Nanci's Starting Place

by

Paul Johnston

Hole in the Wall


Nanci Griffith is one of my favorite folk singers. I thought it might be interesting for those that follow her career to see where her singing career began in the early '70s, The Hole in the Wall ( Officially, The Hole in the Wall Arcade and Restaurant). This establishment still exists and is located at 2538 Guadalupe in Austin, Texas, just off campus at the north-west side of University of Texas in Austin. Nanci would play here on Sunday evenings.

Prior to becoming the Hole in the Wall, this location was the home to Hank's Grill. In the mid sixties while I was attending the University of Texas, I would walk down to Hank's on a Sunday evening and order up Hank's well-known chicken fried steak which came with lots of gravy and fried potatoes and a small salad. A popular song that many of Hank's patrons would select from the jukebox was "A Taste of Honey" played by the Tijuana Brass. At some point in the late sixties, Hank's Grill was closed down.

The StageThe location laid dormant for a period of time, then became The Hole in the Wall. The yellow sign above the door is still the same. At first the lettering for Hank's Grill was removed from the store front, but you could see its outline for a number of years. Eventually, the store front was changed by adding a new door and windows to each side of the doorway.  As you walk in, the bar is to your right, the table area directly ahead and the small performing stage area is to your left in front of the left window. From the menu on the blackboard, chicken fried steak is still a main item there.The Bar

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Across the street at the corner of Dean Keeton Street and Guadalupe is the Communications Building at the University of Texas where Nanci recorded her sessions for "Austin City Limits". From one report she intended someday to go across the street to the "rusty bucket" and be recorded. The Communications Building's upper exterior is made of weathering steel. It is a special steel that is designed to rust superficially and then stop rusting. The resulting color is one of a dark brown. The top exterior appears now to be painted with a dark paint. With Nanci's great talent, she did indeed walk across the street from The Hole in the Wall to the "rusty bucket" and record for "Austin City Limits".

Communications Building

Home of "Austin City Limits".

As I was getting the photographs of one of Nanci's early starting places, I realized that there were a few other places that students of Nanci's early performing years would likely know about or be interested in. One would be Threadgill's. Threadgill's was originally an old gasoline filling station. Kenneth Threadgill, a famous Texas singer and yodeler, operated it as a small bar and would perform there.  He was known as the "Father of Austin Music".  One of the singers that he took under his wing was Janis Joplin. Janis would perform at this small establishment during the genesis of her career. During December, 1962 and in 1963, Janis actually recorded several of her songs at Threadgill's.  Threadgill's was a very popular place in the sixties and early seventies.

Threadgill's Entrance                       Threadgill's Corner                                                                   

Eventually, the operation was boarded up and put up for sale. On a sheet of plywood covering one of the front windows was sprayed in red paint by a fan of Janis " Janis was here".  The place was sold in 1981 to Eddie Wilson, the originator of " The Armadillo World Headquarters" and remodeled in keeping with the filling station motif.  Threadgill's is still the name of this fine restaurant that serves up some mighty good grub. Threadgill's is located at 6416 N. Lamar in Austin, Texas.

Another location is the original location of Antone's at 2915 Guadalupe in Austin, Texas. Antone's was noted for many of the famous blues performers that would play there. In the mid sixties, this location was Shakey's Pizza. Besides pizzas, Shakey's was noted for its famous sing-alongs that the audience would participate in while enjoying their meal. This location is now the location for Ecomat. Antone's a few year ago relocated in Austin.

Antone's Original Location

Another place I am sure the die-hard Nanci fans who have walked Guadalupe Street in Austin have visited is "Dirty's", officially Martin's Kum-Back Hamburger. It is located at 2808 Guadalupe. This place has been around a long, long time. While in college in the sixties I would order one of their hamburgers or hamburger steaks. I wonder if the cooks who were brothers, Wesley and JD, are still around. I would sit at the counter and watch them cook. JD, if I remember his initials correctly, had a rhythm to his cooking. He would wipe his hands; get the meat ball and put it on the grill. Then he would slap the meat with the spatula a couple of times and then flip the meat and slap again. As he was doing this, his body had a gentle swaying motion as if he were doing a dance with the grill. This procedure was constant for years. I always enjoyed this certainty of life when I would go there to eat.

Dirty's

All of these locations are within a short span of each other. If you want to start where Nanci did and take a tour of these noteworthy points, go right ahead. You will be glad you did!


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Copyright - © - 1998 - Paul Johnston