At an East Side Bar, Wednesday Nights Signal a New Rhythm for Austin Music

Dec 7, 2016

People grumble about how fast Austin is growing. But growth can also bring chances for creative collaboration. That’s what happened at Dozen Street bar near the corner of 12th and Chicon streets, when a musician from Philadelphia started hosting a regular Wednesday night session for fellow players.

Dave Manley (left) plays guitar with Sonia Moore. Though Manley helped found the Wednesday night jam night, he's leaving Austin for Nashville.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

“One of the things that was really cool about Philly how a lot of the artists came out of these community sessions,” said multi-instrumentalists and music producer Dave Manley.

He says in Philly they were called "vibe sessions."

"You have a rhythm section that would basically improvise music behind poets and singers and rappers," he explained. "And it was a really good place to hone your chops to accompany people.”

Madi Distefano, owner of Dozen Street Bar.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

When Manley moved to Austin four years ago, he met fellow Philadelphian Madi Distefano.  They decided to start a vibe night her bar, Dozen Street, on Wednesday nights.  

Distefano dubbed it “Butter and Jam.”

A lot of venues hold open mic nights, some also hold jam sessions, but Austin vocalist C.J. Edwards says the vibe night is different.  

“There’s nothing else happening like this. It can flip from a hardcore metal song into a jazz song at a moment’s notice.” said Edwards, who M.C.’s the music night.

He says the evening has become important for Austin’s growing soul music scene.

“One of the things is that we’ve brought all the musicians that play soul music together. We’ve sort of created this nexus,” he said.

Jon Deas runs a sound board at the Dozen Street "vibe night." Deas is also a house keyboardist for the weekly music night.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

That, along with the fact that Dozen Street is in the heart of historically black East Austin, lends itself to a lot of discussion about Austin’s reputation for live music.

“It’s the music capitol, but not for all music,” said keyboardist Jon Deas, who also helps organize the sessions. “We like to do the funk and the R&B and the soul and people look for it, but they don’t know where to find it.”

But people involved in “Butter and Jam” say Austin’s musical reputation is changing.  It’s not all Willie Nelson and indie rock anymore.

“The soul community, we’re forceful now you’ve got to hear us,” Edwards said.

But it will have to grow without Manley’s input. He recently left Austin for Nashville, where he found professional prospects.

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

“The reality of making a living in Austin as a musician is definitely waning, “he said. “It’s sad. I wanted to stay here.”

That doesn’t mean the vibe night is over. Dozen Street will keep hosting the vibe nights every Wednesday.

“We’re gonna keep it going the people are coming out and they like it and there's nothing else like that really happening,” says Deas.