Musicians have been drawn to Austin for decades to take advantage of the city’s abundant stages, open-minded atmosphere, and (formerly) cheap rent. Several notable artists persevered beyond free meals and tip jar paychecks, including Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and more recently, acts such as Spoon and . . . Trail of Dead have seen their names ascend from the bottoms of flyers to the tops of marquees.
Drop by any of the 100-plus venues in town that host live music and you just might be lucky enough to discover the next Timbuk3 or Fastball.
Here are some of the key live music venues on Sixth Street and Red River Street, as well as venues in the Warehouse District and South Austin.
There are still pockets remaining of old Sixth Street—rock n’ roll venues and comfy dive bars—among the dance clubs, and they’re worth checking out for the quality of live music being played most nights.
Consistently reliable is The Parish Room (214 E. Sixth St., 512/479-0474, www.theparishroom.com), featuring local and touring indie rock acts. Spoon spent a lot of time here on their rise up the alt-rock ladder, and occasional techno or hip-hop shows appear on the schedule.
A couple blocks east is longtime reggae club Flamingo Cantina (515 E. Sixth St., 512/494-9336, www.flamingocantina.com).
The Flamingo is a reliable source for local and national reggae and ska bands as well as cold Red Stripe beer and a lingering haze of green smoke.
Red River Street
Red River Street, at the eastern edge of the Sixth Street district, represents the lifeblood of Austin’s live music scene. Once the territory of crack dealers and vagabonds, this four-block stretch is now the vibrant core of the city’s rock ‘n’ roll culture.
Anchoring the strip is Stubb’s Bar-B-Q (801 Red River St., 512/480-8341, www.stubbsaustin.com), which hosts the city’s best road shows on a moderately sized (2,000 capacity) outdoor amphitheater and accommodates smaller acts on an indoor stage. As the name implies, Stubb’s also serves some fine smoked meats, but the bands bring the heat most nights. Artists ranging from Wilco and the White Stripes to Snoop Dogg and Mogwai grace the main stage, while the more intimate inside stage has hosted local stalwarts such as The Gourds and The Derailers. Incidentally, Stubb’s holds perhaps the most memorable New Year’s Eve bash in town.
Two blocks east is the renowned punk club Emo’s (603 Red River St., 512/477-3667, www.emosaustin.com), featuring two stages and some of the city’s craziest artwork—a wall mural depicting famous Texas assassins, depraved posters promoting previous shows, and, suspended over the main bar, the stool Johnny Cash used during his legendary 1994 performance. Bands are largely of the fast and loud variety, but Emo’s hosts occasional touring shows from old standbys such as Cheap Trick and Yo La Tengo.
Just down the street are a few down-and-dirty establishments offering local cowpunk and alternative bands along with cheap beer specials most nights of the week. The best of the bunch are Beerland (711 Red River St., 512/479-7625, www.beerlandtexas.com) and Room 710 (710 Red River St., 512/476-0997, www.room710.net).
Nearby Mohawk (912 Red River St., www.mohawkaustin.com), features trendy indie rock bands from Austin and afar, and draws some of the coolest hipsters in Capital City. To top things off, Mohawk was named the “coolest bar in America” by Esquire magazine in 2008.
By far, the city’s most famous night club is Antone’s, “Austin’s Home of the Blues” (213 W. Fifth St., 512/320-8424, www.antones.net). Although it’s changed locations a few times, Antone’s has been a fixture on the music scene for nearly three decades, staging legendary artists like B. B. King along with local blues and roots-rock acts such as Pinetop Perkins and Guy Forsyth. Stevie Ray Vaughan got his start here, and people still line up to catch the latest homegrown and national acts rock the big stage.
Two doors down is Lucky Lounge (209 W. Fifth St., 512/479-7700, www.theluckylounge.com), a live music/singles scene combo that actually works. The music kicks off fairly early—around 8 p.m. most nights—and the schmoozing picks up afterward. Lucky Lounge features mostly local acts, but it holds the impressive distinction of having a rock ‘n’ roll legend fronting its house band—Ian MacLaggan, former keyboard player from the renowned ’70s rock band The Faces (Rod Stewart, Ron Wood), takes the stage for happy hour most Thursdays.
Although this area covers a lot of ground geographically, the soul of this part of town and, consequently, the live music scene, ties the entire South Austin community together.
This is perhaps best represented at The Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave., 512/441-0202, www.continentalclub.com), the venerable South Congress venue that once hosted breezy artists like Glenn Miller in the 1950s. Now the tiny stage is a regular spot for local and national touring acts—most specializing in roots rock, bluegrass, rockabilly, and country. Celebrity sightings are fairly common here, and the happy hours, featuring peanuts aplenty, are a great way to experience authentic Austin.
Another local favorite is Saxon Pub (1320 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/448-2552, www.thesaxonpub.com), featuring blues, singer-songwriters, and Americana. The venue itself isn’t remarkable, with its limited seating and small stage, but the sound quality is excellent, and the artists are always far better than you’d expect to hear in a neighborhood bar.
If you’re looking for a true Texas style honkytonk, you absolutely have to check out The Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/442-6189, www.brokenspokeaustintx.com). This is as real as it gets—the music, dancing, and surrounding scenery are purely Texas. On weekend nights, the dance floor is crowded with crisp-jeaned ranchers and tattooed hipsters, all two-steppin’ in a smoothly rotating counter-clockwise pattern. Legends who’ve graced this low-ceiling, no-frills establishment during its prominent past include Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and George Strait, but these days, visitors and locals make a point of seeing local favorites like The Derailers and Gary P. Nunn.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition