A musician's long-running love
affair with Austin
By Christine Albert
TALES OF THE CITY (This
is a continuing series of personal essays grounded in
Christine Albert's ode to Austin, the city that picked her
up when she was down.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
On a hot day in June 1982, I
packed my belongings into a tiny, red Ford pickup truck.
Under the camper shell were a dresser, a couple of boxes of
kitchen stuff, milk crates full of albums, my Martin guitar,
a PA system and some clothes. I drove south and east, out of
my life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and into the waiting arms
of Austin, Texas.
I had visited Austin in the
mid-'70s, gone dancing to Joe Ely at Soap Creek Saloon and
swimming in Barton Springs. I was enamored then, but I
already had a life I loved as a professional musician in
Santa Fe and deep attachments there. So, I contented myself
with watching Austin City Limits on TV and sharing the stage
with Austin bands that came through New Mexico, and
continued my infatuation from afar.
In May 1981, I played the
Kerrville Folk Festival with Eliza Gilkyson — and discovered
a community that welcomed us as family.
Gary P. Nunn took us to hear
Nanci Griffith at Emma Jo's, Lucinda Williams at the Alamo
Hotel and Uncle Walt's Band at Waterloo Ice House. I began
finding reasons to return to Austin as often as possible.
But relocating to Texas would
mean leaving a relationship, the safety of a town I loved
and the New Mexico sky that had sheltered me since I was 16.
As I'd done with most big decisions, I trusted that I would
eventually know when — if ever — it was time to move from
That time came in October
1981, when I was raped by an intruder in my home. Overnight,
Santa Fe was no longer my safe haven, and my relationship
with my boyfriend began to unravel from the strain of the
trauma. Still, I remained frozen in indecision until a good
friend said, "Christine, this move is so ripe, it is
beginning to rot."
As if to lure me to Austin, I
got a nine-week gig performing six nights a week at the
Driskill Bar. For a musician, that was like having a "real
job" waiting for me. By the end of my tenure there, I knew
the town, other musicians to play with, and had met the man
who would become my first husband and the father of my
I fell into my new life raw
and shell-shocked, but Austin nurtured me. The alternative
medical community helped me heal a serious, post-traumatic
stress-related illness. I took self-defense classes to
regain my courage and found therapists to help me process
what had happened to me. I began working with the Austin
Rape Crisis Center to channel my anger, help other survivors
of sexual assault and give back to the community.
And music ... oh, the music!
There were songwriters, festivals, studios, music in the
parks, live radio shows, gigs and inspiration galore.
Singing has always had the power to alter my attitude in a
deep way. I desperately needed to let my voice fly, and
Austin gave me the chance to do that.
Late one night in 1986, my
little red truck broke down on the highway in San Antonio,
and I was hit by a car. The drunken driver killed a
17-year-old boy who had stopped to help me.
Once again, I was devastated.
Once again, Austin nursed my wounds and my spirit.
Water exercises at the old
YWCA helped me regain the use of my paralyzed arm. Fellow
musicians covered my shows and showered me with support. I
had a tour booked in Europe, and my old friend Eliza
encouraged me not to cancel but to use it as a positive goal
to work toward. The music, my family and this community kept
Austin has also been there for
me for joyous events. Nineteen years ago, I gave birth to a
My son, Troupe, went to Robert
E. Lee Elementary School, which presented frequent
appearances by local musicians. He attended Natural Ear
Music Camp in the summer, heard music at countless events in
local parks, and his dad took him to see James Brown, Steve
Winwood and Yes.
Not every kid has access to
shows like that from birth. Having been raised in the "live
music capital of the world," Troupe is writing music for
video games and playing in three bands. He, too, loves
Throughout the past 25 years,
I've experienced personal, creative and professional
changes. After a painful divorce, I am now happily married
to musician Chris Gage, and our partnership has evolved into
a new artistic persona — Albert and Gage. In 2005, Chris
suffered a back injury, and fellow musicians rallied to
organize a benefit to help us through a tough time. I fell
more deeply in love with this town that I now call home.
I have been healed by Austin
music so many times and am always looking for a way to
return the favor. Recently I co-founded "Swan Songs" (www.swansongs.org),
a nonprofit entity that arranges private concerts for
individuals facing the end of life, with their favorite
regional musician or style of music.
We have organized bedside
concerts featuring classical music, bagpipe music,
well-known folk musicians and Elvis songs. The requests are
eclectic and varied, and I'm perpetually astounded that we
live in a city that can make all of these musical wishes
To me, Austin is more than
just "a cool place to live." After a quarter of a century
here, I never feel I am giving as much to Austin as she
gives to me. But I'll keep trying, because I know she'll
photo by Rudolfo Gonzalez
On the Web
"Far As You Can See" is a song for my son, Troupe — a mother
reluctantly letting go. The song was originally written by
my older brother, Rick Albert, and was always one of my
favorites when he'd perform back in Santa Fe. My husband,
Chris Gage, and I did some rewriting and put it on our
"Albert and Gage — Cry Love" CD. It's a family effort that
spans several decades and lots of life transitions. Listen
to it and hear one-minute samples of all 12 songs on "Albert
and Gage — Cry Love" at
(Singer and guitarist
Christine Albert makes music with her husband, Chris Gage,
and lives in South Austin.)