Filed under: Issue 21 | Tags: Austin, Austin City Limits, Ghostland Observatory, Janis Joplin, Okkervil River, Shearwater, Spoon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, SXSW, Waterloo Records, Willie Nelson
Part of Issue 21 coverage!
Austin, Texas, has become a world-famous city for its music. When you Google “Live Music Capital of the World” Austin appears in every link. Generally, when you think of Austin, you either think of music, or opinionated right-winger Gov. Rick Perry, but you mostly think of music.
Dozens of venues line Sixth Street, the city’s yellow-brick road for live music. It becomes much larger than life in the spring when South by Southwest Music and Arts Festival (SXSW) hits Austin. Artists regularly throw secret, un-promoted shows in venues throughout the city when they aren’t giving regularly-scheduled performances at the festival. Even City Hall throws a good concert every once in a while. Concerts are held Fridays at noon in a series called Live from the Plaza, featuring local musicians from diverse musical genres.
Waterloo Records is another staple of free shows and music. This famous small record shop often has artists come in and play a couple songs for an audience that waits outside in queue for hours. When well-known acts, such as Austin-natives Spoon, come to play, people happily grow closer with their neighbors for the chance to stand less than 30 feet away from a band they love. In-store concerts happen on a weekly basis. “We’ve been doing them so long, we are a huge part of the music scene here,” Waterloo employee Erik Smith said. “And they’re free.”Smith describes in Austin’s uniqueness compared to other cities.“It’s the amount of venues in one place and the amount of people that play music,” he said. “And Beerland – have to mention Beerland –there’s nothing else like that place.” Beerland, one example of the city’s diverse venues, presents the atmosphere of a warehouse and the sounds of a garage concert. It bills itself as an “all-out orgy of loud music and cheap beer.”
Austin has had such an influence in the region that smaller areas, like nearby Denton, have started to develop into up-and-coming music cities as well. It is hardly a coincidence that Denton’s North by 35 Music Conferette falls on the weekend before SXSW. It is held in the hope that before artists head to Austin, they’ll hang out in the smaller city four hours away.
Austin boasts more than just recent music success stories, though. Shearwater, Okkervil River, and Ghostland Obervatory are all based out of Austin. However, world-famous acts like Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Janis Joplin have also made huge contributions to the Austin music scene.
When it comes to music, Austin has been and still remains on top. It still consistently churns out talent and its music festivals continue to attract thousands to the city. Moreover, PBS broadcasts recordings of Austin City Limits to even larger audiences. If you ever pass through Texas, do two things: go eat some real barbecue and see at least one show in Austin.
— Ryan McManus