How did I end up at the Hippie Church? I’m getting to that.
I’m back again in Austin this weekend. In retrospect, I probably wasn’t weird enough to appreciate the city’s charms when I first visited decades ago, but repeated trips have made me realize what a Texas gem our capital city really is. Whenever I tell anyone overseas I’m from Texas, if they know one city, it’s Austin. Not Dallas, San Antonio or Houston…Nope, we’ve all been out-shined by the golden child of Texas. Austin is internationally known and respected.
Why? Lots of reasons, but live music is probably the biggest.
Austin City Limits is kicking off this Friday and running two 3 day weekends. That’s 6 days of live headliners and over 130 bands performing in Austin’s Zilker Park. It’s the Woodstock of the south and features such acts as Guns and Roses, The Cure, Cardi B, Third Eye Blind and Billie Ellish. There’s something for everyone and a great opportunity to hear some performers that you’d never be exposed to listening to on your normal radio station.
Live Music isn’t limited to ACL though. There’s South by Southwest, Urban Music Festival and Fun Fun Fun Fest to name a few. If you can’t make it to any of these, don’t worry. Austin has live music somewhere anytime. I’m staying at Lone Star Court this evening in the hip Domain area and the hotel has some pretty good musicians that play here Thursday through Sunday. There’s a big fire pit next to where the musicians play in the open air gazebo and your hotel room comes equipped with marshmallows, Hershey’s, and sticks to make your own s’mores while you listen to the music. “Choc” and Roll forever!
Most locals agree that Austin’s iconic Sixth street has lost it’s former charm to tourists, noise ordinances and homeless camps, but there’s still great live music playing every day somewhere. I caught up with Austin based artist Lance Keltner (who’s been around forever and knows everyone) and put together a list of some of the top favorite venues to see some great music now.
Saxon Pub has live music every night. You can sometimes hear as many as five different acts in an evening. Established in 1990, this listening room has hosted over 20,000 performances and became the subject of the 2019 film Nothing Stays the Same- The Story of the Saxon Pub. You can’t go wrong with the casual atmosphere and no-cover happy hour 6:00-7:30 pm Monday-Friday. Kris Kristofferson was once quoted as saying that playing at Saxon was “like playing in his own living room”.
Elephant Room is an awesome spot for your Austin Jazz fix. Also offering live music every night, the venue is located in a basement for that truly “underground” feel. Weekdays are usually free cover and weekends have a small $5 entrance charge. Elephant Room draws many of jazz’s great musicians in an awesome retro-speakeasy venue.
Antones started as a sandwich shop owned by Clifford Antone (from the same Antone’s sandwich shop dynasty in Houston) and eventually reincarnated into a legendary blues club on Sixth street in 1975. Although the venue has moved around Austin multiple time, it’s hosted big names like Ray Charles and James Brown and remains one of the most popular places to see live music in Austin. There’s somebody playing every night, with free shows as well as ticketed events.
Ask anyone from Austin their favorite venues and Continental Club is always on the list. Billing itself as the “granddaddy of music venues”, it’s been around since 1955. Beginning as a supper club, reincarnated into a burlesque bar, later a dive bar, somehow the venue survived all the changes in Austin and hung on to its historical location. 60 years later, it’s the most popular live music venue in Austin. Anyone who’s anyone plays here. It’s original signage and art add extra coolness to it’s hip vibe.
The Broken Spoke– Where can you find two-step lessons, chicken fried steak and a real Texas dance hall? Look no further than the Broken Spoke. With a 60’s country vibe, this venue has somehow managed to survive in the 20th century whenever everything around it has been torn down and rebuilt. Free live music is 6-8 pm 5 days a week in the restaurant and the dance hall opens at 7:30. If you want a real taste of old school Texas, this is it.
Stubbs BBQ– Christopher Stubblefield opened his first barbecue restaurant in Lubbock in 1968 and by the early 70s his place became THE PLACE to hear musicians like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The original Lubbock restaurant was eventually shuttered and moved to Austin. However, the legendary barbecue continues and Stubb’s concert amphitheater can accommodate up to 2200 guests. It’s a great outdoor venue for larger touring bands that won’t fit in smaller local clubs.
Maria’s Taco Xpress– First, this restaurant’s name doesn’t do it justice. Much more than a “taco restaurant”, this quirky eatery is a great place to spend your Sunday afternoon at it’s Hippie Church. Maria brings in a great band every Sunday from 12-3 with a gospel flair and…let me just say…. they’re not kidding when they say “Hippie Church”. With more white beards than a Santa convention and more tie-dyed shirts than Jerry Garcia’s closet, this place rocks with everyone dancing like no one’s watching . Some of the guests came straight from “regular church” for a double dose of gospel-inspired music and tasty Mexican food. I came for the margaritas.
Live music lives on in Austin. Whether you’re looking for blues, jazz, rock, gospel or Texas roots acoustic, you’ll have no problem finding all that as well as plenty of things you didn’t expect.