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The Cactus Cafe Celebrates 40 Years

Yearlong celebration includes concerts with I’m With Her, David Ramirez and more

AUSTIN, Texas – Jan. 24, 2019 – On Valentine’s Day in 1979, a small music venue opened on the University of Texas at Austin campus, becoming an iconic listening room where artists such as Robert Earl Keen, David Ramirez, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Wood & Wire, and many others honed their craft before achieving success. Forty years later, the Cactus Cafe continues to be one of Austin’s great Americana music traditions.

Next month, the Cactus Cafe kicks off a yearlong 40th anniversary celebration with an I’m With Her concert and a David Ramirez four-night stand, as well as other events to be announced.

“The Cactus Cafe was my first impression of what a music venue should be – intimate and inviting, the stage and space has a way of making the listeners feel like they’re a part of the show,” said artist Sarah Jarosz. “The red velvet curtains, the small wooden tables and chairs, the smell of coffee wafting from the back of the room — it all comes together to create the perfect little listening space.

“My very first live shows were there – I remember my parents taking me to see Bill Staines as a kid; I heard so many of my mom and dad's stories from their college days seeing Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett ‘before anyone knew who they were.’ I have such fond memories of sitting in with Tim O’Brien, Chris Thile and Mike Marshall, Ben Sollee, and duo shows with Billy Bright. It’s one of those rare places that feels magical upon stepping through the door, and that feeling comes through in the music that’s played on the stage.”

Highlights of the yearlong 40th anniversary celebration include:

  • Indie-Americana singer-songwriter David Ramirez – who gained prominence after his 2011 Cactus Cafe residency – hosts a four-night stand where he will perform a different album each night along with friends. The sold-out four-night stand runs Feb. 20-23.
  • Bluegrass trio I’m With Her, featuring Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, performs at the Hogg Auditorium, with special guest Delle Sorelle, on Feb. 24. Tickets are on sale now.
  • A limited edition Cactus Cafe 40th anniversary T-shirt and baseball cap to be sold as a fundraiser.
  • More anniversary events to be announced soon.

“Back in the day, the Cactus Cafe was one of the best rooms in town for singer-songwriters to play in,” said Grammy award-winning artist Lucinda Williams, who played at the Cactus early in her career. “I remember those special nights when you could hear a pin drop. It was always considered an honor to be booked there.”
In 1979, the Cactus Cafe opened in the space formerly known as the Chuck Wagon, giving musicians an indoor space to continue the jamming tradition that had evolved outside on the union patio. Since then, the intimate 150-seat venue has become a haven for early-career singer-songwriters.

Open mic nights have been a regular feature and helped artists like Betty Soo, Ruthie Foster, Kacy Crowley refine their performance chops. Open mic nights, now hosted by Crowley, continue to attract close to 100 performers every Monday.

Each March, the Cactus hosts the Townes Van Zandt Annual Birthday Salute featuring artists singing songs written by Van Zandt, who considered the Cactus Cafe his home club in Austin. The 2019 Birthday Salute takes place March 7.

The Cactus continues to host the Kerrville Folk Festival University Student Songwriter’s Competition each spring. The event, scheduled for April 10, highlights some of the University’s most talented students performing their original music with the winner earning the opportunity to perform at the Kerrville Folk Festival.

In May 2010, KUT 90.5 assumed programming oversight of the Cactus Cafe after the university nearly closed the venue due to budget concerns. Since then, the Cactus has expanded its programming to include the Views and Brews discussion series, which brings people together two nights a month to explore topics ranging from race in America, to the psychology of civic engagement, to the future of theater.

KUT’s sister station KUTX 98.9, the Austin Music Experience, became a natural promotional partner for the Cactus when it launched in 2013. The station promotes select shows on the air, including artist performances live in Studio 1A.

“We owe an immense debt of gratitude to Griff Luneberg who put the venue on everyone’s radar and to all the artists who have graced this room with their songs and stories over the years,” said Cactus Cafe Manager and Booker Matt Munoz. “Our audiences are true music fans and in an ever-changing city, the Cactus stands the test of time thru its honesty of song and the intimacy and connection that the artists provide every night.”

The Cactus Cafe gives students the opportunity to learn about the live music venue aspect of the entertainment industry by working in sound production, artist relations and merchandise sales.

About the Cactus Cafe
Since opening on Feb. 14, 1979, the Cactus Cafe has earned a national reputation by showcasing top local, regional, national and international acoustic music acts, while identifying and nurturing new talent. Legendary artists Ani Difranco, Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin, Butch Hancock, Sarah Jarosz, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Old Crow Medicine Show and Lucinda Williams performed at the Cactus early in their careers. Operated as a non-profit organization, the Cactus Cafe is programmed by KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.


Contact: Erin Geisler (512) 475-8072

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