whatever is on your phone,” says Caroline Sears, one of the singer/songwriters that’s taking part in November’s run of shows. “We know that it's hard to disconnect and reconnect to the present moment. And so we try to make it… worth the effort.”
Sears is too young to have any memories of the ‘60s folk scene, but she says it’s a period she has great affection for. “It's something I daydream about a lot,” she says. “It's something that, when I watch documentaries on those movements, I just like, stare at the ceiling and [think] Am I late? You know, did I miss it?”
Ruben Octavio, another of the performers in Songwriter’s Happy Hour, says the Hole in the Wall is an ideal venue for this type of show. “I think, you know, with how much Austin has changed, I think Hole in the Wall is one of the only last remnants of old Austin,” he says. “You know, my uncle saw Blaze Foley play at Hole in the Wall. And he would walk in and he'd see Doug Sahm watching baseball on the TV. You can feel that history there, you know? It's been around for so long. I'm not saying it's haunted or nothin’, but you can feel the energy of all the people who played before us and the people who are going to play after us.”
“I can't go meet Townes and Blaze and Doug,” says singer/songwriter Matthew Payne. “I can read all the stories, but then what you do to meet them is you go to the stage where they stood and you play your song... with their energy there.”