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'I could stay here forever': Growing number of musicians leaving Austin and moving to Lockhart

The city known for being the Barbeque Capital is becoming a haven for musicians leaving Austin. Why? Because of the laidback music scene and affordability.

LOCKHART, Texas — Lockhart is known as the official Barbeque Capital of Texas, but it's quickly making a name for itself as a haven for musicians who are leaving Austin. 

While you can smell brisket in the air on any given day in the town square, you may also hear the strumming of a guitar. It is a sound becoming more common around town as more and more Austin musicians keep getting drawn to the small town.

“It's been a growing music scene,” said Chazz Bessette, who moved from Austin to Lockhart four years ago. “Aside from that, it's just a beautiful place. It's a place where, you know, just as far as the cityscape, time stands still a little bit. There's a little bit of a feeling of permanence and nostalgia here.”

It is a feeling that Bessette said reminds him of what the Austin music community used to be before he left four years ago.

“There's more time to actually be like, ‘We're not loading out of this gig right away. We can just sit here and talk and really get to know each other,’” said Bessette.

Bessette said the reasons people move to Lockhart are for the music community, relaxed lifestyle, and one other thing.

“Oh, it's money, isn't it,” laughed Bessette. “I would say nearly all the musicians that I know here left for that reason, because of affordability.”

Bessette also runs Sunflower and Friends music store and school in town, raising the next generation of Lockhart musicians.

“It’s like this really fun thing to see, like, all these parents wanting the torch,” said Bessette.

He said Lockhart is a place for everyone.

“Electronic musicians, there's folk musicians, there's psychedelic weirdos, there's all sorts of stuff,” said Bessette. “It’s very eclectic.”

There are even some comedic musicians, like Stoney Gabel.

“Well, I started in Liberty Hill about 20 years ago, and I worked my way into Austin when I could afford it. And then I moved further south when I decided I needed to save more money,” said Gabel, who moved to Lockhart from Austin five years ago.  

But he said the Lockhart music community brings him something money can’t buy.

“Maybe when you're playing on Sixth Street, it's all tourists that just kind of come and go and maybe drop a buck or two in the tip jar, and maybe not,” said Gabel. “But here it's regulars. It's the same guys that come and request the songs, and they want to chat after the gig, and they invite you over for a barbecue and to hang out in their pool or whatever, you know? So it's a better community for sure.”

More music venues are also popping up around town, like Lockhart Arts and Craft. Gabel said he would rather play at these venues than leave for Austin. 

“Like, do I want to go to Austin, pay for gas, pay for parking, have a high-priced dinner before the gig and then worry about a parking ticket or whatever," said Gabel.  

But some musicians, like Talia Bryce, make the trip to Austin two to three times a week.

“The rest of my band, all four of them live in Austin, so it's a little inconvenient for them all to come down here. It makes more sense for me to go up there,” smiled Bryce, who moved just outside of Lockhart, to Dale, three years ago.

When Bryce is not playing in Austin with her band, The Lost Pines, she is trying to bring more music to the Lockhart area.

“I am executive director of two different nonprofits, one called Farmgrass and the other is Old Settlers Music Festival,” said Bryce.

Both festivals take place right outside Lockhart.

“I think people are looking for it,” said Bryce. “They like to not have to go into the city to experience something really fun.

These musicians are part of the newest wave moving to the town, but they were not the first.

“When we started having live music here, we were breaking new ground,” said JJ Grigar, who has lived in Lockhart for 47 years. “I mean, it was different for them. But it was enjoyable for them also.”

Grigar is part of the Lockhart Area Music Association, which started nine years ago to push for more live music. 

“Right now, the whole thing is pretty much on autopilot, which is where we wanted to be,” said Grigar of the Lockhart music scene.  

He not only supports music in Lockhart but also plays it.

“My band is called The Fossils, as you might imagine,” he laughed. “Same five guys for 21 years.”

Although JJ is still playing with the same guys, he is a big supporter of the new guys.

“With this latest generation that came to town, they kind of just of took the ball and just started running with it,” said Grigar.

With one of the first waves of musicians to Lockhart supporting the latest wave, these musicians said it’s only fair to support the next one.

“I can't gatekeep,” laughed Gabel. “I wasn't a native, you know. I moved here, too. So, if you guys up in Austin want to come down here and hang out with us, come on, man. Door's open.”

The door to a city where time moves slowly and moments can be cherished just a little longer.

“You know, I could stay here forever,” said Bessette. “I hope I can. You know, I'd rather do that now.”

If they stay long enough, they may just see a second music capital emerge.

Watch the three musicians perform here: 

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