Austin is both the capital of The Lone Star State and home to the Longhorns of the University of Texas. It's also a very cosmopolitan town proud of its reputation as a home for popular music of all genres. The official website of The South By Southwest Music and Media Conference states that "Central Austin boasts more original music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world." The moderately sized city of over 600,000 people has two hundred venues featuring live music. Austin has more music venues per capita than New York, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Nashville. Both Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan (for whom they erected a memorial) cut their musical teeth in this central Texas city's music clubs. The city promotes itself with the copyrighted slogan "The Live Music Capital Of The World."
There are many reasons why Austin can be truly considered one of American music's true showcases. Here are a few.
Every March the famous business conference, South By Southwest, is hosted at the Austin Convention Center. Many artists, agents, musicians, promoters, and media people meet there to do business, make connections, and listen to music. Hundreds of musical acts perform on downtown stages hoping to be discovered by the business and media moguls in attendance.
Austin City Limits is a giant music festival held every September. It features dozens of unknown acts and also some musical icons and all-stars. The recently completed 2007 event included Bob Dylan, The Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Bjork, Wilco, The Decembrists, Lucinda Williams, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Crowded House, and many more. This year's event was held over three days and presented one hundred and thirty bands on eight stages. For thirty-three years Austin City Limits has also been a weekly TV series on PBS featuring some of the finest musicians on the American scene. Austin favorites Lyle Lovett and the late Doug Sahm have been guests as have singer-songwriters Kim Richey and The Indigo Girls. An episode with Norah Jones just aired in October.
My recent weekend in Austin proved how great of a town it is for musicians. We went to the city's famous restaurant, Threadgill's South, for an excellent concert by the wonderful Jimmy Lafave, a rocking singer-songwriter who is one of Austin's top acts. (Look for a review of his latest CD soon.) The chilly air eventually proved to be too much for a late October show but in the right weather this small outdoor concert venue at Threadgill's is a very nice place to witness the local favorites play live. The original Threadgill's, on the north side of town, was once home to Joplin before she moved to the West Coast and struck it big.
On Friday, October 26th, the night before we saw Lafave, we went to The Continental Club, located near Threadgill's, to see country-rockers, The Mother Truckers, whose lead singer, Teal Collins, was voted Austin's best female voice. Her songwriting partner, Josh Zee, was voted the city's best electric guitarist. The quartet was honored as "Best Roots Rock Band" at the most recent Austin Music Awards. Picture Southern Culture On The Skids without the fried chicken shtick. The Mother Truckers are pure Texas!
If roots-rock, Americana, country, blues, and singer-songwriters are part of your musical diet, radio station KGSR, 107.1 FM is for you. This station is unlike anything you are likely to hear elsewhere on commercial radio. You can stream it twenty-four hours a day on their website. KGSR is not formulaic radio. While they may play traditonal boomer rock artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison they will also include Dave Matthews, Feist, Iron and Wine, Toots and the Maytals, Corrine Bailey Rae, and many local artists such as Lafave and The Mother Truckers. There is no hip-hop, no hard rock, just Texas style rock for adults.
If you are looking for used CDs take a drive on North Lamar Blvd. where you will find two stores that specialize in both Texas music and used discs. Waterloo Records (so named because it was Austin's original name) and Cheapo Discs have an abundance of both. Cheapo Discs has an entire large wall featuring nothing but Texas artists.
All of the above were sandwiched in between a tour of the state capital building, a visit to The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, watching tailgaters at the Texas - Nebraska football game, and eating at some great restaurants including Iron Cactus on Sixth Street. It offers the best Mexican cuisine I've ever tasted.
Austin is a young vibrant town with a lot to offer. They are proud of their city and their heritage, and they revel in what they consider to be their weirdness. There is even a web site named Keep Austin Weird devoted to the "collaborative fission of coordinated individualism" the city enjoys so much.