Digital Storytelling and Visitor Analytics for City and Cultural Institutions
With a claim to be the spawning point for weirdness in Austin, Threadgill's was opened by county music fan and Prohibition-era bootlegger, Kenneth Threadgill, in 1933. Threadgill stood in line all night to be one of the first people in the country to own a beer license, and months later he opened a Gulf filling station just north of the Austin city limits. During the 50's local Austin musicians started appearing at Threadgill's to play, and although there was no stage, the musicians rocked out in the center of the filling station where Threadgill would pay them with free rounds of beer.
As time went on the filling station evolved into an honest to goodness bar, and in the 1960s Austin was a gathering spot for the strange and evolving social climate in America. With the collision of incoming hippies and the home team rednecks, opportunities for conflict were plenty, but Threadgill's spread its arms open to all sorts in Austin, and a tradition of cultural tolerance was built in the musical beer joint.
With music shows from rock and roll to true blue country, Threadgill's is a center for the Austin music culture that has existed since the 30s. It was at Threadgill's that Janis Joplin began to lift her career off the ground. Joplin would play with the Waller Creek Boys who, although only a small acoustic trio, put on a huge show that packed the place on Wednesday night. The first time that Threadgill heard Joplin sing he had no more to say than, "that girl's really good," and both Kenneth and his wife began to treat Janis like one of their own kids.
Although Janis Joplin was a fairly weird face among the folkies at Threadgill's, people started showing up just to see her sing, and the relationship that she and Threadgill developed became mysteriously legendary. On July 10, 1970, Janis Joplin, now a huge name, returned to Austin for Threadgill's birthday. Although she didn't perform much during that time, she did do a solo show for the crowd of 8,000 that came for Kenneth Threadgill's birthday. After the show, Joplin gave Threadgill his birthday present -- a wreath of flowers that she called "a good lei."
In 1996 Threadgill's World Headquarters opened up in the south of Austin. While the original location has the theme of Austin between the 1930's and the 60's, the southern location celebrates and remembers the Austin music scene. The building was almost torn down and the legacy of Threadgill's lost forever, but in the nick of time, the bar was purchased by Eddie Wilson, owner of Armadillo World Headquarters. Wilson had the idea of turning Threadgill's into a southern style restaurant, and on New Year's Eve of 1981, the restaurant stepped into the limelight and found immediate success.
Cover Photo Credit: Dave Wilson via Flickr