West Campus Market Provides Venue and Music Community

Midnight Butterfly performing at Friendly Rio Market on Dec. 9, 2023.

As dusk falls over West Campus, the concrete walls of a neighborhood corner store thrum with sporadic bass and excited chatter. Students and locals fill the aisles, grabbing eclectic snacks while they wait for the clerks to cut the lights—their cue that the show between the shelves has begun. Friendly Rio Market is not your typical Austin music venue with a full bar and sophisticated sound, but the store’s twice-weekly concerts next to rows of imported chips have an appeal all their own.  

Friendly Rio Market became an informal music venue after the store came under new management in 2019. Countless musicians have performed there since, including local acts like Molly Ringworm and the touring band Frost Children, which played during South by Southwest in 2023. But even before its second life as a venue, the decades-old convenience store had a certain musical panache, having previously appeared as a backdrop in The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” music video. Today, the store boasts a regular lineup of free, all-ages concerts beginning at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Friendly Rio Market features a variety of acts, from hardcore punk to hip-hop, and prior performance experience is not required. Store co-owner and booker Mukul Seth—whom regulars know as “Moo”—says everyone is welcome to join the music scene at Rio Market, even if this is their first time playing live.  

“There’s this demand for a venue where people can call their friends and family and perform. That’s the first step to performing on stage,” Moo says.  

Moo says he never explicitly set out to create a venue, but he realized music was a common interest among Friendly Rio Market staff and store-goers. It was the perfect impetus for connecting the two—and turning the local market into a gathering space.  

“The store has to be a community. That’s the key,” Moo says. “If you go to Europe, or if you go to Asia, your corner store is your community. That’s where you hang out.”

Alternative punk band Live Another Day at the same event.

When Moo first moved to the United States from India in 1999, he noticed a striking lack of these low-cost, local gathering spaces. So, after 13 years working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, he decided to invest his earnings in the community by reinventing the American convenience store.  

Moo opened his first store, Desi Food Mart, in San Antonio, where he made headlines for getting teenagers out of the house and off their phones. He eventually relocated to Austin for the local music and arts scene and quickly began to shake things up at Rio Market. First, he stocked the shelves with fun snacks like wasabi-flavored chips, then he added walk-up karaoke and a bean bag chair behind the register where customers and employees could watch cartoons and play video games together.   

The changes won over the store’s existing regulars, like senior finance major Michael Morin, who lives a couple blocks up the street. Morin says Rio Market became a place where he wanted to spend time, rather than a quick pit stop.  

“I think what happens for a lot of students when they come here is they struggle to find their group of people,” Morin says. “Most places you just see people and you don’t know anything about them, but here it’s very different … you make memories together outside the classroom and meet new people.”

Midnight Butterfly.

The store is particularly inclusive for young music-lovers, explains Kaiya Christner, the high school-aged drummer for the alternative rock band Midnight Butterfly. For a band of teenagers, it’s the ideal venue.   

“It’s really special that all ages are welcome,” Christner says. “Venues might make exceptions for artists that are under 21, but our fan base is our age. If they’re not able to be admitted, there’s not really a point in us playing.”   

Although the “stage” is not raised like at a typical venue—it’s more like an area at one end of the aisle where bands perform at eye-level with the audience—Christner says this helped her tap into the crowd’s energy.  

“It feels a little more intimate in that way. As the drummer, I’m usually on a riser … as disconnected as I can be from the crowd,” Christner says. “When you can see people’s faces and they’re right up there with you, it makes for a better experience.”  

Rapper DeShawn Morrison, who goes by the stage name Shxwnfresh, says the intimacy of a space like Rio Market can be intimidating when you’re used to playing traditional stages, but it also helps foster connections with fellow performers and fans.  

“I came into [Austin] knowing that the city wasn’t hip-hop-based, but I wanted to change that,” he says, adding that a vital component of building his audience has been intentionally connecting with those he meets in and around music. “I used to be nervous to go sit down and talk to some of these people … but I’ve learned, and it’s really helped me.”

A notice board advertising the weekly concerts.

Rio Market is a DIY (“do it yourself”) venue, which refers to community-run spaces outside of the established for-profit music industry. This can help new artists gain a following and carve out their sound, explains guitarist Clark Drake, whose metal band Kromathaw started playing Rio Market before publishing any music online.  

“The thing that makes this really special is the opportunity that it gives musicians who are wanting to try new things,” Drake says. “Maybe it’s a new project that you’re working on, and you don’t have any goodwill built up with anybody else and haven’t played any other shows, but you can book something here.”

Rio Market also helps connect artists with professional partners in the local music scene. David Castro, who runs a mobile music venue called Vancerts and promotes pop-up shows around town, provided sound equipment and live-taped the Rio Market show that Midnight Butterfly played, enabling them to distribute recorded work at little cost.  

“I think what [DIY] has grown into is, do it together,’’ Castro says, adding that these grassroots shows promote sharing resources as new talent incubates. “This is the blood vein to what’s in those [bigger] venues.”  

The store’s sense of community is a clear benefit to musicians, but it’s also a big draw for dedicated shoppers and concertgoers.   

“This is a place where everybody can just come and be together,” says Sunny Smith, a local high school student and Rio Market show attendee. “I think it’s really good because music shouldn’t discriminate.” 

The venue’s exterior.

CREDIT: Jeremiah Do (5)


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