The Texas city easily lives up to its self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World billing: you can “shake your thang” at about 200 venues.
“My favourite venue is the Mohawk because they book great bands,” says Benjamin Wintle, an Austin-based music blogger (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 (ginachavez.com) is also a Mohawk fan. She suggests visitors peruse The Austin Chronicle, a free weekly, for upcoming shows, paying particular attention to some of her other recommended venues. (This is preferably done over coffee at a cool haunt such as Spider House café on Fruth Street).
“My favourite is One-2-One Bar on South Lamar,” Chavez says. “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.”
East Austin’s Gypsy Lounge has a large outdoor stage where you can “rock your face off under the stars,” she adds. And if you’re into guitar-heavy Texas blues and rootsy 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.”
When it comes to which acts to catch, 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.
Chavez says 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 says shows run between $10 and $20, generally without those annoying extra fees demanded by Ticketmaster. “We’re one of the few cities not controlled by them. Our venues operate independently so prices are kept low.” For tickets to hot shows, book ahead using venue websites. Or just see what’s on when you arrive in town – popular spots such as the Continental Club offer several acts every night.
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 such as May’s Pachanga Festival or November’s Fun Fun Fun are more accessible.
Regardless of when you go, don’t miss the city’s High Fidelity-style record stores. They are nerdtastic spots to get the inside track on Austin’s music vibe.
“My favourite [record shop] is south Austin’s End of an Ear,” Wintle says. “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 says.
Chavez agrees: “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.”
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