713 Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701
Hours: Show Times Vary
Established: 1915 / 1935
Written by: Dan Murray
Nearing its 100th anniversary, the spectacularly ornate Paramount Theatre is the grand old dame of live music venues in Austin, its elegant interior a participant of every show.
The Paramount was built in 1915 as a vaudeville theater, and Harry Houdini and the Marx Brothers performed there. It became a movie house with the advent of motion pictures, while remaining an acting and performance stage that welcomed Orson Welles and the Ziegfeld Follies, among many other renowned artists. As decades passed the Paramount deteriorated, as did many of its kind that ultimately met the wrecking ball, but restoration efforts in the 1970s and ’80s saved the Paramount and revived its grandeur.
Next door to the Paramount is its newly restored smaller sister, Stateside at the Paramount, which was built in 1935 as the State Theatre and it too has been reinvigorated by restoration. The Paramount is on the National Register of Historic Places and a visually striking multi-purpose venue with rich acoustics that has seen more than its share of stars.
“When you walk into the Paramount, you’re walking in with the cumulative souls of everyone who’s ever performed or seen a performance there,” Jim Ritts, executive director of both theaters, told Austin Man Magazine. “This is Austin’s original creative home.”
The music performances at the Paramount Theater and Stateside at the Paramount are limited but memorable, to both the performers and the audience. “You really don’t appreciate the ornate nature of these kinds of places from the stage like you do when you walk in as a patron,” Texas music icon Lyle Lovett told The Texas Tribune. “I try to make a point of walking through the lobby and front doors of every venue we play so we can get the full effect…In a lot of these venues, stepping onstage is like stepping back in time.”
“The Paramount was one of the first theaters I played when my career began to transition from clubs to theaters. The first time I played the Paramount, it felt huge to me…Now the Paramount feels as intimate to me as Emma Jo’s in Houston did or as the Cactus Cafe in Austin…It feels so comfortable because I’m so close to the audience. When people say something, you can hear what they’re saying…”
“We also shot one of our album covers there, the And His Large Band album. As you’re looking at the stage, it’s the left balcony we used. I can’t play the Paramount and not look up at that box and think about that album, playing there the first time or, before that, all the experiences I had there just going as a fan. It’s a real marker for me, in my own life and career.”