6416 North Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78752
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 10am-9:30pm
Written by: Monica U. Garcia
Kenneth Threadgill opened a Gulf service station, in 1933, just outside the Austin city limits, when moonshine fueled his business and country music spun off 78s. He soon became the county’s first beer license holder, and touring musicians made it a point to stop in. In the ’60s, the University of Texas banned beer drinking on campus to discourage the emerging Beatnik culture, and folk singing migrated from the Texas Union out to Threadgill’s. Kenneth and his wife Mildred soon befriended a young Janis Joplin.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Kris Kristofferson played often at Threadgill’s around 1970. When Threadgill’s went dark for the night, regular Eddie Wilson welcomed the crowd to his home, but something had to be done when the party outgrew his house. The scarcity of live music venues was hindering the growth of Austin’s music scene.
Eddie leased an old Quonset-hut style structure south of downtown that had once been a National Guard Armory. The curved grey roofline inspired artist Jim Franklin to depict the venue as an armadillo. “When we started the Armadillo World Headquarters, we stumbled onto this huge room that was impossible to fill on a nightly basis,” states Eddie. “We had millions of schemes for all these rooms that we got so cheap. Cheap rent is a huge factor in developing the creative culture.”
In its 10-year life span, the Armadillo booked the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Frank Zappa, and many more great names. Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Leon Russell and Mose Allison raised the roof pounding on the massive Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano that Wilson’s mother had given him as a boy. During this time Threadgill’s closed.
The Armadillo World Headquarters closed after a New Year’s Eve party in 1980, and hours later, on January 1, 1981, Eddie reopened Threadgill’s as a restaurant serving blue-ribbon-caliber home style cooking. With a nod to the old Armadillo, Threadgill’s World Headquarters (TWH) , as a second location, opened on Riverside Drive in 1996 , on the lot adjacent to where a curved grey roof had once barely contained a raucous, music-loving public.
Threadgill’s and TWH have brought the music back . “What we think of as local talent, in other places are superstars,” Eddie says. The Gourds fill up the beer garden on a regular basis. “We love the Gourds fans—they can dance in construction boots,” Eddie says. Other artists playing TWH include Del Castillo, Van Wilks, Uncle Lucius and global superstar and Austinite Bob Schneider.
Threadgill’s is still ever-known for liking odd things, such as formatting evenings to feature one particular instrument at a time. Current owner, Eddie Wilson, explains: “We’ve had guitar jams, fiddle fests, accordion-based bands called Squeeze Offs, Piano-Ramas with five pianos and a drummer…anything but heavy metal.” What is ‘weird’ or ‘different,’ is normal at Threadgill’s, and that has long been expected and lauded.
Eddie is writing a book on Austin’s vibrant music culture and history.
“We’ve got a really wonderful place, and it’s been my good fortune to live in the best place in the history of the globe for my entire life.” — Eddie Wilson