AUSTIN, Texas — Some films are meant to be seen in a theater full of people. The documentary ‘Nothing Stays the Same: The Story of the Saxon Pub’ is one of those films.
A lively crowd filed into the Paramount Theatre Wednesday at noon for the world premiere of the film about the Saxon Pub, a listening room-slash-honky tonk that’s been an Austin institution since 1990. While there may have been a few out-of-towners seated in the rows, the reactions were reflective of a crowd of locals, from Saxon Pub regulars to the man behind the bar himself, Joe Ables.
These were the people that helped build the Saxon Pub’s legacy as a place where musicians could get their break. Where a regular could come in and their drink would be on the bar before they sat down. Where there’s live music every night.
The crowd hollered when they saw musicians onscreen that they love (which was all of them). They exclaimed sadly when they saw clips of ones they’d lost. They even clapped when the bartenders were being interviewed.
And they groaned in solidarity when they saw the montage of photos of Austin venues that don’t exist anymore.
Because that’s what ‘Nothing Stays the Same’ is about, more than anything else: how lucky Saxon Pub has been to keep going when so many of its fellows have been lost to high taxes and high-rises.
“As all this money is coming into town, it’s dissolving the culture that already exists here,” musician Guy Forsyth says in the film.
At one point, Ables takes the cameraman out behind Saxon Pub and shows him what surrounds it. Where there once was overflow parking, there are now apartments in every direction.
“Welcome to Condo Canyon,” Ables says dryly.
In April 2016, news came out that, like so many others, Saxon Pub was in danger of having to close down its South Lamar location and move somewhere else.
The staff, the musicians and the regulars were sad and scared. What would a new Saxon Pub be like? Before they had to find out, director Jeff Sandmann approached them with an idea: Let’s make a film documenting this incredible place before it goes away.
Getting people involved was easy. Sandmann said they shot around 65 interviews and between 30 and 35 live performances. The hardest part, he said, was choosing what to include.
It was meant to be a love letter to Saxon Pub and to the bygone eras of Austin’s music past that made the city what it is today. But then something great happened: Gary Keller -- with All ATX, a nonprofit that works with other nonprofits to help Austin musicians – bought Saxon Pub. The bar wouldn’t have to move after all.
“We’re here forever,” Ables said in a Q&A following the screening.
With Saxon Pub saved, the focus of the film shifted to Austin’s big problem: affordability, and further, how unaffordable the city is becoming for the artists who make it what it is.
The film crew rounded up owners of Austin’s other remaining icons – the Broken Spoke, the Continental Club, Atone’s, Threadgill’s – and spoke to them frankly about how tough it is to stay in business. And they spoke to Mayor Steve Adler about what can be done on a policy level to protect Austin’s music scene, to preserve the old soul of the city.
During the post-film Q&A, the consensus of those who spoke to the filmmakers was the same: “Thank you for making this, for talking about affordability and preserving the scene. Now, what can we do to help?”
And every answer was the same: Support live music – and pay for it.
“Go see live music. Don’t complain if there’s a cover,” producer Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel said. “If there’s no cover, tip the band, tip the staff, tip the sound guy.”
“Take someone in hand that moved here in the last 10 years and take them to a music venue,” Forsythe said. “Half of the population just moved here…They don’t know [about the scene].”
If you’d like to catch ‘Nothing Stays the Same’ in theaters, it plays again during SXSW on Saturday, Mar. 16 at 1:45 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a theater full of locals.
And when it’s over, you should go out and see some live music.