Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Record Stores

Photo of Sound Exchange.

photograph by John Carrico

For music lovers with insufficient time, age, or funds to make the club rounds on a regular basis, in-store performances provide a cheapo way to get a steady fix on the overabundance of talent either living in or passing through Austin. The city has a healthy independent record retail scene, and since live music is so integrated into Austin's identity, the symbiotic relationship is a natural.

Nothing is more emblematic of our city's "chains schmains" ethic than the success of Waterloo Records, which stands as the most prominent host of in-stores. Its small but permanent stage in the current Sixth and Lamar location has guested Billy Bragg, Billy Squier, Robyn Hitchcock, Elliott Smith, and just about every Austin band that has ever celebrated a record release. The store puts on an average of two artist in-stores a week, but during South by Southwest, the number of acts seeking exposure explodes.

The fiercely independent Thirty Three Degrees on Guadalupe also hosts a slew of in-stores during SXSW, and unlike many of the other local record stores that cram patrons between product bins, Thirty Three Degrees has ample performing and viewing space toward the rear of the store. In-stores here are predominantly indie-rock and avant-garde, and their collaboration with local promotions group Epistrophy Arts has brought in free-jazz acts, while art-rock idol Eugene Chadbourne played an exclusive engagement there during his last run through town.

Back in the days when labels and bands cared about independent retailers, rising major-label stars Pearl Jam, Sarah McLachlan used to play in-stores at ABCD's, now located on Airport Boulevard. Today, in addition to semi-regular record release performances, the store hosts a party the first Thursday of every month with local bands and store-wide discounts.

Back downtown, the plastic lawn chairs on their Fifth Street front porch signal your success in locating the easy-to-miss Local Flavor, a little downtown record store devoted solely to Austin bands. Their in-store parties for local musicians of all stripes are less regular and frequent than those of their bigger retail bretheren. Same goes for Neptunes, which has already carved out a niche in Wells Branch with in-stores offering both kinds of music: metal and death metal.

Every big college town has one, and Sound Exchange is the University of Texas at Austin's: the campus record store. Got an hour between classes, an urge for a Coltrane poster, Kung Fu video, Silver Scooter 45, Guided by Voices CD, or $1 soundtrack album? You know where to cross Guadalupe. Being prime exporters of local music, the musician-looking types at Sound Exchange naturally support live music and thus sponsor the frequent Friday afternoon in-store.

It's not an independent store, but national retailer Tower Records also hosts in-store performances on a regular basis. The numbers at Tower also peak during SXSW, but the Drag-bound store typically hosts at least one or two showcases per month. Also on the chain gang, North Austin's Borders mixes their Faulk with folk and their Twain with twang for a toe-tapping retail experience. Look for music in the cafe every Friday and Saturday night; in addition, every third Sunday is Songwriters' Night, every last Sunday is International Night, and special events pop up often. Tending toward the acoustic, the mix is still a little livelier than your standard bookshop fare.

Michael Bertin


(C-22) 4631 Airport, 454-1212.

(C-7) 10225 Research, 795-8410.

Local Flavor

(6th-36) 305 E. Fifth, 472-7773.

Neptune's Music
(C-2) 1779 Wells Branch Pkwy, 989-8122.

Sound Exchange
(UT-6) 21st & Guadalupe, 476-2274.

Thirty Three Degrees
(C-28) 4017 Guadalupe, 302-5233.

Tower Records
(UT-9) 2402 Guadalupe, 478-5711.

Waterloo Records
(D-3) Sixth & Lamar, 474-2500.