This is probably my most strongly opinionated post to date. As I mentioned in my Introduction to the series, “My own musical tastes tend towards punk and indie rock, with a healthy dose of old soul and hip-hop. I hate Stevie Ray Vaughan and the whole Austin blues thing. I love old honky-tonk country but don’t know or care much for most of what is Texas country music.”
Hopefully I don’t offend anyone with some of what I saw here. I’ll try and include links that will cover things that I don’t know or care about (as I’ve tried to do with the food guides).
As some of you probably know, Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World. A lot of this reputation was built on the outlaw/progressive country and “cosmic cowboy” scene of the 1970s highlighted by the great Willie Nelson. Another well known scene is the Texas blues guitar wankers spotlighted by the dreadful Stevie Ray Vaughan (seriously, please don’t assume that everyone in Austin loves SRV and Texas blues). More recently, bands like Spoon, …Trail of Dead, and White Denim have been indie rock darlings. But the real reason that we’re the Live Music Capital of the World is that there is music in every genre, almost every night, with clubs catering to all tastes.
I would guess that many people have heard of Sixth Street, and assume that this is the live music district. At one point it was, and there are still some live music venues on Sixth, but these days the clubs on Sixth are more shot bars playing shitty club music and pop (one of many reasons it’s now known as Dirty Sixth). And even those clubs with “live music” are as likely to have cover bands/artists as original music, or SRV wannabes. A quick browse through the Austin Chronicle music listings for this weekend bear this out, as very few clubs are listed on Dirty Sixth (addresses roughly 100-800 East Sixth Street). One place that does have regular music is Flamingo Cantina, our local reggae/world/Afrobeat (and some hip-hop) club. One of the other places, The Parish, has nothing booked during SAA weekend so never mind there.
Most (and the best) live music downtown is found along Red River Street, in what the city has designated as the Red River Cultural District. Unfortunately, many of you may have heard of this area because of the SXSW tragedy earlier this year. There are more than a dozen clubs running along Red River from 6th to 10th Streets, although the iconic Austin punk club Emos is no longer among them, having moved to east Riverside Drive and bearing almost no resemblance to the original. These range from small dive bars specializing in local punk, garage, metal, and indie (notably Beerland Texas, also including Red Eyed Fly and Metal and Lace) to large outdoor venues hosting big name touring bands (Stubbs Austin). Note that outdoor shows must end by 11 pm on weeknights, and midnight on weekends, while indoor shows typically end at 2am, which is bar closing time.
My two favorite venues along Red River (and in general, with Beerland being #3 fwiw) are The Mohawk and Red 7, both booked by Transmission Events. Mohawk has a large outdoor space for big shows, and a smaller indoor space for small shows (and late night shows after the outdoor shows), and covers mainly indie rock and pop with some punk and metal. I’ll be there on Saturday night to see The Men (my favorite current band) and Cloud Nothings! Red 7 has a covered open air back porch that isn’t considered outdoors by noise standards (thus able to play music until 2) and a smaller indoor space, and sometimes a separate ticket is required for the back patio area shows if both stages are active. They’re hosting the awesome Karaoke Underground 10th anniversary party on Saturday night, which I highly recommend (and might go to after the Mohawk show).
We’ll move away from Red River but stay on the punk/garage/metal/indie track for a newer venue, Hotel Vegas, on the “trendy” “hipster” east side. Mostly local and Texas bands, but they will host lesser known (and sometimes reasonably well known) touring bands. There’s also Trailer Space, primarily a record store.
It’s a lot to keep track of, fortunately my best friend Dan does a wonderful public service for us by compiling, curating, and maintaining Showlist Austin, a calendar of (mainly) live music. Much like me, this site is not solely limited to Dan’s taste, but does stay “within certain boundaries”. There are links to the various clubs next to the listings, so you can find out location and ticket info. Also, a quick tip: record store shows are always listed first!
Venturing beyond my familiar, let’s talk about country music (specifically honky-tonk/outlaw), roots/rockabilly, and singer-songwriters.
The Broken Spoke is THE place to go to two-step to classic Texas country music (and eat chicken-fried steak), although it’s not close to downtown. There’s dinner music from 6-8 pm, then dance lessons from 8-9, and then the party starts. Closer to downtown just off east 6th is the “hipster honky tonk” The White Horse, with live music and dancing every night, and two-step lessons on Saturdays at 6pm. One more place to get your two-step on is the legendary Ginny’s Little Longhorn, also home to chicken shit bingo (on Sunday). This is on 54th and Burnet Road, north of the main central city area, but worth checking out to hang with some locals and drink some cold Lone Stars.
Another legendary Austin venue is The Continental Club, one of the joints associated with the Vaughans and the Texas blues scene, but also roots rock, rockabilly, soul, and country. It’s located on south Congress, one of Austin’s most noted shopping districts and also home to many restaurants. Continental has happy hour shows nightly, at 6:30 or 7, a Saturday 3:30 matinee show, and then late shows starting around 10.
Finally, a couple of signer-songwriter spots. The Cactus Cafe is on the UT campus in the student union building just off The Drag, and has hosted a wide range of locals and touring acts for many years. Their shows start around 8 and end reasonably early. Lastly, The Saxon Pub, on south Lamar, is a little louder and runs a little later.
Obviously, this isn’t nearly everything. Check out sites like the Austin Chronicle (and pick up a hard copy on Thursday!), Austin 360 (part of the American-Statesman), and Do512, or any of the many other resources a quick search would turn up