ARMADILLO WORLD HEADQUARTERS
ARMADILLO WORLD HEADQUARTERS. During the 1970s the Armadillo World Headquarters, a concert hall in Austin, became the focus of a musical renaissance that made the city a nationally recognized music capital. Launched in a converted National Guard armory by a group of local music partners—Eddie Wilson, Spencer Perskin, Jim Franklin, Mike Tolleson, Bobby Hedderman, and others—the "Armadillo" provided a large and increasingly sophisticated alternative venue to the municipal auditorium across the street. This venture, which capped several years of searching by young musicians and artists to find a place of their own, reflected the emergence nationwide of a counterculture of alternative forms of music, art, and modes of living. The name Armadillo World Headquarters evoked both a cosmic consciousness and the image of a peaceable native critter, the armadillo, often seen on Texas highways as the victim of high-speed technology.
The Armadillo opened its doors in August 1970 and quickly became the focus for much of the city's musical life. With an eventual capacity of 1,500, the hall featured a varied fare of blues, rock, jazz, folk, and country music in an informal, open atmosphere. By being able to host such top touring acts as Frank Zappa, the Pointer Sisters, Bruce Springsteen, and members of the Grateful Dead, the Armadillo brought to Austin a variety of musical groups that smaller clubs or other local entities might never have booked. Since outstanding local or regional artists often opened these shows, the Armadillo also gave vital exposure to such future stars as Joe Ely, Marcia Ball, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Armadillo's eclectic concert calendar brought together different, sometimes disparate, sectors of the community. The most dramatic fusion mixed traditional country-music culture with that of urban blues and rock to produce a Texas hybrid character known as the "cosmic cowboy" and a hybrid music called "progressive country" (sometimes referred to as "redneck rock"). The acknowledged godfather of this movement was singer-songwriter Willie Nelson who made his Armadillo debut in 1972.
To promote its concerts the Armadillo maintained a staff of poster and mural artists, including Jim Franklin (the inspiration behind the Armadillo's name), Micael Priest, Guy Juke, and Bill Narum. Given free reign for their creative impulses these and other artists explored many new images and techniques in poster making. The hundreds of Armadillo concert posters they made during the 1970s contributed to the flowering of poster art in Austin. The Armadillo operated on a shoestring budget and much volunteer labor on a month-to-month basis in an atmosphere of perpetual financial crisis. By 1980 the demands of downtown real estate signaled the end of an era. As its lease expired the Armadillo World Headquarters held one final New Year's Eve blowout (December 31, 1980), then closed its doors to await demolition. On August 19, 2006, the city of Austin dedicated a plaque to commemorate the hall at the site where it once stood. Though the building is gone, the Armadillo's legacy as a vital center of musical and artistic creativity lives on in Texas music history.
Armadillo World Headquarters Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. David L. Menconi, Music, Media, and the Metropolis: The Case of Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1985). Jan Reid, The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock (New York: Da Capo Press, 1974). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.