This article appears in the August 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
Maybe you’ve heard somebody say, “Oh, (insert American city)? That’s just like Louisville.” Austin, Texas, often fills that role. Maybe it’s the cities’ similar sizes — Austin’s population: 790,390; Louisville’s: 741,096. Maybe it’s the “blue dot in a red state” thing. Or it could be that ubiquitous T-shirt and bumper-sticker slogan, “Keep Louisville Weird.” Hate to break it to you, but we stole that right out of Austin’s playbook.
Ear-X-tacy owner John Timmons introduced “weird” into the Louisville lexicon in 2003, after John Kunz, owner of Austin’s Waterloo Records, launched a similar independent business campaign there. “I take full credit — or full blame — for ‘borrowing’ that, with their blessing,” Timmons says.
Red Wassenich, a librarian at Austin Community College, came up with the slogan in 2000 as a reaction to the gentrification (and chains like Starbucks and Borders) that followed the influx of Silicon Valley transplants during Austin’s tech-industry boom. He says he never intended for the slogan to become a marketing tool, but it spread quickly. (Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; and Santa Cruz, Calif., also have adopted it.) So what exactly keeps a city weird? “I’ve been asked that many times, and it’s basically the old pornography thing: I know it when I see it,” Wassenich says. “A lot of places, if you roller-skated down Main Street in a tutu people would throw rocks at you, and here they applaud you.”
Here’s how we compare to Austin, our un-official sister city in weirdness:
South Congress Avenue
Block after block of hipster hangouts. Highlights: sampling from an entire parking lot of food trucks, shopping for cowboy gear at Allen Boots or seeing a rockabilly band at the Continental Club.
Louisville Slugger bats
Congress Avenue bridge bats
The world’s largest urban bat colony lives under this downtown bridge. Hundreds of people gather at dusk in the summer to watch them flap into the night.
The Hot Brown
Austinites didn’t come up with the idea of wrapping a tortilla around eggs, potatoes, sausage, salsa, etc., but they’ve adopted it as a staple of their cuisine. At any given hour, a good breakfast taco is never more than a few blocks away.
My Morning Jacket
Like MMJ, this foursome of indie rockers rose to national fame in the 2000s. Their hometown was the perfect launch pad — the words “Austin” and “live music” are almost synonymous.
Hunter S. Thompson (He’s dead, but still.)
He might not have been born there, but the guy who brought the world Beavis and Butt-head calls Austin home.
Photo courtesy of: Will Van Overbeek
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