Austin blues landmark Antone’s Nightclub takes a different turn by including Bun B in its 43rd anniversary lineup.
By Evangelos Fuge, Photo by Nathaniel Earl
Bun B, the Houston legend, raises his signature purple drink into the air and invites the crowd to join him for one more toast. All oblige the request.
“Hey, y’all,” he yells out. “Let’s give it up for Antone’s, man. Antone’s 42nd anniversary, man. Thanks for having me. And thanks to Austin for letting me come through.”
It is, in fact, Antone’s 43rd anniversary, but that doesn’t matter. Bun B launches into the UGK verses of the objectively immortal “International Players Anthem” and the fans follow, assertively reciting his and the late, great Pimp C’s lyrics. This type of laid-back camaraderieis unique to Houston. Yet when Antone’s opened its doors to the patriarch of Texas rap, the close-knit community brought its act into unusual territory for a sold-out night.
“It’s hard to take a lot of credit for having that much fun, you know,” Clifford Antone, the late founder of the famous club, once said of his impact in Austin.
For Antone, a University of Texas graduate, the blues equaled religion. And in 1975, he built his church, of sorts. Originally seated on Sixth Street, Antone’s was a first-of-its-kind safe haven for blues players and lovers alike. The club not only showcased the greats, but also fostered them. Fabled productions Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan gave way to modern innovators like Austin native and part owner of Antone’s, Gary Clark Jr. Antone died in 2006, but his generous contributions to both blues musicians and Austin survive. Although the club itself has fought to maintain prominence in the new millennium, the scene at Bun B’s concert suggests otherwise.
Security was said to be tighter than usual, and it was. Doors opened at 9 p.m. The pre-show started at 10 p.m. Bun B wouldn’t appear until midnight.
A Houston presence was noticeable from the start. Astros gear, specifically 1980s rainbow jerseys, lurked well before 10 p.m. Upon arrival, the few non-roped-off tables were already encumbered. (After one drink and a realization of how early they were, some club-goers moseyed across the street to the Westin Austin Downtown, the official hotel sponsor of Antone’s 43rd anniversary, and its rooftop bar, which is highly recommended for the views, if nothing else.)
Returning to the club at 11:30 p.m. revealed a much tighter situation. The hardest working man of the night and Texas local, DJ Bird Peterson, was still going. On crept the last opener before Bun B. His reception was cold and his performance only lukewarm. His unintelligible traipse around the stage in flip-flops and ill-fitting sweats prompted the highlight of his set, when a woman in the crowd sassed, “Boy must’ve forgotten to do his laundry.” Finally, when he finished, somebody came out to relieve the self-billed Elegant Gentleman King of Hot Jams from his turntable duties, signifying the main event was near. Only a few minutes later, everyone heard it. Bun B’s weighty rumble on the mic is unmistakable.
He came out strong with “Pushin’” before moving to UGK’s“Let Me See It.”This was the general theme of the night: a bit of UGK, a bit of his solo stuff and lots of praise for his fallen partner, Pimp C. Each eulogistic lift of his hand or drink to the sky was met with a chorus of appreciation from the crowd. Those in attendance were the faithful. It was immediately clear that if you didn’t know the words, prepare to feel left out.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the event was the diversity. It was a 21-and-older show, but there were young, old and everything in between, all races, all colors and all there for the same reason, to pay respect to one of the greats in one of music’s greatest locations. Bun B hit all the staples—“Pocket Full of Stone,” “Get Throwed,” “Draped Up,” “Give Me That”—and even some new material during his 50-minute set. The performance breezed by, but in retrospect, given the amount of energy on both his and the crowd’s part, it was the perfect amount of time.
It’s not as if Antone’s decided to just include a rap artist for diversity’s sake. This selection made sense. Bun B, born Bernard Freeman, has nearly three decades’ worth of impact on hip-hop. He and Chad Butler, better known as Pimp C, formed two-time Grammy nominated duo UGK. They brought Texas sound to the masses through often noted collaborations like “Big Pimpin’” (1999) with Jay-Z and the aforementioned “International Players Anthem”(2007) with Outkast. Furthermore, Bun B’s four solo albums with Southern institution Rap-A-Lot Records include multiple trips to No. 1 on the U.S. hip-hop and R&B charts, with his 2008 release, II Trill,reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200. In 2011, then Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared Aug. 30 Bun B Day. Bun B has even taught courses at Rice University. If there were a pope of rap, UGK would be canonized (which would basically make Bun a living saint).
In some ways, Bun B has become to Houston and rap what Clifford Antone became to Austin and the blues. Although Bun B’s inclusion among anniversary festivities is unexpected, it is simply one Texas institution showing love to another.