Taking Liberty's at Fitzgerald’s

This week’s big local music news (besides Jana Hunter’s last show before moving to Baltimore) is of course Fitzgerald’s 30th anniversary, starting Thursday with local folksinger supreme Shake Russell, Friday with Fort Worth percussion amoeba Spoonfed Tribe, and Saturday with Denton polka kings Brave Combo and Houston Celtic warriors the Blaggards. Surviving 30 years in the nightclub business is worth more than one weekend of celebrating, though, so here’s a slideshow from 30footfall’s semi-reunion at the club Saturday night courtesy of Press contributor Dana Donovan. Of course the place was packed, and stage-diving was involved.

Dana Donovan

Click here for more photos.
But Fitz’s roots in Houston nightclub lore go deeper than a lot of people realize. When I interviewed owner Sara Fitzgerald last week – see the article Thursday in what some of us still refer to as the “print edition” – she said a lot of the club’s original equipment, including the same spotlight that lights up the stage today, came from bygone downtown venue Liberty Hall. A man also sold her Liberty Hall’s folding chairs, she said, but “later I found out they weren’t his to sell.”

Liberty Hall, located at 1610 Chenevert, was once home to the American Legion’s Theodore Roosevelt Post No. 391, but sometime around the turn of the ‘70s began hosting folk, blues, and rock shows by the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Little Feat, Flying Burrito Brothers, Kinky Friedman, and an up-and-coming local band called ZZ Top. Several former patrons have started a Liberty Hall thread on the Houston Architecture Info Forum; word is their red beans and rice was to die for.

“I only went there once, and that was to see Doug Kershaw,” recounts one “Heights2Bastrop.” “He was so strung out on coke that his eyes reminded me of Marty Feldman. He would start every song normal enough, but would always end up in some wild adlibbing that was actually painful to listen to. The highlight of the night was when he got into it with one of the guitarists who he booted off the stage.”

“I remember one night in particular when Lightnin’ Hopkins played there with Big Momma Thornton,” offers “Tetherman.” “By the end of the set, Lightnin’ (who seemed intent that night on impressing Big Momma) ended up playing his guitar lying flat on his back on the floor... something you wouldn't probably see in other venues.”

Houston’s Museum of Printing History did an exhibit of Liberty Hall posters earlier this year, but unfortunately the link has expired. Luckily, the “Houston Rocks” Web site’s Liberty Hall page includes posters from the Velvet Underground’s two-night August 1971 stand, three nights of Cheech & Chong, and a four-night double bill of Loudon Wainwright III and brilliant black comic Franklin Ajaye. And one “scarletdukes” has a Flickr site full of neat stuff like posters from the Roky Erickson “Legal Defense Fund” benefit, plus Elton John and the Allman Brothers Band (separate shows, mind you) at Hofheinz Pavilion.

Bruce Springsteen was so partial to Liberty Hall he mentions it in “This Hard Land,” available on his Greatest Hits CD and Tracks box set: “Hey Frank, won’t you pack your bags and meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall.” And shortly before it shut down – 1610 Chenevert is today a vacant lot in the shadow of Toyota Center’s Tundra parking garage – Liberty Hall hosted the July 15, 1977 Houston debut of four skinny, leather-clad kids from Queens called the Ramones. Nonrefundable tickets cost all of four dollars. – Chris Gray

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