Austin for live music fans
Travel Concierge: Austin for live music fans
Globe and Mail
Question: I’ve heard that Austin has a great live music scene. What are the top venues and which local bands should I look out for?
The toe-tapping Texas city easily lives up to its self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World billing – everyone seems to play an instrument here and there are around 200 venues to shake your thang at. But if you really want to dive in ears first, you’ll need some insider tips.
“My favourite venue is the Mohawk because they book great bands,” says Austin music blogger Benjamin Wintle (www.austinbloggylimits.com). “I like their urban lumberjack motif and their inside and outside stages – outside shows are preferable but I’ve also seen some fantastic shows on the tiny inside stage.”
Local Latin-folk musician Gina Chavez – check her out at www.ginachavez.com – is also a Mohawk fan. She suggests visitors peruse the freebie Austin Chronicle for upcoming shows (preferably over coffee at a cool haunt like Spider House café), paying particular attention to some of her other recommended venues.
“My favorite is One-2-One Bar on South Lamar. It has a great listening environment, plenty of dance space and an incredible sound system. [But] for a funky, free, hippie/hipster vibe, head to the Whip In. Songwriters and bands alike play to intimate crowds every night here – me and my fellow songwriters love this place.”
But that’s not all. East Austin’s Gypsy Lounge has a large outdoor stage where you can “rock your face off under the stars,” she says. And if you’re into smile-triggering Texas blues and Austin Americana, the Saxon Pub is “the best listening room in town – it’s got the drinks, friendly vibe and a quiet room for soaking in great music.”
Acts-wise, Wintle says picking favourites is tricky in a scene renowned for its ear-popping diversity. But among many “excellent local bands worth seeing,” he mentions Deep Time, Dana Falconberry, Major Major Major, Nakia, Ume, Quiet Company, Tiger Waves and Shakey Graves, which suggests there’s also keen competition for the coolest band name in Austin.
And while Chavez says busy musicians like her don’t always get to see as many acts as they’d like to, her must-catch roster includes the “funky, hysterical folk” of Matt the Electrician; the Latin rhythm dance band Hard Proof Afrobeat; and the Carper Family who she describes as “fab female bluegrass.”
Wintle notes that most shows in the city are good value at between $10 and $20, generally without those annoying extra fees demanded by Ticketmaster. “We’re one of then few cities not controlled by them – our venues operate independently so prices are kept low.”
Both agree that timing your visit for a festival can also be an ideal way to immerse yourself in the music scene. But while March’s humungous South by Southwest requires major advance planning – especially for accommodation – smaller events like May’s Pachanga Festival or November’s Fun Fun Fun are more accessible and less frenetic alternatives.
And then there are the city’s High Fidelity-style record stores; the perfect nerdtastic spots to get the inside track on Austin’s music vibe.
“We have an abundance of fantastic record shops here,” says Wintle. “My favourite is south Austin’s End of an Ear – it’s the perfect neighbourhood shop. Waterloo Records also has a huge selection and highly knowledgeable staff – your best bet [for live recommendations] is to head to their ticket counter.” Breakaway Records and Friends of Sound are also high on his hit list.
“Austin is not the sort of place you see artists who are well-known. It’s the sort of place you see artists who become well-known,” he concludes. Chavez agrees, noting that the live scene here is much more than about breaking into the music business. “This is a place where music thrives. Not the music business, but music itself. Austin is where artists come to discover who they are, who they can be, and who will listen to them.”