Today in Texas music history: The discovery of Spoon and revival of Johnny Cash

The night the two played just a few doors down from each other remains a standout in Austin musical lore.

By Jason Mellard, Center for Texas Music History at Texas StateMarch 20, 2024 10:53 am, , , ,

From KUTX:

On March 17, 1994, the SXSW Festival in Austin was reaching fever pitch as a cultural force.

Johnny Cash at SXSW in 1994.

Here’s what I mean: On that night, Gerard Cosloy of Matador Records discovered the band Spoon at the club Blue Flamingo on Red River while Johnny Cash took the stage a few doors down at Emo’s. This was the start of Spoon’s career as a signed act and national stars; it was the revival of Johnny Cash’s career, introducing audiences to the work he had been doing with producer Rick Rubin, with their “American Recordings” collaboration released a month after this March night in Austin.

Spoon was at the apex of the Austin underground scene, but frontman Britt Daniel has suggested that if Cosloy hadn’t become such a fan that night, he wasn’t sure how much longer they would have kept going. Spoon had impeccable songwriting, an electric live presence, and a few recordings, but the missing piece was the indie label Matador, which the Blue Flamingo performance delivered.

Spoon in 2005.

Johnny Cash had nearly been written off by the major labels and mainstream radio as an artist from another era. He was still performing with the throwback supergroup the Highwaymen alongside Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofersson. In fact he flew straight to Austin from Australia where the group had been on tour.

This March night looms large in Austin music lore, and it’s hard to get to the bottom of all that went down in just these two clubs on this one night — Beck was also performing at Emo’s, for example, promoting his breakthrough album “Mellow Gold.” All these performances echoed through American music for years.

Spoon would become one of the biggest bands to break from the Austin scene, and Cash sealed a well-earned epilogue to a magisterial career. The bar stool Johnny Cash used that night would hang from the ceiling at Emo’s for the duration of the venue’s life on Red River, an impromptu historical marker for this legendary evening of performance.

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