Smile Politely

What happened at Licha’s? A look at HUM in Austin, TX

I’m writing this from Austin, Texas. I traveled down to be a part of the “You’re Welcome” campaign that’s been created to highlight and draw eyes to the unique and fantastic environment C-U brings to the table. The kickoff to this campaign was set to be an unofficial party during the time that SXSW Interactive was going on. It was a great opportunity for meetings of the mind for current C-U residents, C-U expats, and invited guests.

The party took place at a hip little spot in Austin called Licha’s Cantina. A mixture of south of the border flair and Austin sensibilities decorate the Licha’s exterior. The front has picnic tables for snacking on tortilla chips and a house made salsa that I’m in the process of trying to smuggle back to Illinois. In the back there was a beer garden with a stage and I’d venture to say that area was about the same size, possibly a little larger than the great beer garden we have at Mike N Molly’s.

The party had two components. The first was a day party for invited guests. It was cool to see folks like Chaz Ebert and Stephen Wolfram hanging out in the sunshine for a few minutes and chatting about C-U. The day party went off without a hitch.

The second component of the party was one of the most talked about events happening in Austin on Saturday. Legends HUM were to play an intimate set to 300 guests in the back of Licha’s. Other C-U native acts travelled the distance too, and it was really neat to see familiar faces lugging gear around Licha’s backyard. DJ Belly spun records during the day party and was set to close out the night. Wicked Walls performed first, and by all accounts were outstanding. Common Loon and the Dirty Feathers were there too, but their sets were a bit altered when the Fire Marshall showed up.


Some internet rumor mongering and people spouting off nonsense on social media has affected the landscape of what, in my opinion, turned out to be an even more unique and cool opportunity to see HUM.

The first people in line got there at 11 a.m. and HUM wasn’t scheduled to go on until 10:30 that evening. I met some people that traveled from Atlanta to Austin for the sole reason of seeing HUM. I had heard that this was even a buzzed about show on the radio in Austin. Pretty good publicity for a show in Texas with bands from Champaign.

It was our understanding that Licha’s total capacity was 300. To throw an event in one specific area of the bar required multiple permits including a special events permit. Licha’s had them all. It was legal and it was comfortable inside the venue.

Right after Wicked Walls finished their set a few of Austin’s finest flanked the Fire Marshall on his way up to the door. I answered a few rudimentary questions about what was going on there and the Marshall seemed dissatisfied.

The owner of Licha’s, Daniel, came out to speak with him. Permits were displayed and yet again the Marshall looked dissatisfied. At this point he’d told the venue to hold the door (which had been held for about 10-15 minutes already), and then he went inside the venue.

The Marshall then asked for the venue to let more people in. 34 made it into the venue before the man in charge decided the venue needed to hold the door again because it’s overcrowded. It was befuddling to have an authority figure waver on that, but it made sense a bit later.

Between this moment and the time HUM began playing there was a sense of organized chaos. I don’t mean chaos as in riots or anything remotely close, I just mean misinformation abounded. People were bummed, but for the most part, everyone was understanding of the situation and compliant with the requests by the authorities.

The Fire Marshall brought in about 9 more authority figures and they determined that they did not have enough appendages to count how many people were actually in the venue, nor were they interested in the numbers that we were keeping. So instead, they filed everyone out of the venue into a newer, second line and counted them.

To make an already long story shorter, they determined that Licha’s back beer garden was over capacity. Despite having the special permits required, the Fire Marshall was given a “directive” to shut the celebration of C-U down. It was an unofficial party during SXSW, and that’s the cash cow for Austin. It’s no secret what really was at play here.

49. Forty-nine. Four Nine. That’s the number that the Marshall determined was acceptable for the back area where the show was going on.There was already almost 200 people inside and hundreds more were in line.

After a huddle of the show organizers, it was determined that the best way to get all of these fans to see HUM was to cycle them in. 40 fans came in two songs at a time and got about as close as anyone’s gotten to HUM on stage in quite awhile.

It wasn’t ideal. The venue had to tell 200 people that they weren’t going to have a good opportunity to see HUM, but if they wanted a chance they could go to line #2 in the back alley and see if they make it in the rotation.

HUM was bummed that they couldn’t play to everyone at the same time. But with that said, everyone that wanted to see HUM got to see HUM. Those that didn’t want to wait in line had some unique attempts to get in on the action, too. Some people climbed trees to see the set. Others, who are highly intelligent, went to the beer garden next door and could hear the set perfectly. There were a few issues cycling folks through the doors after two songs, but for the most part everyone was gracious and understanding. Those folks made the night special.

Unfortunately in the shuffle two great local acts got their sets pushed to after HUM played. Common Loon played first and the Dirty Feathers played last to a dwindling crowd. It’s a bummer that they drove 1,000 miles and didn’t get to open for HUM in front of the same crowd Wicked Walls got to perform in front of. But at the end of the day, they did get to drink beer, get paid, and play a small show in Austin. Take small victories if you can find them. It was a tough night for all of us and the blame for this stuff isn’t on the people who put on this show, nor was it on the venue. It was a SXSW hit on unofficial happenings.

The intimacy and weirdness of the events made this show one that C-U should be proud of. There’s a slogan down here that says “Keep Austin Weird.” I think C-U showed off our chops in the day time, and at night we made Austin just a little more weird.

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