Cactus Cafe operates as a non-profit venue. Please consider making a gift to the Cactus Cafe to support the historic listening room.
On Valentines Day in 1979 at the Student Union on University of Texas Campus, the Cactus Cafe opened in the former lunch room known as the Chuck Wagon. Since then, the intimate 150-seat venue has lent it’s stage to legendary artists such as Towns Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Taj Mahal, and Steve Earle.
According to a June survey conducted by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs 90% of Austin’s Music Venues are predicted to be closed by Halloween. Out of 54 designated music venues in Austin, that forecast would leave just about six.
It’s not the first time Cactus Cafe faced financial fears. In May 2010, KUT took over programming of the Cactus Cafe after the university nearly closed the venue due to budget concerns. When KUTX launched in 2013 it became a natural promotional partner for the Cactus. Unfortunately, the way operations were negotiated in the 2010 set-up, bar sales from all shows go to the university – which is largely how most music venues are able to break even or make a modest profit.
Ask any singer/songwriter in Austin their favorite place to present their craft and likely they will say the Cactus Cafe. Known for attentive audiences that are there for the artists, the Cactus has always been a place to nurture new talent – Alison Krauss, Brandi Carlile, The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks in case you’re behind) – have all graced the Cactus stage in their early years and the (pre-pandemic) Monday night open-mic night hosted for years by Kacey Crowley is popular for it’s supportive environment.
Since we aren’t able to enjoy intimate moments in the Cactus Cafe this summer – KUTX and Cactus Cafe brings you eight pop-up sessions from the front yards, backyards and studios of some of the Austin artists who make the Cactus Cafe such a special place.
Cactus Cafe at Home Artists: Carson McHone, Israel Nash, Aaron Behrens, Carrie Rodriguez, Western Youth, Greyhounds, David Ramirez, Star Parks
All videos produced by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon with audio mixed by Jake Perlman.
Carson McHone: guitar, vocals – Shot in South Austin, May 2020
Carson McHone – “How ‘Bout It”
“Growing up in Austin – some of my earliest memories are from the Cactus Cafe. I remember one time I went as a kid with my folks and we saw Ed Miller and Rich Brotherton playing. Ed got his daughter Maggie up to sing with them and it just always felt like a family affair, even when I began to play there myself. It’s always been a very, very special spot.” – Carson McHone
“How ‘Bout It” from Carousel (Nine Mile Records – October 26, 2018)
Israel Nash: guitar, vocals – Shot at Plum Creek Sound in Dripping Springs, May 2020
Israel Nash – “Canyonheart”
“Cactus Cafe is a magical place that really represents the fabric of the Austin music scene, both past and present. You can smell those beer soaked floors, you can hear stories and old songs in the walls.” – Israel Nash
“Canyonheart” from Topaz (Desert Folklore Music – April 17, 2020)
Aaron Behrens: guitar, vocals, Melany Behrens: assistant
Aaron Behrens – “Junkie”
“With Ghostland Observatory I get to run around and do all the lasers and all the big crazy shows. But the Cactus is a place I get to go play my acoustic guitar, which I originally had in my hand. And it’s every musician songwriter’s dream to sit there and have the audience actually listen and not talk. And that’s what I always loved about the Cactus, was because it was the place where the musician got to truly just be the artist. When you play at the Cactus, you feel appreciated as artists.” – Aaron Behrens
“Junkie” from forthcoming album
Carrie Rodriguez: vocals, fiddle; guitar, Luke Jacobs: guitar; Cruz Jacobs-Rodriguez: clapper – Shot in South Austin, May 2020
Carrie Rodriguez – “Absence”
“Cactus Cafe, truly, is my favorite listening room to play in the country. People are so reverent and so into the music. But when the song is over, everyone in the room feels completely free to do whatever they want. They can stand up and hoot and holler. They can do great bows from the audience. They can get up and dance. So it’s got this beautiful combination of reverence and wildness that I think is unique to Austin and our music community and our music loving community.” – Carrie Rodriguez
Taylor Williams: vocals, guitar; Graham Weber: vocals, guitar – Shot in North Loop Austin, May 2020
Western Youth – “Knocked Out”
“The Cactus Cafe was the first place I ever went when I moved to Austin. I played there on my third day in town and I ran the open mike for a few years after that. It’s been such a pivotal place for me and for our band. I mean, yeah, we played a little too loud in there a few times, and it’s been nice when we played acoustic in there. And just the knowledge of the shows that preceded that, you know, I mean, Townes Van Zandt – being able to stand on the stage that he was playing – this is a very special place.” – Taylor Williams and Graham Weber, Western Youth
“Knocked Out” from a forthcoming album
Anthony Ferrell: vocals, keys; Andrew Troupe: guitar – Shot at Bud’s Recording Station in East Austin, June 2020
Greyhounds – “Long Goodbye”
“Long Goodbye” from Primates (Nine Mile Records – July 10, 2020)
David Ramirez: vocals, guitar – Shot in University Hills Austin, June 2020
David Ramirez – “Hallelujah, Love is Real!”
“Cactus Cafe is one of my favorite rooms to play in the country and as many stages and as many people I’ve been in front of over the years, nothing makes me more nervous or anxious than getting up on that small stage in that intimate room. Personally, it’s just how attentive and focused everyone is. They’re there to be a part of something. So all my love and all my thanks to Cactus Cafe for always having me back. And I hope once this all passes, I’ll be there as soon as possible. “ – David Ramirez
“Hallelujah, Love Is Real!” from My Love Is A Hurricane (Sweetworld Music, July 17, 2020)
Andy Bianculli: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Sam Howden: vibraphone – Shot in East Austin, July 2020
Star Parks – “Landlady”
“I moved to Texas about ten years ago and the first time I played the Cactus Cafe we opened up for Mike and the Moonpies. It was their record release show. I don’t think we really had any business playing there and they put us on the bill. It was the first time we played a stripped down set to a crowd that was listening – so it’s very nerve wracking – and it was one of the things that you like, you knew it was kind of a big deal so you had to kind of bring it. It’s a great room. Great sound. And I hope we can play there again.” – Andy Bianculli, Star Parks
“Landlady” from The New Sounds of Late Capitalism (Modern Outsider – February 14, 2020)
Watch all eight videos in the player below. Enjoy even more KUTX social distancing pop-ups here.
Like many other music venues in town, the Cactus Cafe has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike many music venues in town, the Cactus operates as a non-profit – we are funded solely by ticket sales. We do not receive any revenue from the bar, nor do we receive funding from The University of Texas. If you can, please donate here. Thank you!
For Carrie Rodriguez, the Cactus Cafe is a celebratory space. Her frequent Cactus residency, Laboratorio, highlights Latinx culture through music and spoken word, and it’s an opportunity for Rodriguez to play with some of the best musicians in Central Texas. This week on My KUTX, she plays an hour of Laboratorio and Cactus Cafe favorites, ranging from Austin mainstay Adrian Quesada to San Antonio conjunto queen Eva Ybarra and more. Hear Carrie Rodriguez’s My KUTX on Saturday, June 27 at 6 p.m. or listen at any time in the player above. Also, be sure to check out A Song For You, Rodriguez’s at-home video series where she and her husband Luke perform songs and take requests.
–Art Levy // producer, My KUTX
[intro music: Carrie Rodriguez – “Perfidia”]
1. Los Super Seven – “Heard It On The X”
2. Rosie Flores – “Love Don’t Love Nobody”
3. Ocote Soul Sounds – “Primavera”
4. David Marez – “I’ve Got Soul”
5. Suzanna Choffel – “Continental Drift” (feat. David Garza)
6. David Pulkingham – “La Partida”
7. Brownout – “Naín”
8. Charanga Cakewalk – “Dirty Cumbia”
9. Gina Chavez – “Miles de Millias”
10. Kat Edmonson – “You Can’t Break My Heart”
11. Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto – “Me Estoy Enamorando”
12. Superfónicos – “Cumbéalo”
Think you can’t sing beyond your shower? Always sitting out karaoke nights? KUTX & Rock It Choir‘s Choir at the Cactus is a new monthly event designed to prove you wrong!
Spend an afternoon at the Cactus finding your voice (and some bonus confidence) with a rock sing-along and fun group voice lesson from Rock It Choir’s Julie Blake (who trained with Seth Riggs, vocal coach to Stevie Wonder, the late Prince, Madonna, and more.) Each month, you’ll learn a song in 3-part harmony, from an artist pulled right from KUTX’s playlist. Even cooler – your ticket will help raise some extra funds for an Austin music non-profit.
No rehearsals! No auditions! No singing experience necessary! Just a sense of adventure and a little courage. (And if you’re over 21, the Cactus’ bar will be open to assist with the courage part.)
(Check out footage of August’s event here.)
Choir at the Cactus: Where the audience is the choir!
Tickets are $10, and can be purchased in advance here the 1st each month.
50% of each ticket sold benefits a different Austin music non-profit each month.
|Sat., Nov 16; 3-5 p.m.||Radiohead / “Creep”||Swan Songs|
December date postponed. 2020 dates TBD
Choir at the Cactus FAQ:
What if I don’t know the song well? Will lyrics be available?
Yes! Song lyrics will be displayed on a screen, and we’ll run through the melody at least once before learning harmonies. You can familiarize yourself with the song ahead of time if you’d like, but bear in mind that the arrangement may be a little different from what you’re familiar with.
Is Choir at the Cactus a family-friendly event?
Choir at the Cactus is an all-ages event. However, it’s probably more appropriate for people 12 and up, due to the attention required during vocal instruction, as well as the line-of-sight (though we try our best to make sure everyone can see the lyrics.)
Where can I park?
Metered parking is available around campus, and we recommend using the City of Austin’s Park ATX App. If you don’t want to worry about meters, paid parking is also available in the San Antonio Garage, located at 2420 San Antonio Street. Parking in the garage for the duration of Choir at the Cactus will run you $9 (remember that carpooling makes it feel cheaper!) To reach the Cactus from the garage, head east to Guadalupe, cross to the other side, then head south on Guadalupe to 22nd St. The Cactus is at 22nd and Guadalupe on the first floor of the Texan Union building on campus.
We also recommend taking a taxi or using a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber, particularly if you plan to drink at this event (because, let’s face it – some of us need a few drinks before we can sing in public.)
Why does only half of my ticket benefit that month’s chosen non-profit?
Here at KUTX, it’s important to us that artists are paid for their time and work. Choir at the Cactus involves not only day-of work, but time spent arranging the songs we’ll sing. 50% of ticket sales go to the working artists from Rock It Choir that produce this event, and the remaining 50% go to that month’s selected Austin music non-profit. (Our hope is that by hosting this event monthly, it will grow into something that can benefit our non-profit partners in an even bigger way.)
Will tickets be available at the door?
If any tickets are left by the event date, they’ll be available for purchase at the door. However, we recommend purchasing them ahead of time. The Cactus is a relatively intimate room with a capacity of 140.
Have a question not answered here? Holler.