Austin City Limits
When it started in 1976, this TV show featured more local artists, because Willie Nelson and other local musicians were at the top of their fame. Over the years, producer Terry Licona says he still works to keep Austin represented. Truth be told, the venue is more inspired by Austin’s open music scene than a representation of it. ACL is dedicated to presenting the “best of America's music from country, blues and folk to rock 'n' roll, bluegrass and zydeco.” The ACL website presents their range with these artists: B.B. King, Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ray Charles and Leonard Cohen. ACL is taped in a soundstage in the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center at the University of Texas. Most people think it is on a stage outside – something like the Backyard, but that’s the magic of television. Tickets are free, first come first served, and on taping nights you can see the line of music fans in the complex courtyard and the artists’ bus and sound truck parked outside. It is as popular locally as on TV, and those tickets are gone in no time. You can get some of the same feeling of participation by watching ACL on the big screen TV at Paggi House Restaurant Tuesdays at 8:00 PM.
Central Market Café
4002 N. Lamar
Central Market is a grocery store – the kind of grocery that has more wine and kinds of olives than kitchen cleansers. In the store’s own words, “Central Market is a destination, fresh market for people who are passionate about food.“ The Café presents counter service in several cuisines and live music every Friday and Saturday on the patio. The music is usually 6:30 to 9 pm and there's never a cover charge. As they say, “See why Austin is called ‘The Live Music Capital of the World.’" You might hear jazz, songs from the 1920s, folk, Middle Eastern, or might see tangos and flamenco dancers. Musicians spotted include: Susan Gibson, Mady Kaye, Ephraim Owens and the Marc Devine Quintet.
The Hole in the Wall
The Hole in the Wall is right on the Drag, the stretch of Guadalupe that provides the western boundary of the University of Texas. It sits between a Jack in the Box and an ever rotating set of trendy shops. The Hole in the Wall is anything but trendy. Hole in the Wall Restaurant and Arcade opened in 1973 as a burger joint for the truckers and deliverymen who served the university area, as well as students. In those days, the drinking age was 18, so almost all students were eligible to have a beer, play pool, eat a reality sandwich (chicken fried steak and jalapeños on a bun) and listen to the music. KXAN-TV called it “perhaps the most celebrated college dive bar in Austin history.“ The Hole in the Wall also functions as a neighborhood bar for a large group of regulars, whose pictures adorn the wall in tribute. The Hole closed in 2002 for a while and we thought we would never see its like again, but voilà it opened with new owners again in 2003! Musician Paul Minor manages and books roots, country and more into the friendly little club. Music is early – more after work than after hours – and there is a jukebox stocked with Roky Erickson and other classics for daytime sound.
Old Settlers Music Festival
Camp Ben McCulloch & Salt Lick Pavilion
A weekend in April
This festival started as a bluegrass venue, but it has widened in appeal to include different roots and Americana music. The location is in the hills on the Southern edge of town, near a nationally recognized Salt Lick Bar-B-Q Restaurant, with plenty of room for camping. Proceeds go to the Campfire Boys and Girls, Austin Safeplace (an organization focused on domestic violence) and Capital Area Food Bank. Four stages keep busy with performances from artists like: Del McCoury Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Patty Griffin, Bruce Hornsby, Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, John Hartford, Dan Tyminski, Charlie Daniels, Michelle Shocked, Doc Watson, Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin, Guy Clark, Bela Fleck, Leftover Salmon, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, David Grisman, The Fairfield Four, Joe Ely, John Cowan, Del McCoury, Jimmy LaFave, Toni Price, Bells of Joy, Rodney Crowell and Slaid Cleaves. The Old Settlers Music Festival is also known for performance workshops and attracts many people who want to play with the masters. There’s also a youth talent competition, arts and crafts and other family-friendly old-style fun like armadillo races and stilt walking. This festival has the right time of the year – April when the bluebonnets and paintbrush are in bloom and the sun is friendly but not punishing.
Waterloo Records & Video
600A N. Lamar
Offering new and used music, this is a great store with artists from all over the world and a great set-up for listening in the store. You can listen to any CD before you buy. The store has a great selection and is especially good for Texas music. It is also a venue for live music. You can see fantastic performers in the store two or three times a week, always at 5:00. (Free refreshments) In addition to local artists like Pat Green and Marcia Ball, here are a few greats who have sung in the store: Billy Bragg, Roseanne Cash, John Hammond, Lyle Lovett and Ricky Scaggs.
Austin City Limits Music Festival
A September weekend
ACL has teamed up with Capitol Sports & Entertainment to bring the diversity and excellence of the award-winning TV show to a 3-day festival in the city. Wildly successful, this festival is bringing thousands of people out to 45 acres along the Colorado River in downtown Austin to hear music, buy art and eat (and drink). Forty per cent of them come from outside the city. In fact, the ACL Festival was so successful that the number of tickets was reduced in response to complaints of crowding. With 130 acts in 3 days, the festival does seem to mirror Austin’s eclecticism and diversity and delight in melding music audiences. Laura Sylvester of Junkmedia, an independent Internet daily, caught Chris Robinson of Black Crowes on stage in 2005 saying: "This is our first time playing ACL -- the only place where hippies and rednecks can get together and have a little session. And the only place where you can say 'hippies and rednecks' and no one gets offended."
The Elephant Room
315 Congress Ave.
Walk in and down the steps to a cozy cave with stone walls and fantastic sound. (The elephants are not the pink sort but sconces on the walls.) This is your 365-days-a-year venue for laid-back cool jazz. It was once voted The Sanest Place to Take Mom Clubbing in Austin Chronicle annual reader polls. Famous for Michael Mordecai’s Monday Night Jazz Jams, it’s known as the best place for local talent and touring acts. You’ll be surprised at the number and quality of Austin-based jazz musicians.
1619 S. 1st St.
Jovita’s is a Tex-Mex restaurant. It has funky murals of Cesar Chavez and company. Bands play on a beautiful indoor/outdoor patio, but the sounds travel easily through the open doors, past the bar and to the furthest table away, almost always filling the place with even more soul than it would otherwise have. You can hear legends like Flaco Jimemez, Ponty Bone and Bill Kirchen, or the ten-piece Cornell Hurd Band. Since it’s a restaurant, the music is at dinner time.
The Red Eyed Fly
715 Red River
The Red Eyed Fly is in an old-fashioned Texas multi-colored sandstone building, one of the clubs along Red River Street just north of Sixth Street. It’s old-fashioned rowdy, too. This is your punk and indie rock scene, booking mostly Texas punk, rock and pop bands, but they get some national touring acts, too. The music is outside on the patio; inside the jukebox plays local bands.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q & Music
801 Red River
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q serves ribs, brisket, turkey, pork, fried green tomatoes and more. You can buy the great sauce at the supermarket. Look for the label with Stubb’s picture. Christopher B. Stubblefield is gone, but his mix of bar-b-q and music is going strong. Stubb’s has one of the most popular large outdoor stages, hosting such artists as Peter Frampton, Flaming Lips, Dwight Yoakum, Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, Nickel Creek, Death Cab for Cutie and Thrice. There’s a small stage inside, too. Sundays enjoy the Gospel Brunch and buffet.
Stubb’s started in Lubbock, where Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Stevie Ray Vaughan played for their supper. He moved the restaurant to Austin and finally settled in a beautiful old stone building that looks like an old timey Bar-B-Q joint.
Austin Music Hall
In a big old warehouse downtown near Town Lake you can hear everything from Robert Earl Keen, B.B. King, to Anagen, with 3000 intimate friends. This is the big hall in town. It is 22,000 square feet, with four different bars downstairs and a VIP spot upstairs. Not the spiffiest décor, for years the cracked ceiling and walls carried through the warehouse motif. Owner Direct Events has given the venue an art décor makeover. The feeling is still that you’re there for the music and the fun, and there’s plenty of space for dancing. One of the venues taken over by Direct Events, it gets the big road shows but still feels like Austin.
It also took over the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar when the much loved Armadillo World Headquarters ceased to be. Buy paintings, pottery, art glass, clothes, jewelry, toys, leather goods, and more during the day or at night with live music accompaniment. The American Red Cross books their fundraising fashion show & live music, and you can book a dinner or other private events there, too.
2102 Bergman Ave.
FiestaGardens is on the Eastside. In Austin that means, it is closer to a greater concentration of minority residents than most of the other clubs and park venues Austin has. Like Zilker Park in downtown, it is on the Colorado River that swirls through Austin and is built and maintained by the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. It is close in and easy to get to.
Fiesta Gardens is home to the Austin Celtic Festival (fall), Cinco de Mayo (May), Diez y Seis (September) and other festivals. Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis both celebrate the rich Mexican heritage of Texas.
Fiesta Gardens is a long complex that consists of two areas connected by about 50 feet of trail under trees next to a clear lagoon off the Town Lake portion of the Colorado River. Just east of downtown, Fiesta Gardens is part of the Festival Beach park complex, itself part of the extensive series of parks and trails that line the river through most of the city. There is a 4000 square foot, climate-controlled pavilion that makes this a great spot for workshops and exhibits.
Old Pecan Street Festival
6th St. (Old Pecan Street)
Weekends in early May and late October
Sixth Street is blocked off through the whole downtown. While you shop for juried arts and crafts and eat street food, check out the five music stages. Free from morning to night. Actually, there’s also a Victorian Christmas street fair and a new one called Batfest to celebrate the September return of the largest urban colony of bats to the Congress Street bridge over the Colorado River (Town Lake). The spring Pecan Street Festival brings 250,000 people.
The Victory Grill
1104 E 11 St.
History is alive on East 11th Street in Austin. Jim Swift of KXAN says the club was originally called the Victory Grill because it opened on Victory over Japan day in 1945 to welcome home black soldiers. In those days of racial segregation, many African American servicemen stationed at Central Texas bases were attracted to the area, and the Victory Grill was a popular destination. You can trace the history of Austin performance music from the days of the Victory Grill. "We're talking about Bobby ("Blue") Bland getting his start here. We're talking about B.B. King getting his start here. We're talking about Gatemouth Brown," said Rudolph Malveaux in a KLRU Austin Now story. "What's significant about all those people? They are all in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame." The Victory Grill is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The club hasn’t been open continuously, but it is back again. Billie Holliday, Chuck Berry. WC Clark and Tina Turner graced the stage here, and young Gary Clark is carrying on the tradition. There is a real sense of preservation and tradition at the welcoming and friendly club where all are welcome.