Music Legend Redd Volkaert Is Latest to Leave Austin

photo: Todd V. Wolfson

Austin, TX is losing yet another music legend. The latest to join the stampede out of the Live Music Capital of the World is Grammy winner and guitar-playing legend Redd Volkaert. Renown throughout the country music world and beyond for being one of the greatest Telecaster players in history, Volkaert once played in Merle Haggard’s backing band The Strangers in the spot previously manned by Roy Nichols, and has been a mainstay of the Austin live music scene for some 20 years.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, and picking up guitar at an early age, Volkaert moved to Alberta where he got his first serious start as a professional musician. Redd would then move to Southern California in 1986, eventually running into a young Dale Watson, who would ultimately be the man to convince Volkaert to move to Austin. But before Redd would become a resident of the Lone Star State, he spent some 11 years in Nashville primarily as a live performer, playing with the likes of Ray Price and The Statler Brothers among others, and eventually behind Haggard. But he never quite liked it in Music City, where most of the musician work was centered around studio time as opposed to the clubs and honky tonks like in Austin.

So eventually Volkaert ended up taking Dale Watson’s advice and moved to the Texas Capital, and for some 20 years has been playing at Austin’s famed Continental Club with the supergroup Heybale! every Sunday, and his solo Happy Hour slot from 3:30 to 6:30 on Saturdays. These set times have been like an institution in Austin music, so much so they are included in literature for the music tourists who come to Austin and want to get an authentic taste of what the Live Music Capital is all about. Now Redd Volkaert is once again following Dale Watson, and leaving Austin as a place of permanent residence (Watson now splits his time between Austin and Memphis).

“Kathleen and I have decided to make a life changing move,” Volkaert announced on November 21st. “For me its just time for a change and new chapter. I’ve been in Austin 20 yrs, longer than anywhere I’ve ever lived, so its time to move along. Austin has been an awesome music/people place. After all its where I met my wonderful wife.”

Similar to Dale Watson, Redd Volkaert’s name has become synonymous with Austin music. Along with his sets at the Continental Club, he’s played with countless other Austin-based outfits, including most recently being featured on the Graham Reynolds project, Marfa: A Country & Western Big Band Suite. He’s also commonly called on for studio work around town, and is respected as a guitar player well beyond the country world. From Western Swing, to jazz and rock, Redd is considered an icon on the Telecaster with guitar models named after him. Despite his stout fingers and advanced age, he’s still considered one of the savviest guitar players alive.

But don’t worry, Volkaert is not retiring from music entirely. In fact he’s trading one famous music town for another. “We’re headed to Galax Virginia. A gorgeous place in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just north of Mt. Airy, NC (Andy Griffith)” he says. “We’ll start there in the new year. For me its just time for a change and new chapter. Kathleen has retired and will have lotsa room for her animals, hiking & riding trails, equestrian folks and fishing. I still look forward to traveling the road with my regular music folks. Also making new friends and getting to play with some of the great musicians in Virginia.”

Galax, Virginia is considered an epicenter of old-time music, and has hosted the Old Fiddler’s Convention since 1935. There’s also multiple instrument makers in town, and many part-time and permanent residents that consider music their primary occupation.

It’s not just Redd Volkaert and Dale Watson who have left gaping holes in the Austin music scene. Leo Rondeau and Brennen Leigh are two other big names from the country realm who’ve recently relocated primarily to Nashville in the continued exodus of Austin musicians. Many venues have also been shutting down recently, including Threadgill’s on South Riverside, located in the same area as the famous Armadillo World Headquarters. It closed on December 2nd, 2018. East Austin’s Hard Luck Lounge just closed on November 23rd due to rising rent. They join a laundry list of venues that have been forced to shutter recently due to skyrocketing overhead, property taxes, and encroaching development.

Though much continues to be made in local Austin politics about how to solve the city’s music crisis and preserve its rapidly contracting live entertainment scene, the solutions are too late in coming and mostly symbolic, such as shared practice spaces, some units of affordable housing, or tip options for bands in performance spaces, none of which address the underlying reasons that musicians are leaving the city, or not choosing to come to Austin in the first place.

Along with skyrocketing cost of living, gentrification, and a general lack of interest in music due the techification of the Austin economy, the primary focus on music in Austin is shifting to major promoters like C3 Presents, which after selling a 51% stake to LiveNation, spends most of their time promoting bands outside of Austin to the wider population, as opposed to supporting local talent first in events like the massive ACL Fest. This year the PBS program Austin City Limits booked Kane Brown and other national acts to perform, but the show has still not featured Austin music icons such as Ray Wylie Hubbard, or other upcoming local bands who could benefit from the exposure.

Just this week it was announced that LiveNation has paired with the University of Texas to build a new $338 million arena in Austin. Meanwhile many of the clubs and honky tonks that Austin is known for can’t keep taxes and development from closing their doors and/or bulldozing their locations.

One of the main draws for musicians to migrate to Austin from all across the country has been to study under and walk in the footsteps of artists like Dale Watson and Redd Volkaert, and one of the biggest draw of tourists to Austin over the years has been to be able to see artists like Redd Volkaert and Dale Watson perform in their natural environment. But no matter what happens to Austin music in the future, Redd Volkaert has left an indelible and iconic footprint on the Austin music scene that will never be replaced. Austin was lucky to have him, and keep him this long.

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