Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Happy Hours

Photo of Toni Price.

Toni Price

photograph by John Carrico

Whether your vote sways to Austin or Branson, Missouri for the title "Live Music Capital of the World," it's fair to say that our city bursts at the seams with live music, that our cup runneth over, so naturally, that runoff pools in the afternoon hours. Happy hours are somewhat of an industry in Austin, though it tends to be a fly-by-, umm, early evening one, as venues experiment with various combinations of days and bands. Only some of these afternoon shows approximate the level of success that the hands-down happy hour industry leader, the Continental Club, enjoys.

Indeed, one of Austin's premiere live music venues for the nighttime hours also corners the afternoon/early evening market, as they have since owner Steve Wertheimer took over the South Congress club 11 years ago. Toni Price began her legendary Tuesday residency early this decade, and today, she, along with opener Doak Short, has the most permanent weekday afternoon stay, along with the Blues Specialists -- the backing band of the recently departed T.D. Bell -- on Fridays. Club manager Pete Gordon says to expect the Banana Blender Surprise side-project El Orbits to start a lounge 'n' bingo combo on Thursdays.

Happy hours are an opportunity for clubs to host music that doesn't necessarily fit with their nighttime agenda, and to bring in revenue with bar receipts when the venue would otherwise be closed. The mostly prog-rock/punk Electric Lounge tried a Wednesday happy hour, but its low draw was put to rest after resident gospel group the Jubilettes broke up. Thursday's Y'All Star Happy Hour also fizzled due to spotty attendance and because James-Dean-gone-truckin' honky-tonker Dale Watson was "spread too thin," according to Lounge co-owner Mike Henry. How do clubs keep the afternoon revelers coming? Henry attributes the success of his club's Friday afternoons with Mariachi Estrella partly to the day, but mostly to the local group's music; Mariachi Estrella, he says, brings in a combination of people who work downtown along with an Eastside contingent ready for lively Latino roots music.

The timing of happy hours seems to necessitate the offering of food, since crowds tend to be either early-to-bed patrons who don't enjoy nightclubbing or the more hard-core partiers seeking a good, hearty base for drinking into the night. Stubb's feeds them barbeque during Willie Nelson's daughter Paula's Thursday happy hour set and Damon Bramblett's Friday evening show, while the Electric Lounge provides a free appetizer buffet. Other local night spots feature sporadic happy hour events, the Elephant Room in particular hosting a nightly pre-headliner show, but as always, happenings in this arena seem to start and finish with the Continental, where Gordon says the way to the hearts of the club's loyal happy hour crowd isn't through their stomachs: "It's all about the music." --Kim Mellen