Lounge Ax, Chicago. The Rhythm Kitchen, Detroit. The Warehouse, New Orleans. Radiotron, Los Angeles. The Channel, Boston. Death by Audio, New York City. Walter’s, Houston.
Like so many hallowed grounds of artistic independence and do-it-yourself credo, another historic champion of local music is closing it’s doors for good. This time, it’s hitting closer to home.
On Monday night, Walter’s posted to their Facebook page a note from owner and proprietor, Zachary Palmer, announcing that the venue would be abruptly closing its doors and holding their final show on Sunday, Feb. 4 after 16 years as an underground Houston music stronghold.
“It weighs on us to see every show after that lose it’s home,” Palmer wrote in his message, “It’s been an honor to work with the thousands of musicians in and out of our club over the years and we will continue to pour our hearts into this as we see it through to the end. I’m thankful for every promoter and agent that put trust in us and brought all sorts of amazing things to us over the years. Also every employee, past or present, I cannot thank enough, especially those that helped my mother; I’m incredibly proud of all of you and you really are family to me.”
The news came as quite a shock, especially since the venue had posted advertisements for upcoming shows and events in the several days leading up the announcement, including one that very morning at 11:30am for the Shopping/French Vanilla concert in March. A little more than six hours later, however, Walter’s said goodbye.
Before it came to rest at its current location off Naylor between Downtown and Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood, it sat for twelve-ish years off Washington between Shepherd and Heights (in a building that has since been knocked down and replaced by an office housing a custom home design firm whose own digs look like they were copy pasted from a Microsoft PowerPoint slide template, in case you needed to be slapped more deeply in the face with the sign of the times in Houston).
Back then it was run by Palmer’s mother, Pam Robinson, who also managed next-door neighbors Mary Jane’s Fat Cat, an indie and punk-centric spot, and Silky’s, a blues bar, rounding out what was colloquially known as “Pamland.” Unfortunately, both were sold in the early to mid-00s and, a few years after Walter’s moved, Robinson passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer at 55, leaving the torch to her son.
While seemingly unrelated, the venue was not without financial struggles already, having started an Indiegogo campaign in the beginning of 2015 in an effort to raise money to pay off outstanding property taxes and other missed bills accrued during Robinson’s fight. Thankfully, that campaign succeeded and Walter’s continued operation.
Over the years the three venues combined, particularly Walter’s and Fat Cat, have amassed a legacy of near unmatched prowess through booking acts and shows that would make them one of the de facto leaders of underground music and programming in Houston. From indie/alternative rock giants like MGMT and The National to hardcore punk and metalcore outfits like Neck Deep and Power Trip to experimental electronica and hip-hop like the legendary Actress, Drab Majesty and Mndsgn to emo darlings like the Hotelier and Citizen, and everything outside and in between, they were willing to take the risk on shows that they weren’t always sure there would be a market for.
However, more deeply missed than their impressively chosen touring acts will be the bookings they kept right here at home. Walter’s will forever be known as one of the most consistent advocates for the Houston arts community, hosting events like the showcase party for Girls Rock Camp Houston, “illegal” wrestling events, local music festivals like Summer Breeze, art galleries, punk rock swap meets, and countless album release parties, debut shows, and final shows for just about every band to have ever called Houston their home.
After the move to the north side, they even began housing record store Deep End Records as not only a one stop shop for music of all kinds, but also local art, zines, and more. Reports indicate that Deep End will transition fully to the recently opened multi-use gallery space, the Insomnia Gallery on Houston’s east side.
The news comes as a swift blow to the chest, not only in and of itself, but also for what it represents: the seemingly endless wave of smaller, locally oriented artistic spaces unable to meet rising property values coupled with dwindling sales when competing against larger franchise venues that starve the market of larger touring acts that would help the bottom line and an already tough struggle to get people out, and paying, for the weirder stuff.
This trend is not one Houston is unaccustomed to, having already lost so many of our stomping grounds over the years like Mangos, The Abyss, Java Jazz, Cardi’s, Fitzgerald’s (let’s just pretend), and so many more. If we’re lucky, perhaps the shuttering of Walter’s will serve as a wake-up all to the Houston music community that, if we’re not careful, the rest of the spaces that are ours will not be long behind.
To not do so would serve as tacit denial that spaces like Walter’s have served an invaluable function to our local music community in their capacity to nurture young artists, expose Houstonians to alternative art forms and give local artists the opportunity to try something different, to push the envelope on what’s “cool” and what “pays,” to foster a loving environment for people to feel accepted and safe as who they are, and to rock out hard knowing that if you fall, someone will be there beside you to pick you u, and throw you right the fuck back into the pit. If we stop fighting for spaces like these, we have stopped fighting for the community itself.
Joan Didion wrote saliently in her collection of essays on alternative culture in southern California, The White Album, that “a place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”
For Houston, this was Walter’s. Walter’s was ours, Walter’s was us, and we will never forget it.
Do yourself a favor and catch a show at Walter’s while you still can. Friday will bring the mysterious electronic/synth-wave trio Magic Sword to town for one of their renowned live sets. Opening will be NITE and Houston-native Tee Vee.
Saturday night will host the politically charged, all-around murderous hardcore punk outfit Anti-Flag. Opening for them will be Stray From The Path, The White Noise, and Sharptooth. Tickets start at $18 and doors are at 6pm
And for what may be the last show ever in the worn-out warehouse on Naylor, the venue has recently announced a goodbye show on the venues last day, Sunday, that will fittingly bring together a smorgasbord of the best hardcore and punk Houston has to offer with LACE, Satannabis, The Wiggins, Narcons, and God Fearing Fuck to close out the night for the final time. Bad Bones and Andy V will be providing DJ sets, visuals will be provided by Civic TV laboratories, and Pan De Taco will of course be outside slinging the eats. Doors are at 8pm, tickets are $5, and as always, the show is all ages.