Austin is dubbed the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’— you won’t hear any argument from us. There are 250 or so venues around town, and even when there’s not a music festival going on, you can still hear live Austin music every night of the week. On a slow night, you’ll have your choice of dozens of performances, and on the weekends, several hundred acts vie for your musical attention, including country, blues, punk, jazz, indie acoustic and reggae.
As soon as you land in Austin, pick up a copy of the Austin Chronicle, Austin’s alternative weekly. There, you’ll find night-by-night listings of who’s playing where around town, including set times, as well as music critics’ picks that will help you get plugged in to the local scene. Larger touring acts usually require advance purchase, so you might want to check out Star Tickets (www.startickets.com) well in advance of your trip to see who might be in town.
Although the emphasis in Austin is on live music, that doesn’t mean you can’t take some local artists home with you. (In the form of a CD or vinyl album, of course.) By all means, stop by Waterloo Records to discover some great local acts courtesy of the store’s enormously helpful listening stations. Or stop by Antone’s Records for vintage vinyl with a focus on blues and Texas musicians.
South by Southwest is among the world’s top music-industry gatherings, so popular that it’s expanded into film and interactive. For a few weeks each March, the city is overrun with hundreds of musicians, as well as gaggles of critics, producers and record-company execs. It can be overwhelming, but true music fans will eat it up. The Austin City Limits Festival keeps the party going in the fall, sprinkling multiple stages around Zilker Park and packing in music fans over two weekends.
Part of the fun of Austin is discovering new music, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing someone you already know and love. Major touring acts play at the arena-sized Frank Erwin Center, downtown’s Art Deco Paramount Theatre, the Austin Music Hall, the open-air Backyard, and Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. It might be worth visiting each venue’s website to see who’s playing, or see who’s coming to town at Star Tickets (www.startickets.com)
Most of Austin’s major music districts are in or near downtown. There’s the upscale Warehouse District, with jazz clubs and craft cocktails; the heavy concentration of punk and alternative in the Red River District; the college-oriented Sixth Street District (which, to be honest, is as much about drinking as music—if not more so); and the interesting mix you’ll find in the Eastside scene. You can plan around a specific band or venue, or just wander about until you hear something you like.
Some of Austin’s most beloved venues are sprinkled around town, independent of any entertainment districts. (To be fair, most of them have been around since long before there even were entertainment districts.) The Broken Spoke has been Austin’s favorite honky-tonk since 1964. You can find excellent local country and swing at the slightly-divey-but-no-less-delightful Saxon Pub in South Austin, or Ginny’s Little Longhorn in North Austin. Emo’s—a punk rock venue that started the whole Red River District phenomenon—is now out on Riverside Drive. And the Cactus Café is an excellent small venue on the UT campus that hosts memorable acoustic performances.