“Nothing stays the same except the changes, and the changes are here to stay,” the song at the end credits of Nothing Stays The Same: The Story of the Saxon Pub tells us. It really couldn’t be said better. Life is pretty much in a constant state of flux for everyone, but it is certainly not an individual phenomenon. One of the biggest forces of monumental change, especially in the United States, is the rapid gentrification of once affordable cities.
Austin, Texas has often been touted as a “weird” city. There’s a book title that has been a slogan for the city, Keep Austin Weird. It’s hard to do that with the advent of big money real estate companies swooping in to build condos for people who move from all over the country to get a taste of the weird for themselves. Austin is certainly not the first city for this to happen. New York was the first to go, which I can attest to first hand, quickly followed by San Francisco, and now it’s happening in Portland, Seattle, and even my beloved hometown of Atlanta. People move to these cities because they “love” them but then want to change them to be more like the boring suburbs where they came. Basically, the line of thinking is “Oh, I love this record store but oh my God I miss Chipotle,” and enough people feel this way that the record store BECOMES the Chipotle.
“Saxon Pub is one such venue in Austin…in danger of either permanently closing its doors or moving to a new location after 25 years.”
Another bad aspect of gentrification is that the people who make these cities “weird” and “cool” are usually artists and musicians. When a city becomes too expensive to live on an artist’s or musician’s salary (read: NOT A LIVING WAGE unless you’re lucky enough to be famous), they move to other places where they can support themselves. The venues where musicians play are under constant threat of shutdown to build more condos for boring suburbanites to live in while they destroy the spirit of the city.
Saxon Pub is one such venue in Austin, Texas that, at the time the filming of Nothing Stays the Same, was in danger of either permanently closing its doors or moving to a new location after 25 years. I can attest from personal observation that a lot of the time, a venue cannot withstand the financial and logistical strain of a move. Saxon Pub owner Joe Ables expresses his concerns with moving. He has always been a fan of live music and his venue has been home to thousands of musicians who started their careers there, or major names (such as Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Michael McDonald) passing through to join their local musician friends on stage for a set. Saxon Pub has turned into a family for several musicians and regulars.
Along withJoe and Judy Ables, the sound-man, Richard Vannoy have been there since the very beginning. Richard is said to be there 364 days a year except for Christmas which also happens to be his birthday. Then there’s Rusty, the silver knight in the parking lot, that lets you know you’re definitely in the right place.
“The ending is happy and it’s wonderful because all of these people deserve a place to showcase their art.”
We go time travelling through Austin’s history in music, which takes us through the Saxon Pub history. There are countless musicians singing the praises of the place, and we get to hear snippets of a lot of their songs over the course of the film. A lot of people have something to say about the impact live music has on Austin as a city, including the mayor, Steve Adler. Another thing which was very fun for me was the fact that the film references Richard Linklater’s film Slacker. Made in 1991, it is a snapshot of Austin’s glory days where musicians and artists could get by on something like $10 a day.
Musician John Chipman, who’s a long time resident player at Saxon says “Art thrives where rent is cheap. Musicians go to places where they can afford to live in order for them to pursue their creative work. Because creative work doesn’t always translate to making money.” Oh my God, John Chipman, you can say that again. Which doesn’t explain the throngs and throngs of musicians on every possible street corner of New York, but that’s a different subject altogether.
I found the sense of community that thrives in the Saxon Pub very refreshing and it reminds me of several bars and venues I’ve gone to in Atlanta and New York over the years. Overall, Nothing Stays The Same: The Story of The Saxon Pub is a feel good movie. The ending is happy and it’s wonderful because all of these people deserve a place to showcase their art. Music is very important. Community is as well. Condos and Chipotles? Not so much. Other cities across the country can take a cue from Austin mayor Steve Adler in regards to maintaining arts institutions. They’re incredibly important, even if they’re not always as profitable as the money-men would like them to be.
Nothing Stays The Same: The Story of The Saxon Pub (2019) Directed by Jeff Sandmann, Written by Jeff Sandmann, Jeffrey Brown, Nancy Higgins. Featuring: Joe Ables, Judy Ables, Mayor Steve Adler, Susan Antone, Louis Black, Stephen Bruton, Mary Bruton, Coco Carmel, Bill Carter, John Chipman, W.C. Clark, Joe Ely, Bill Farr, Guy Forsyth, Denny Freeman, Kinky Friedman, Darcie Fromholz, Felicity Fromholz, John Gaar, Jon Dee Graham, Bruce Hughes, Cari Hutson, Gary Keller, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Johnny Nicholas, Elise Parris, Patrice Pike, Jeff Plankenhorn, Nakia, Leah Robarts, Bob Schneider, Robynn Shayne, Eric Tessmer, Richard Vannoy, Hector Ward, Steve Wertheimer, James White, Miss Lavelle White, Bobby Whitlock, Rusty Wier, Van Wilks, Eddie Wilson, Carolyn Wonderland, and Miles Zuniga. Nothing Stays The Same: The Story of The Saxon Pub screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
7.5 out of 10 stars