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Be Careful What You Carry

I was sitting on the trunk of my beat up Honda in a nondescript apartment complex parking spot. Waiting for my bass player Monty to hop in my car so we could drive to practice. My amplifier was in the backseat poking out of the open window. The scene was an accurate depiction of life in a band: you spend more time waiting and hauling around gear than actually playing music.

That’s when this random guy started shooting the shit with me. He was a musician as well (musicians are as plentiful in Austin as pigeons in NYC). Walking past, the amplifier caught his eye and he couldn’t resist chatting up a fellow player. We traded thoughts on vintage Twin Reverbs and I told him I’d moved here to play in bands and work for tech startups. That’s when he told me with some regret, “Ahhh, you missed it.” 

He said it like he was issuing a decree. “Austin’s best days are long gone.”

My heart sank.

I had just taken the biggest risk of my life and now this guy was telling me the window of opportunity had closed. I had hauled a u-haul trailer halfway across the country to Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World. For nothing, apparently.

I grew up in a town where success was defined as becoming a lawyer or working in finance. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could get excited about either of those paths, so I rolled the dice on Austin. After getting a job as a courier, I responded to Craigslist ads of musicians looking for other musicians who wanted to start bands. A month after that, I found myself playing in the first legitimately talented band I’d ever been in (it was also the first time I was not the lead singer, which might have had something to do with it. Oof). Two months later, I found myself waiting for my bass player in a parking lot.

Only to have this random guy tell me I missed Austin’s golden age. He said that Austin was now past its prime—an Austin-famous venue called Liberty Lunch had just closed its doors, and this was the death rattle. The city had gotten too big for itself. Nothing cool could happen here anymore. The secret had gotten out and Austin’s magic would fade away. There would be no keeping Austin weird.

Person in front of a mural of Willie Nelson
Pictured: The author in front of a mural of Willie Nelson, the patron saint of Austin

Why was he telling me this? The better question is, why did I even entertain this guy’s ideas? I was fresh out of college. Too young to know I shouldn’t give a shit about the opinion of some random guy in an apartment complex parking lot. But I took his words seriously. What if I did miss everything? What if Austin’s ship had sailed?

This happened twenty years ago. In the following two decades, I played in bands all over town, from dingy clubs to the same stages Willie Nelson and Prince played. I worked in startups and eventually founded companies of my own—companies that changed my trajectory, allowed me to travel the world, and opened up doors to opportunities I didn’t even know existed. Austin wasn’t just a city to me—it was a spaceship transporting me to other worlds. 

The next time someone tells you you’re too late or that the best of a time and place has come and gone, you have my permission to laugh in their face. The type of person who says that is stuck in the past. Their comments reveal more about them and their state of mind than the real and actual possibilities in front of you.

So many things in life—like whether a city is on the rise or on the decline—are unknowable in the present. Given that, the choices we make and the actions we take matter more than what some random person’s opinion.

That day, I carried around amplifiers and guitars—tools for creative work. That random guy was carrying something unseen, but heavy nonetheless—his own baggage. His baggage took the shape of a belief that the best days of his city were dead and gone. At the time, I paid them heed. 

But eventually, I let them go. It wasn’t hard. After a couple of years building a life in a new city—a life shaped by my own choices rather than my upbringing—avoiding other people’s baggage gets much easier. One more gift the city gave me.

But I should have never picked them up to begin with. So be careful what you carry. 

Thanks to: Lavinia Iosub, CansaFis Foote, Hesam Panahi

I don’t carry around music gear anymore. These days, my preferred creative tool is a camera. If you want to learn camera confidence, fundamentals of video production, and on camera storytelling, join my newsletter or claim your spot in my cohort-based course, Minimum Viable Video.