Feb 1, 2022 - Things to Do

Locals left to wonder: Is Austin still weird?

Runners assembled at the starting line of the Keep Austin Weird run.

Runners assembled at the starting line at the Keep Austin Weird Festival at The Long Center in 2013. Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images

Being weird apparently means having to say you're weird.

Driving the news: The city's Historic Landmark Commission approved plans last week for a 12-foot sculpture at Sixth and Congress that will read, depending on the angle of view, "Keep Austin Weird."

What they're saying: "The sculpture will provide a new, engaging social media posting experience ... that will draw people to shop at the nearby retail businesses and to explore the rich culture and history" of the area, Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, wrote to the landmark commission in January, in support of the sculpture proposal by the Colina West real estate firm.

  • Because nothing says we're "weird" like a social media posting experience.
  • (We kid.)

Our thought bubble: It's not that Austin doesn't still have weird elements, it's just that the peculiarities of our hometown are definitely diluted.

Mathematically speaking: To explain what we mean, we've devised a formula.

  • W=2V/(3N+C^3), in which W=Austin’s weirdness score, N=number of Nike stores, C=number of California boutiques on South Congress, and V=number of Vulcan Videos.

A bit of history: Some people trace "Keep Austin Weird" to when Red Wassenich, a librarian at Austin Community College, called in a pledge to KOOP Radio's Lounge Show in spring 2000, saying it helped keep the city weird.

  • By 2005, Outhouse Designs, an Austin-based company that managed to trademark the motto, was selling 25,000 "Keep Austin Weird" shirts a year.
  • "Now if you wear a Keep Austin Weird shirt, it's normal," Andrew Allemann, founder of the website makeaustinnormal.com, said — all the way back in 2005.

Sadly: Some of Austin's famous weird ones have died. Leslie is long gone, as is the great chronicler of our weird times, John Kelso. Wassenich himself died in 2020.

True story: Asher once wrote a story for the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines about all the places that called themselves weird, including Boulder, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; and Erie, Pennsylvania.


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