Austin rocks. It may not possess the big-ticket attractions of New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, or the culinary cachet of New Orleans, but what Austin lacks in conventional tourist drawcards it more than makes up for with a famously buzzing music scene.
Its reputation as “Live Music Capital of the World” is
as entrenched as local boy Willie Nelson’s wrinkles, and high-profile festivals
like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest are just the beginning.
With almost 200 venues (in a city of only 800,000 people) and thousands of
musicians, it is a challenge deciding where to go and what to see.
Night-time is the right time
Packed with bars, pubs, clubs and revellers, Sixth
Street is arguably the city’s best-known musical thoroughfare. Though it is
touristy, there is treasure to be found if you know where to look. The 311 Club
(311 E Sixth Street) delivers for old-school R&B, while Nuno’s on Sixth is a respected
Red River Street is a sure bet for an indie or punk fix
at alterna-mecca Emo’s
or the fiercely eclectic Mohawk (to name
just a couple).
Besides being the state capital, Austin is home to the
of Texas, and the epicentre of the university district is Guadalupe Street
(known affectionately as “The Drag”). Like any student stomping ground, it hums
with happening venues. Top pick is the legendary Hole in the Wall, established in
1974 and still going strong with its cheeky promise of “cheap music, fast
drinks and live women”.
Even more historic is the Continental
Club in the super-lively South Congress (SoCo) strip. Starting life as a ritzy
supper club in 1957, this vintage-vibed joint has hosted everyone from Glenn
Miller to Link Wray over the decades, and is
synonymous with killer roots, rock and country. Local hero Jimmie Vaughan (Fabulous
Thunderbirds) and illustrious transplant Ian McLagan (ex-Small Faces, Faces) both
play here regularly.
The beat goes on
Forget about sleeping in; Austin’s musical heartbeat
never stops. This town lives and breathes music, and the city’s rich heritage is
evident everywhere; a fact of life as well as a source of pride.
Music Memorial and the Texas Music
Museum celebrate the key players, like Austinites Janis Joplin and Roosevelt
T Williams, who helped make the music community what it is today. Meanwhile, giant
Gibson guitars dot the streets, just in case anyone needs reminding what matters
most round here.
Of course, the city’s disproportionately large number
of record stores comes as no surprise. Hailed as America’s top independent
record store, Waterloo
Records is a great place to score local releases. Antone’s
Record Shop and Friends of Sound
also offer rich pickings. Alternatively, grab the widely available “Vinyl around Austin” guide and take
Any city that honours its fallen musical heroes has to
be cool. A pilgrimage to the Stevie Ray
Vaughan memorial, overlooking Lady Bird Lake, reveals as much about
Austin’s soul as it does about Stevie Ray Vaughan. Considered one of the
all-time guitar greats, Jimmie’s younger brother died in a helicopter crash in
1990, but his hometown keeps his spirit alive with this moving tribute.
Keep Austin weird
Renowned for merrily flying the freak flag in the
heart of conservative Texas, Austin has long welcomed misfits, outcasts,
eccentrics, students and artists from elsewhere, while nurturing its own. The
result is a population that lives by the memorable motto “Keep Austin weird”. Dovetailing seamlessly
with the outsider ethos so central to rock ’n’ roll and the blues, this philosophy
even has an unofficial poster boy: Roky Erickson. Psychedelic survivor and the perverse
genius behind Austin’s mind-bending rock band 13th Floor Elevators in the 1960s,
Roky is so beloved, there is even a doll in his likeness.
Keep Austin nice
Obviously, not everybody takes it to Roky Erickson’s
extreme. But it is widely acknowledged that Austinites are a special breed. As
film director Quentin Tarantino remarked, “It’s one of those cool towns where
everyone is friendly.” He is not exaggerating. People here are consistently
warm, welcoming and eager to share their city’s charms -- musical and otherwise.
From cabbies to waitresses to folks in the street, it is a veritable niceness
The article 'Austin’s musical heartbeat' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.