Music Venues of SXSW: Mohawk

Written by Rory Burbeck | February 11, 2014

SXSW 2014 Music Venue: The Mohawk

The Mohawk is a very special venue here in Austin. If you’ve been to a show there, especially during SXSW, there’s no doubt that you have some memories. Formerly a Mexican restaurant, the Mohawk has become a staple of Austin’s Red River Street area, booking all kinds of artists from Godspeed You! Black Emperor to Ice Cube.

The owner of the venue sat down with me for an interview. Read on for a brief history of the Mohawk, what SXSW means to him, and a very odd story involving Michael Stipe.

RB: State your name and what you do for the Mohawk.

JM: My name is James Moody and I’m the owner of the Mohawk. We also do Transmission Events. We book about 12-13 venues in Austin and we also put on Fun Fun Fun Fest.

RB: How and why did you get started in the music industry?

JM: I was in health care and I was wearing a suit everyday, shaving everyday, and flying around the country and just got burnt out and pissed. I had always loved music, I had always been really serious about it as a kid. I had always listened to kind of off-mainstream stuff and was always digging for more. So I just figured out a way to take my business skills and experience and tried to apply it to what I loved.

So I came to Austin and decided to buy a shitty bar and make a go of it.

RB: How long the Mohawk supported SXSW as an official venue?

JM: We’ve been an official venue every year [since we opened]. So, since 2006.

RB: Do you have any memorable stories from past SXSW Music Festivals?

JM: I remember a time when I brought Michael Stipe from R.E.M. there. The Mohawk doesn’t have a V.I.P. area. We don’t treat anybody differently. We only have like two martini glasses in the whole place.

He needed to go to the bathroom and there was lines out the door for the bathroom, so there was no way he was going to be able to wait in line. This guy who worked for us - he wasn’t a regular employee - he was from the Marine Corps and had just gotten back from Afghanistan. I said, “Hey, Michael needs to go to the bathroom so you need to escort him.”

Then he proceeded to put Michael in a headlock and start running towards the bathroom yelling, “He’s going to puke!” None of this was good. The guy thought he was being smart. Meanwhile, he was just scaring the shit out of Michael Stipe.

RB: What does it mean to you, the city of Austin, and live music to have SXSW here?

JM: We’re a university town, and I think people forget that we’re one of the biggest universities in the country. So, SXSW has always provided a nice chance to put on some great shows. But meanwhile to gather up some money to weather the storm over the summer because the students leave. I think people forget that SXSW is timed perfectly to give people the ability to make it through the summer.

The other thing is, Brent [Grulke] was always serious about bringing in new, weird talent. The heart and soul of South By was always about discovering music not about seeing big bands.

And then also the blending of music and film and technology. South By is a catalyst for trying to blend those worlds a little bit better.

And lastly, the thing I think is most interesting: no one flies in from around the world, at least in my experience, goes to South By and says, “Man, that Convention Center was amazing.” The panels absolutely are amazing, and the programming is amazing. But really, they remember the context; they remember the taco carts, and the weird clubs.

Red River (Street) is a total payoff on walking outside of the convention center. Red River is unlike any street in the United States. Having an ecosystem that’s that tight, and that close, that’s really a runway of rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop is pretty special and pretty unheard of. So [South By] has done a good job of drawing attention to one of the hardest working rock ‘n’ roll streets in America.

RB: What was your favorite show you’ve ever seen at the Mohawk?

JM: It’s hard to pick one...seeing things like Bad Brains or Youth of Today were just like me when I was young. And Ice Cube, even. That was me in high school. Seeing that shit in my club later is really pretty amazing for me.

But then discovering stuff like Ty Segall or White Denim or Kurt Vile. That stuff has it’s own really cool memories. It depends on the context. It’s kind of a wide variety of things, I guess.

RB: Last question… Desert island albums. Albums that you can’t live without.

JM: Prince. Skynyrd. Zeppelin. I kind of like sad bastard music too, so I’d have to bring like The Cure and some Mark Kozelek. Exile on Main St. by the Rolling Stones. It’s just the go-to record for drinking beers. And some Fela Kuti, and some Tinariwen. I gotta have a Tribe Called Quest record and a N.W.A. record. I’ll bring an old Metallica record, you know, Ride the Lightning. I’ll bring some Tom Waits just to get philosophical on that ass. I don’t know...I’m all over the place, man.

Mohawk photo by David Fox