Lower Broadway vs. 6th Street, Comedy vs. Music, & Joe Rogan
There has always been something unsettling about all of the grousing surrounding what a deleterious tourist destination Lower Broadway in Nashville has become. Sure, it’s teeming with uninteresting out-of-towners in their pastel and khaki clothing, drunk college kids darting in and out of megabars branded behind pop country icons, and pedal taverns full of tipsy bachelorettes braying out bad Carrie Underwood renditions, with it all generally making a trip to that portion of downtown Nashville an uncool experience for many natives and self-aware sightseers.
There is nothing more hip than complaining about what Lower Broadway has turned into over the last half decade or so. Granted, having frequented the Lower Broadway district for years and understanding its historical importance to country music, seeing it now populated with bars owned by Jason Aldean, Kid Rock, and Florida Georgia Line frequented by folks who are uncaring of where they are in the world as they get wicked hammered and listen to a classic rock cover band can leave a bad taste in your mouth.
But the situation could be so much incredibly worse. It could be 6th Street in Austin, which is supposed to be the entertainment epicenter of the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and instead over the last few years has become a derelict portion of town barely holding onto its once important prominence, filled with homeless vagrants, open air drug markets, and abandoned buildings that were once teeming with tourists who’ve now been turned away due to crime, filth, blight, and a dubious reputation for murders and mass shootings.
First of all, everyone needs to appreciate what an economic engine Lower Broadway has become for the country music economy in general, and the independent country music community specifically. Forget all the corporate bars for a second, and just appreciate the performance slots that establishments such as Robert’s Western World, Layla’s, Alan Jackson’s Good Time Bar, and other bars give to actual country artists. They’re also able to put these artists in front of what ultimately comprises a national and international audience from the amount of people who frequent Lower Broadway every week from far flung destinations.
Though it can be a hard fought life trying to make it in country music from a stage on Lower Broadway, it is definitely possible, and the entertainment corridor has created a foundation from which artists can rise to national prominence if they’re good enough, and work hard at it. We’ve seen this recently with artists such as Joshua Hedley and Emily Nenni among others. If nothing else, the stages of Lower Broadway bestow an opportunity to artists to pay dues, refine their chops, and work out their own songs in between classic country covers that help keep the legacy of country music alive.
Lower Broadway is not all terrible by any stretch. Without the live performance farm system that it comprises, independent country music would be considerably worse off. And without all of the tourists flowing into the region, it also wouldn’t be as robust and successful at churning out and supporting up-and-coming talent, not to mention the buildings and business important to the historical fabric of country music that still remain viable due to the economic activity in the area.
Meanwhile, 6th Street in Austin in many ways resembles what Lower Broadway did back in the 80s and early 90s after the Ryman Auditorium was shuttered, the Grand Ole Opry moved across town, leaving the once bustling entertainment corridor and the few music-oriented businesses behind to fend for themselves. Lower Broadway never fully retreated back into full abandonment, and neither has 6th Street. But 6th Street is far from the once hopping destination, teeming with locals and tourists frequenting cool bars and music venues, and feeling safe to do so like so many Lower Broadway patrons do every day.
Even before the pandemic, many of 6th Street’s venues had become hip-hop or dance clubs, with any true “live” music relegated to other parts of the city, or perhaps on the adjacent Red River Street. Country music in Austin consists of a diaspora of clubs scattered across the city that are all Uber rides away from each other, from the legendary Continental Club on South Congress, to The Broken Spoke on South Lamar, to the newish but now legendary White Horse east of downtown, to Sagebrush south of Hwy 71 that opened in 2020. There is still a vibrant network of Austin honky tonks, but it’s not epicentered anywhere, and most certainly not on 6th Street.
6th and Red River used to be the very heart of the 6th Street entertainment district, with Emo’s and its inside/outside stages anchoring the northeast quadrant of the street. Ever since Emo’s moved to east Riverside, other businesses in that portion of 6th Street have left or failed as well, and now it’s almost entirely abandoned. A crossroads that would usually be teeming with life during Austin’s annual SXSW gathering in mid March was mostly a ghost town in 2023. The buildings couldn’t even open up temporarily for corporate parties or showcases, in part because they’re in such bad disrepair. This is a far cry from Lower Broadway, where every square foot of property is hyper utilized, and heavily sought after.
But there is hope of a revitalization of 6th Street to perhaps recapture its once high prominence as a national-level entertainment district. It is not being facilitated through music though. It’s being done through Joe Rogan and standup comedy. After having moved to Austin during the pandemic, Joe Rogan and now a cast of about a dozen national-level comedians that call Austin home are injecting new life into 6th Street.
One of those comedians is Tony Hinchcliffe, who started hosting his widely-popular open-mic style comedy show “Kill Tony” from the stage of Austin’s legendary blues club Antone’s now located on 5th Street. Hinchcliffe later moved “Kill Tony” to the Vulcan Gas Company on 6th, which was previously mostly a techno/EDM club. With Joe Rogan and other national comedians using Vulcan Gas Company to work out material locally before taking it on the road, it created a foothold for the other style of live performance in the “Live Music Capital of the World”—standup comedy.
But the scene that emerged at Vulcan Gas Company wasn’t alone. The Creek and the Cave was a legendary New York comedy club for 14 years that was forced to close during the pandemic. Instead of going away entirely, they moved the club to Austin and into 611 E 7th Street where the old club Barracuda had been located before it closed in June of 2020. It’s the same property where Red 7 was located before Barracuda. Both Red 7 and Barracuda cited lowering attendance to live music shows, and rising rents as the reason for closing down. Comedy could do what music couldn’t in the crux of the 6th Street/Red River portion of downtown Austin.
Then on March 7th, Joe Rogan upped the ante for comedy on 6th Street by opening his Comedy Mothership at 320 E. 6th in the old Ritz Building originally built in 1929. With its theater-style layout, it was perfect for conversion into a comedy club. It had most recently been a boutique movie theater for the local theater chain Alamo Drafthouse. After opening, the club immediately became one of the hottest businesses in Austin, with tickets going for upwards of $900 as national comedians from all around the country came to christen the stage that Rogan eventually hopes becomes America’s proving ground for up-and-coming comedic talent.
Joe Rogan said about the opening, “I’m done with milestones. I think I just like risks. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s buy a building on a street filled with crack addicts.'” That’s a fair way to characterize 6th Street in Austin at the moment, and the Comedy Mothership is located right in the the very heart of it. But if Joe Rogan has his way, the club will be a catalyst for a revitalization of the district, making Austin and 6th Street the “Comedy Capital of the World.”
This all may be very good for 6th Street in Austin. But it’s fair to question, what does this mean for music in Austin? At the moment comedy clubs are still considerably outnumbered by dance clubs and music establishments on 6th Street and throughout Austin, and it’s hard to see that changing significantly anytime soon. But could comedy eventually override music in the Live Music Capital of the World?
Meanwhile, Joe Rogan has been a major force for good behind the independent country music revolution. Sturgill Simpson’s appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast right as The Joe Rogan Experience was beginning to explode nationally were definitely a significant part of Sturgill’s meteoric rise. Appearances by Chris Stapleton, Shooter Jennings, Wheeler Walker Jr., and Rogan’s shout-outs of Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, and up-and-coming Austin honky-tonker Ellis Bullard have been a major force behind the rise of these independent artists.
Ideally, if Joe Rogan and comedy truly enact a revitalization of 6th Street and the greater region, it will take music with it as opposed to shoving it out of the way. But with the way raising rents were already razing what once was the bustling 6th Street district, then with the pandemic doubling down on the dilemmas for club owners, and then the crime waves post-pandemic damning prospects even more, this is what already pushed many music clubs off of 6th to the back streets and suburbs, or to be shuttered entirely.
What’s for certain is that with the opening of Joe Rogan’s Comedy Mothership, it is a new day for the legacy of Austin and live performance. It’s an opportunity to see a rising tide raising all boats in downtown Austin entertainment. But this can only happen if the comedians are good stewards, the city and it’s boosters are clear-eyed and conscious with their moves to help facilitate the revitalization of 6th Street as opposed to stifling it as they’ve done during previous eras, and if creativity is allowed to flourish as opposed to just paid lip service by city leaders and the tech sector that now dominates the Austin economy.
Will 6th Street once again be what it was during its heydey in the 90s and early 00s, perhaps even rivaling Lower Broadway in Nashville? We’ll have to see. But the goal has to be to try and grow, yet to grow smarter, to grow better, and since it’s Austin, keep it creative, and weird.
Because even though those that love Live Austin and 6th Street would love to see a grand revitalization, they also don’t want to see it turn into the pop culture Disneyland that Lower Broadway in Nashville has become. Finding a way to have money, tourists, and fans of all live mediums of entertainment flow back to the 6th Street region and feel safe to do so is a dream many would love to see realized. But for it to be done right, it will take vision. That’s something Joe Rogan has brought to the Comedy Mothership. It’s what the rest of Austin needs to bring to bringing 6th Street back as the heartbeat of the Live Music ( and now Comedy) Capital of the World.
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March 27, 2023 @ 8:23 am
Who would have thought Joe Rogan dry humping a stool would lead to ‘real’ live music being saved.
March 27, 2023 @ 11:07 am
A few observations to go along with what you stated about Lower Broadway. It provides a way for musicians to make a decent living. Guys like Eddie Lange, Rory Hoffman, Jimmy Lester, Joe Fick, The Cowpokes, Kevin Denney, Tom Buller and a ton of others, all do weekly gigs there. A benefit to them is they stay local and don’t have to tour. The people come to them. It’s a win when you are raising a family. So I agree Lower Broadway is good to musicians in general. If there is a downside, you play 3 -4 hrs at a time without any substantial breaks, and you gotta play covers primarily.
Won’t speak to Austin, as I don’t know enough about it. I have heard Rogan talk about the difficulty of doing stand-up in the current political climate, and how the younger audiences have little tolerance for jokes about themselves…gotta admire him for soldiering on and investing in comedy clubs.
March 27, 2023 @ 11:46 am
Rogan is one of the best interviewers ever. That is his strongest talent. As a comedian, he’s mediocre at best. He closest comedian friends in his orbit: Toni H, Ari, Segura, Bert, are all B and C tier talent comedians. The political correctness excuse is trivial here. Funny is funny. When I saw Bill Burr at the Ryman his biggest laugh came from a sexual assault joke and a large black woman in front of me laughed the loudest.
I also think it’s unreasonable to expect Nashville to remain a mostly classic country town. Even in the 90’s broadway was peppered with dirty bookstores, prostitution, and loan buildings. Nashville does have a responsibility to keep pockets of real country music open and thriving.
March 27, 2023 @ 4:53 pm
Gotta disagree with you a little, Strait. Rogan isn’t one of the absolute best comedians, but he’s far from mediocre. Rocky Mountain High probably cracks my Top 20 favorite specials of all time, and that was a Comedy Central feature, back in the day when they were hard to get. His subsequent Netflix specials also did great numbers.
He’s also helped some of the most hilarious up and comers pop – Shane Gillis, Mark Normand of late. And I think this club is just another way of giving back to the comedy community, providing a safe spot to work out material.
It would be awesome if an sunsetting music artist with a similar amount of FU money did the same, in one of these towns.
March 27, 2023 @ 5:19 pm
Shane Gillis and Mark Normand are some of the best out there now, but they aren’t in Rogan’s inner circle. He has helped give them more exposure sure but he isn’t constantly propping them up like he his with his regular buddies including that coke head Cuban liar Joey Diaz.
I’ve watched multiple Rogan comedy specials and barely laughed.
I genuinely like Rogan, but it’s mostly for his interviewing prowess.
March 28, 2023 @ 6:37 am
Thank you Strait, never heard of this Shane Gillis guy but he’s hilarious! i’m down the rabbit hole now.
March 27, 2023 @ 5:27 pm
The biggest reason I make fun of Rogan’s comedic chops is because he uses the ‘douche jock’ approach to bully people into laughing at his over acted bits. And he’s CONSTANTLY patting himself on the back for being a comedian and going on about “time perfecting the craft” as if that equals being the best comedian. It’s adjacent to all the 20 yr comedians being jealous of Bo Burnham for coming out of nowhere and instantly becoming successful. Like it had nothing to do with him being cerebral and absolutely original and hilarious. (Not saying Rogan is directly playing jealous)
I think what Rogan is doing with the comedy club will be a net positive. It’s just that Rogan’s comedy is for people who either have gotten, or have contemplated getting Rogan’s race tattooed on their calf after doing DMT and binging David Goggins.
March 27, 2023 @ 9:35 pm
Haha bro, you’re wayyy too hard on the guy. He’s a meathead that grew up in Boston during the 80s, doing martial arts. Wtf did you think he was going to act like?
Loud, hamfisted, and obnoxious is the default. The fact that he became a great listener is a damn near miracle.
March 28, 2023 @ 3:49 am
Hahaha fair enough
Robert's Country Blog
March 27, 2023 @ 2:37 pm
Those are some very good names you mentioned. I’ve seen at least four of those at Robert’s Western World in Nashville. I also saw Eddie with Mo Pitney in Texas and Rory with Alex Meixner in Texas. Although I live 30 miles from Austin, I’ve yet to spend much time on 6th street. In the last month, I’ve
recently enjoyed shows at a few of the “far south Austin” venues (Sam’s Town Point, Giddy Ups, Far Out Lounge, etc) and I go to Gruene/New Braunfels often.
March 27, 2023 @ 11:57 am
I visited Lower Broadway for the first time last summer. I had low expectations, thinking it would feel like some combination of Times Square x Disney x bachelorettes, all with a pop country branding. And in many ways, it was. But it was also clean, easy to walk around, and many outdoor bars / terraces that were the right amount of crowded but not packed. And even the bad pop country songs still sound alright when live with real instruments and musicians.
The constant churn of tourists has to be annoying for any locals. But reading this reminds me, it’s not so bad.
March 27, 2023 @ 12:15 pm
From an Austin resident, I hope you are right about a possible 6th Street revitalization, but I’m not so optimistic. So long as Austin City Council continues to ignore the homelessness problem (the city’s main shelter happens to be two blocks away from Rogan’s new comedy club) and the owners of bars continue to cater to college students wanting dance music or hip hop and cheap drinks I don’t see it becoming a destination for live music tourists.
March 27, 2023 @ 7:17 pm
One thing that also might help is The Salvation Army is moving that shelter. I think that’s happening in the next week or two, which also might have a major shift in the vibe of downtown.
March 27, 2023 @ 8:05 pm
Austin is a lost cause that ship sailed when SXSW became a tech conference. Doug Sahm predicted it all.
March 27, 2023 @ 1:17 pm
Rumor has it Neil Young will be playing there soon.
March 28, 2023 @ 10:32 am
Now THAT’S funny! 😂
Thanks buddy, I needed that today.
March 27, 2023 @ 4:16 pm
Having visited Nashville and Austin to see live music, it’s sad to read this.
I was the one in pastel and khaki!
I was in both places over a decade ago! I even got to see Scott H Biram with Trig, at Red 7, I believe.
All I can think is: the music will find a way. It always does. It might get worse before it gets better, however it will find a way.
I’m thinking about how there are two things that equally scare us with these treasured parts of our cities … both gentrification and becoming derelict. Which is worse?
March 27, 2023 @ 4:25 pm
“Sturgill Simpson’s appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast right as The Joe Rogan Experience was beginning to explode nationally were definitely a significant part of Sturgill’s meteoric rise.”
This was exactly my experience and I’m sure I’m not alone. I grew up listening to Skynyrd, Willie, Waylon and popular country like Toby Keith and Alan Jackson. During the late 2000s I just about stopped listening as Aldean, Keith Urban and the Honky Tonk Badonkadonk took over. But when I heard that interview and found Sturgill on Spotify it was eye opening. There is so much good music if you know where to look. 49 Winchester, Gethen Jenkins, Mose Wilson all rock.
Even up here in Cleveland we get guys like Whitey Morgan come through the Ballroom. JD Clayton will be here in a few weeks. No Ticketmaster, no stadiums, just kick ass music that should be way more popular.
March 27, 2023 @ 4:40 pm
Any environment that can produce the likes of JD Simo can’t be all bad. Like most things, you’ve got to look past the bad to find the good, and all things change over time. Then they change back.
I’m old enough to have seen Lower Broad in the bad old days at the same time 6th was in it real heyday. The good music will still find its way out to the people that appreciate it.
March 27, 2023 @ 5:57 pm
“Any environment that can produce the likes of JD Simo can’t be all bad.”
Was lucky enough to catch Tab Benoit with JD Simo on Feb. 21st.
Because Corncaster, and Trevistrat said, go.
March 27, 2023 @ 4:47 pm
Was in Nashville a few weeks ago and lower Broadway wasn’t bad. Music wasn’t spectacular or anything, but was far from terrible. Heard the same songs over and over. Luke combs “beer never broke my heart,” journeys “dont stop believing,” etc. Saw a show at the bluebird cafe and that was great. Visited the fort worth stockyards last year and i would easily say the music there was much better than anything i heard on lower Broadway.
March 27, 2023 @ 5:12 pm
I travel to Fort Worth and Austin regularly for work and I agree that the music scene in Fort Worth, although smaller in scale, blows away Austin and Nashville. Walking the stockyards the speakers along the streets play nothing but Texas country – everything from George Straight to Cody Jinks. On weekends there are artists playing from noon until midnight and don’t even think of requesting a crap Nashville pop country cover or they’ll run you out of the place on a rail. Tulsa is on my list to visit soon, but right now I’d say FW has the coolest music scene going.
March 27, 2023 @ 5:06 pm
The one thing Joe Rogan said which I totally agree with is “I’m a fucking idiot, no one should listen to me!”
March 27, 2023 @ 5:20 pm
Found the Sam Harris fanboy.
March 27, 2023 @ 6:07 pm
Joe Rogan is a right wing bigot and is calling this comedy club, Anti woke, what ever the hell that means. Once again Triggers don’t leave anything out reporting covered that, I’m sure he fire back and cry I SAID IT IN THE ARTICLE, yeah keep dreaming man, all his comedy club is for racist homophobic, transphobic. Bigots, like honky shit face and the rest of the right wing bigots on here, can not wait for your what are you talking about ? Response Trigger , again if you cannot print the WHOLE STORY, YOU KNOW THE FACTUAL TRUTH, which you pride yourself so much in doing and calling out garbage rags like rolling stone , then practice what you preach, STOP BEING SUCH A DAMN HYPOCRITE, AND PRINT THE WHOLE STORY, IF NOT, then I suggest you find another line of work.
March 27, 2023 @ 8:05 pm
I’m not sure if you are intentionally trying to be this dumb.
Rogan is not right wing. You have obviously never listened to Rogan for more than 30 seconds if you believe that. Beating off at night to the Young Turks and Sam Seder is not “staying informed.”
“Woke” means an utter fixation on identity politics.
March 27, 2023 @ 8:23 pm
Yawn. If you hate it here so much why bother visiting and spewing your batshit all caps vitriol? There are a near infinite number of echo chambers for you to infest.
PS: yeah, I’m certain Trigger will find a different line of work because you’re mad he doesn’t perfectly echo your worldview. Go touch some grass.
March 27, 2023 @ 8:45 pm
“We Once again Triggers don’t leave anything out reporting covered that….”
Who needs a comedy club when we got this guy…
March 28, 2023 @ 7:55 am
So what color is your hair these days?
March 28, 2023 @ 7:49 am
Musically Austin is over. If you’re traveling to the center of the country to experience great live music go to Tulsa, not Austin. Tulsa is clean, mostly crackhead free, has an amazing food scene, better architecture and a more beautiful city than Austin will ever dream of. Most importantly, the live music scene in Tulsa is absolutely on fire. 15-20 different shows on Thur, Fri, and Sat nights week in and week out. The Cain’s Ballroom is America’s finest country music venue, bar none. The Mercury books every significant up and coming artist.
The tech bros priced the artists and musicians out of Austin. There is only the faintest dusting of the “Live Music Capital of the World” left in Austin and it isn’t worth a flight to the city. Austin is no more the music capital of the world than is Charlotte, but it’s a whole lot uglier and it’s no weirder than Tampa.
Go to Tulsa.
March 30, 2023 @ 2:45 am
ID, what would be your pick for venue number three? Something good on Sat Apr. 8th would be nice.
April 2, 2023 @ 4:33 pm
Narrator: It won’t.
The demise of live music in Austin has been greatly exaggerated.
Old 5 and Dimer
March 28, 2023 @ 8:57 am
I worked for years a block off 6th St. I avoid it like the plague now. Last time I went down there I was accosted by a naked screaming man clearly wired on some strong drug. Looked like it was about to get violent with the cops going by. They didnt even stop to help. Ive had a similar experience working in SanFrancisco. Just another has been liberal destroyed shyte hole now. Such a shame. This was such a cool city.
March 29, 2023 @ 6:36 am
I used to go to Nashville a lot in the past, living in Louisville it’s a 3 hour drive and an easy weekend getaway and I had plenty of friends that would let me couch surf. When I was a newbie and did Broadway a lot, I always had the same strategy, walk around until I found a bar playing classic stuff (usually Nashville Crossroads) and stay there until I was done. Still plenty of good music being played down there, you just have to find it
April 2, 2023 @ 9:22 pm
Damn Irondonut, show us on the doll where Austin touched you. Austin has 30+ shows every night of the week and double or triple that on weekends. I’ll take Saxon Pub, Continental Club, Cboys, ACL Live, Antone’s et. al. over the entire city of Tulsa. But sure, y’all go to Tulsa,
they need your business more than Austin does. Sure, covid hurt live music in Austin but it’s come back in a big way. Certain people have been ringing the death knell on live music in Austin for 7 plus years but I just keep going out to hear great music any night of the week I want to laughing all the way to the clubs.