Liberty Lunch Reunion Brings Back Old Times at ABGB

by Peter Blackstock. Austin 360, June 20, 2016.
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Thousands of Austinites attended, plus a few from a long way away. Thousands of old memories were relived, and some new ones were created. Thousands of dollars were raised in a silent auction benefiting Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and a good deal more was donated, pass-the-jar style.

All in all, “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch” turned out to be everything its presenters hoped it would be, and then some. From 5 p.m. till the other side of midnight, locals who remembered youthful days from the late ’70s to the late ’90s packed both the restaurant and beer garden at ABGB in South Austin.

Bids for a Liberty Lunch parking sign reached $1,500 in the silent auction benefiting HAAM at ABGB on Saturday, June 18, 2016. Photo by Peter Blackstock

Live music was the main attraction, with a steady stream of bands from different eras of the club’s history taking turns on the stage: Extreme Heat, Pressure, Joe King Carrasco, the Reivers, the WayOuts, Javier Escovedo, Fastball, Wild Seeds. Kerry Awn, who shared emcee duties with Lunch co-owner Mart Pratz, KGSR’s Andy Langer and KOKE’s Drew Bennett, even snuck in a new Uranium Savages tune at one point, a Trump-card titled “Make Austin Great Again.”

But the real reason most people came was just to see old friends, and remember others who are gone. From original owner Charlie Tesar to congenial doorman Ross Shoemaker to booking partner Louis Meyers, many of those who made the Lunch what it was have died in recent years, as Pratz noted from the stage early on. “We’re losing friends, and we’re getting old,” he said, by way of explaining why this event was put together.

Conversations flowed as freely as ABGB’s home brews from late afternoon through twilight and beyond. Before sundown, the indoor portion of the venue was one-in, one-out, with dozens waiting patiently in line for their turn to go inside. Many were happy to hang at the picnic tables outside, where the music was being streamed and shown on a screen in the corner.

Some got there early; by 5 p.m. a healthy crowd already was bidding on silent auction items and snatching up new commemorative T-shirts that sold out quickly (more will be printed for online ordering). Others arrived later and stayed till the end, when the Wild Seeds and guests did an abbreviated reprise of the time they played Van Morrison’s “Gloria” onstage at Liberty Lunch for 24 hours straight.

Joe King Carrasco and his band play in honor of Liberty Lunch on Saturday, June 18, 2016, at ABGB. Photo Jessalyn Tamez/American-Statesman

The peak probably came around 9 p.m. when crowd favorite Joe King Carrasco hit the stage. The joint was on fire for his nuevo-wavo Tex-Mex anthems, especially when Carrasco dashed out into the crowd and sang a couple of songs from atop one of the venue’s picnic tables.

Perhaps the most poignant musical moment was the first performance in nearly two decades of the WayOuts, a mainstay of Austin’s mid-late 1980s “New Sincerity” scene. Singer Kimble Hayes’ voice rang out loud and clear on “What You Want” (which was featured on “Veronica Mars” long after the band had split) and “Say Something.” Up front, the three grown sons of bassist Tom Thornton were quite excited to see their father’s band for the very first time.

WayOuts bassist Tom Thornton’s three sons at ABGB for “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch.”

In the end, it was perhaps Fastball’s surprise 1998 pop smash “The Way” that spoke most profoundly to the occasion, recalling a bygone Austin where “eternal summer slacking” was like a Liberty Lunch credo. And if those still around to tell the tale in 2016 aren’t like the song’s magical protagonists who “never get old and gray,” they sure had one beautiful near-solstice celebration to place the ages on hold, just for one night.