by Emma Banks
James Moody will be the first one to tell you that the Mohawk’s success was unexpected, if not accidental. Born out of a love for city and culture, coupled with the penchant for risk-taking that often grabs us in moments of creative revelation, or panic (“I think I was having an early mid-life crisis!”), the Red River venue has spent the last 10 years quietly sprouting into the most prolific of Austin mainstays, playing host to both musical legends and local newcomers alike.
It was Moody’s initial vision that prompted him to put down roots in Austin, and make something of his new home — with 15 cities already under his belt, and a 401K just begging to be cashed in, he pulled together some people, and, in his own words, rolled the dice. It was 2006.
“Austin really caught me off guard, back then, in terms of how interesting it was,” he says. “I think I just decided that I wanted to do something more creative, more interesting, more local, more community driven. We definitely wanted to be different.”
For Moody, it was all about bringing something new to the table — something that would complement the scene rather than simply introduce more competition. Think elevated service, an expanded bar and top-notch sound quality to give live shows that extra boast: it was all in the details. And the core of the experience? An “All Are Welcome” rallying cry that dictated everything from the event calendar to the first welcome you receive when you walk in the door (whether it’s your first time, or your 50th).
“We definitely set the tone by our moniker, since the day we opened,” Moody says. “‘All Are Welcome’ was this idea that we didn’t want to be a part of a particular scene — where you had to think a certain way or dress a certain way to be a part of it — we just wanted everybody to be comfortable from all walks of life, because we knew we were going to book it that way, too. We went really deep and really wide, and worked around the idea of feeling comfortable no matter who you were, and the idea that genres were kind of disappearing.”
Moody and his team tapped into a generation of Austinites that didn’t profess die-hard loyalty to any one class of music; their tastes were — and still are — eclectic (as is the city), and the Mohawk mirrors that trend with ease. But that’s not the only challenge Moody faced, and this one is much more arduous, practically speaking: money. From the get-go, one thing was clear: the collective of live music clubs around town had no voice in local and state government, and hardly any bandwidth to fight against the corporation interests that were quickly absorbing much of Austin’s real estate — and this meant financial pain, for the Mohawk and others like it. Their solution? The Red River Cultural District, which, by physically defining their scope as a quintessential piece of the larger Austin puzzle, enabled Moody and owners like him to stake their claim in Austin’s future (and present).
“This town is the live music capital of the world, and the reality of it is, we produce a lot of jobs, and have a huge economic impact on the city and tourism and hotels and restaurants,” he says. “Music is one of the main reasons you book your plane ticket to come to Austin, right? So we just wanted to create an organization to centralize that, talk about it, and make sure that the existing and new city government was aware, so that we could be protected.”
Moody had one goal when the Mohawk opened, and it hasn’t changed much in the decade since: survive, and (hopefully) thrive. Eleven years later, the sentiment remains largely the same, and the venue? As welcoming — and eclectic — as ever.
“We just want to get better. Our goals were so simple — just survival — it would be nice to turn survival into sustainability,” he says. “And if you can be sustainable by having a more eclectic calendar offering, and having a mix of uses and more open hours, there’s more economic viability. Ideally, if Mohawk stayed for another 10, and just became a known staple, that would be nice.”
If the Mohawk serves as an example for any one adage, it’s that humility begets success. Here’s to another 10.
Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2017