James Wellwarth (left) and Steve Werthimer
Jamie Wellwarth, production manager at Austin’s Continental Club, has been mixing shows, advancing dates and maintaining gear at the venerable roots-music house for more than seven years, and he jokes that he’s still sort of the new guy.
“Some of the people who work there—some of the bartenders and managers—have worked here for close to 20 years, and they still love their jobs,” Wellwarth says. “I’m still one of the guys with a shorter time here. It’s the kind of place where you get in and you don’t want to leave.”
The Continental Club opened as a high-class dancehall in the late 1950s, when the stage saw performances by visiting swing bands of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and others. After a gear-shift to burlesque performance in the ‘60s, the club returned to pure music, hosting roots and punk acts, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Ely, The Cobras and the Butthole Surfers.
Then in 1987, current owner Steve Wertheimer took over and refocused the Continental on regional and national roots artists. Stars of the later-minted Americana format, such as Dale Watson and James McMurtry, are frequent guests, and luminaries like Robert Plant and Patty Griffin have played once-in-a-lifetime gigs in the 250-capacity club.
“Steve has done a wonderful job of building a wonderful place for musicians to call home in Austin,” Wellwarth observes. “The Continental is known as a place where musicians are treated fairly. You get a fair wage, you’re taken care of, and it’s all about the music. It’s one of those special places.”
Wellwarth’s career is definitely all about music. In addition to mixing at the Continental Club and servicing the club’s sound system (Midas Verona 240 board and E-V QRx212H/75 dual 12-inch two-way and E-V Crossover loudspeakers, as well as Telefunken m-80, m-81, and m-82 mics, etc.), he’s the touring FOH engineer for Fitz and the Tantrums and a sales manager for local sound company Nomad Sound, which provides any supplementary gear that the Continental Club’s visiting artists might need.
“It helps that I have great people to work with at the Continental Club,” Wellwarth says. My assistant, Katrina Lucas, and another engineer, Eric Carter, pick up a lot of slack.”
Wellwarth’s worlds collide during SXSW, however, and it’s all hands on deck. During the festival, the Continental Club opens around noon and hosts dozens of visiting roots-music icons day and night. At press time, this year’s schedule includes showcases for indie labels Yep Roc, Bloodshot Records and New West—which means performances by John Doe, Dave and Phil Alvin, Lydia Loveless, Luke Winslow King, Robert Ellis, etc.—with loads of announcements still to come. At the same time, Nomad Sound’s workload explodes, as the company supplies gear for 16 SXSW stages, including the festival’s Austin Music Awards ceremony.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Wellwarth says. “You see some of the best musicians in the whole world come through your club, but it’s 18-hour days of working, which can break you if you’re not up for it. I’ve been doing this a long time, but I still enjoy it and I look forward to it. I just love being in Austin and being in this business. I wake up and think, I can’t believe I get to go do this. I’m mixing Jimmie Vaughan tonight.”
Barbara Schultz is a frequent contributor to Mix and Electronic Musician.