In the early Nineties, City Hall on the river was new millennial sci-fi. Only Liberty Lunch anchored Cesar Chavez west of Congress until Direct Events dusted off an abandoned warehouse and opened 2,000-plus-seat Austin Music Hall in 1995. Portishead to Pantera, Outkast to Ozzy Osbourne – Clapton, Dylan, Springsteen – the steel box functioned like a dream until it doubled in size and sound issues a dozen years later. Foreclosed in 2012 and razed in September, few in the 28-story office tower over its remains will know My Bloody Valentine once sundered the earth beneath them.
June 2015: East Seventh clubhouse Holy Mountain succumbs to closing due to Downtown’s gentrifying rents. The following month, its side wall, indie rock venue Red 7, loses a similar battle. Unbelievably, the latter loss of one of the live music capital’s central meeting places splits the live music atom, its owners both teaming with Red River mainstay the Red Eyed Fly to rise as the Sidewinder in that location and opening Barracuda in the same space as Red 7. Each venue kills it nightly, Red 7 times two.
ACL Live at the Moody Theater became the state capital’s premier concert venue the day it opened in 2011, the last seat in the balcony somehow still looming over the stage. In March, as SXSW nabbed the First Couple, someone rolled up a garage door down in its street-level basement to reveal one of the most natural stage spaces in the area since Liberty Lunch was razed across the street. The 350-person room has since survived a secret show by Son Volt and a two-night Old 97s stand, so it’s just a matter of time before someone seriously outsize puts 3TEN ACL Live on the greater music map.
310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd. Ste. 1-A 512/457-5595
The Armadillo World Headquarters closed in 1980. A year later – initially down the road in Zilker Park and then just blocks away on Barton Springs Road at the Palmer Auditorium – the Austin Record Convention began selling rekkids to unsuspecting youth. Said longhairs congealed into cranky collectors over 35 years, until this June when the vinyl revolution of the past decade finally went on a blind date with the original wax generation at the ARC. Crusties with vintage grooves, meet the fresh-faced 180-gram petroleum product hoarders of today. It's a match made in heaven.
Palmer Events Center
900 Barton Springs Rd.
Roger Rozell and Bengie Beshear are partners in every sense of the word. And though we’re super smitten with their behind-the bar love, we love them more for their behind-the-bar work. The couple co-own Iron Bear, Austin’s only – and beloved – bear bar. Though feasting is always an option, Rozell and Beshear have curated a blue-collar gay bar that’s more than just a meat market. In fact, the pair thrive on making their space well-liquored and drama-free.
121 W. Eighth
Gush all you want about the convenience of listening to music streaming services and YouTube; we still think there is something lacking – namely the connection built on sharing music IRL. That's why Tuesdays at the Wheel feel indispensable. Their BYOV night brings back the thrill of discovering new music and the excitement of discovering your crush also has a thing for Lee Hazlewood. Hey DJ, play that song for me.
1902 E. MLK
When news broke in May that Transmission Events’ partnership with Stratus Properties, owners of the W Hotel and ACL Live at the Moody Theater, had dissolved, not only did Fun Fun Fun Fest go down as collateral damage, so did Graham Williams’ concert promotions business. Emo’s booker in the club’s Nineties heyday, the native Austin straight edge wasted not a single second spinning off into Margin Walker – named for a 1989 Fugazi EP – and rechristening his FFF as last week’s winningly inaugural Sound on Sound, staged at Sherwood Forest Faire, a Renaissance site in Bastrop County.
Instead of being stuck singing kiddie-choir standards like “Over the Rainbow,” this collection of third through sixth graders gets to harmonize on Judas Priest, David Bowie, Foo Fighters, and Belle & Sebastian. Led by Gavin Tabone and backed by local pros, the group of Barton Hills Elementary School students has performed at ACL Fest and South by Southwest and sung with Charlie Sexton, Jason McMaster, and Nakia. Their YouTube channel gets more views than most Austin bands, especially their recent series of Grateful Dead covers – which were beautiful despite lacking the 15-minute solos.
Barton Hills Elementary
2108 Barton Hills Dr.
2002’s first ACL Fest headlined the Arc Angels. ATX-loving roots followed, baby boom rock (Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan) and meaty bones for their grown offspring (R.E.M., Pixies, Foo Fighters). Then, in 2010, EDM rodent DeadMau5 gave way to both Skrillex and Kanye West in 2011. Enter Kendrick Lamar (’13), followed by Eminem, Drake, Outkast. Credit lead ACL booker and native Texan Amy Corbin, who joined Charles Attal Presents in 2000 and became concert promotions bible Pollstar’s Talent Buyer of the Year in 2007, the first woman ever to win the award. Dad rock is d e a d.
1645 E. Sixth #150
Not only does Austin Vintage Guitars own Austin’s largest guitar with the 15-foot-tall Telecaster mounted in their parking lot, the shop also has the best selection of axes in the city limits. The six-stringer's paradise – owned by ultra talented blues guitarist Steve Fulton – offers a constantly changing selection of vintage guitars, with an emphasis on Strats, Teles, Les Pauls, plus new gits, amps, and acoustic instruments. Simply, the best guitar shop in a guitar town.
4306 Red River
Here’s the rub about being a music venue audio engineer: When everything sounds good, the band gets the credit; when it sounds bad, you get the blame. The Saxon Pub always sounds fantastic and you can thank Richard Vannoy. The Abilene native’s been behind the board at the South Lamar club since shortly after it opened in 1990. During much of his quarter-century employment at the venue, which Kris Kristofferson compared to “playing in his own living room,” Vannoy’s mixed music six nights a week with three acts per night – impressive in sheer volume, but even more so in tone.
1320 S. Lamar
Appearing on Leno, Letterman, and Good Morning America; plugging in his bass opposite Levon Helm and Ringo Starr; producer of the Band of Heathens, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Mastersons, and Shinyribs; even a pastry chef once at Jeffrey’s: George Reiff measures out one degree of separation not only from the Austin music scene, but possibly the entire national playscape. When the Austin Music Awards thumper was diagnosed in July with brain cancer, his community crowdfunded $100,000 in a matter of weeks. Frank Capra’s George Bailey is no longer the richest man in town.
Three years is all it's taken for this doom metal clubhouse to establish a close-knit scene of bikers, punks, metalheads, and neighborhood drinkers, joining old Lovejoy's patrons who followed Marcello Murphy and Tasha Halverson over after the closure of that beloved Downtown bar. That they host some of the nation's best underground metal acts, like the recent, already legendary Jazzus Lizard/David Yow show, is the cherry on top.
2421 Webberville Rd.
Classy does meet trashy in this Seventies-inspired bar. From the white leather details to the flamingo wall-papered bathroom, Kitty Cohen's is the perfect place to embrace your inner Palm Beach divorcée. Did we mention there's a swimming pool? Go ahead – the water is fine.
2211 Webberville Rd.
Hanging out at your favorite neighborhood bar should feel a little like hanging out in your own backyard. Housed in the former home of La Fuente's, the Darlin' is the perfect place to get together with 100 of your rowdiest friends. Spin a yarn in the blessedly dark interior, sit down for chef Russell Dougherty's easygoing brunch, or toss some horseshoes out back, then enjoy the fact that you felt at home without having to do any cleanup.
6507 Circle S Rd.
Now that you have upgraded from Urban to Anthro, it's probably time you brought a little sophistication to your hump day debauchery, too. Before agonizing over which dry cocktail goes best with juicy office gossip, get tongues wagging with a shot from your college nights. The Townsend's version of the venerable Dirty Sixth classic starts by replacing whiskey with Krogstad aquavit, following it up with brine left over from the kitchen's many pickling projects. We're not sure if it's a classy way to be trashy or a trashy way to be classy, but we do know we have the next round.
718 Congress #100
As far as typical pairings go, naughtiness and "safety first" aren’t your average peanut butter & jelly, but together, they sure make being bad feel good. Illicit, risqué, and gender-f*cking party promoter Corinne Loperfido is all about striking the right balance for Austin’s queer and gender ambiguous audiences. Whether it’s a DIY strip club or a (self-identified) ladies-only dry dance party, Loperfido's carefree parties require a lot of care, and that manages to make them even more provocative. Gender be damned, she's not playing by any L or G rule book, but instead makes new space for the Q and all the other gaps in the LGBTQIAxyz (and then some) landscape that most of us didn’t even know we were missing.
If you wanna find the KStew to your Annie Clark look no further than Ladies' Night every second Friday at Highland Lounge. (Please take heed and note the emphasis on ladiez ... and queers of all colors here.) It’s true, the babes behind Lesbutante & the Boss have mastered the art of throwing the elusive monthly lez-dance party. It's no small spell to cast, and yet this dynamic duo has not only managed to maintain excitement, they’ve enchanted their audience. In fact, they've captured the attention of an ever-growing gaggle of grrrls.
It's one of Austin's cruel jokes that so many of our mezcalerias require navigating stairs. But we would gladly climb 10 flights to get to Techo's tiny rooftop bar. If you are planning a seduction, arrive when the sun has fully set and grab the tiny alcove by the bar (buy the lingering couple still occupying it a mezcal flight if you must). Then let the candles flickering off the tiles do most of the work for you.
2201 Manor Rd.
Somewhere in between a dance party and sacred ceremony, Body Rock ATX has become a monthly magnet for hip-hop heads and funkateers who want to drop their inhibitions, shake off their stress, and uplift your soul by getting down. Emceed by Tiger Lily and Chaka Mpeanaji of Riders Against the Storm with beats and grooves from DJ Chorizo Funk, Body Rock ATX has been movin’ booties since 2010 – first at the Sahara Lounge, now at Empire Control Room. Not relying on kinetic energy and sweaty self-expression, organizers keep it fresh with theme nights focusing on influential artists like Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, and Stevie Wonder.
Empire Control Room:
606 E. Seventh
Indie folk songwriter Dana Falconberry followed the release of her mystical 2016 LP From the Forest Came the Fire with a novel tour concept: a series of performances at America’s national parks. Falconberry and her band, Medicine Bow, played their vibey, melodically complex arrangements amongst redwoods in Sequoia National Park, in the dunes of White Sands National Monument, and echoing against the rocks at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Altogether, the camping tour hit nine parks – a perfect trek for the environmentally conscious singer/guitarist who draws inspiration from the natural world.
Austin’s indie-centric landscape of roadshows leaves huge blind spots in the vocations of free jazz, avant-garde, and world music. That’s where Epistrophy Arts comes in. The grassroots cultural group, founded in 1998 by Pedro Moreno, imports unorthodox bands, adventurous composers, and improvisational performers from all over the globe and presents them in a flattering setting at the North Door. Recent performances, hosted by the grant-funded organization, include Peter Brötzmann, David Torn, James “Blood” Ulmer, and the Necks – the kinds of artists you read about in The New York Times, but never would play on Red River.
A couple of days after the Starman departed for Mars, the Bowie Street sign crossing Fifth Street in western Downtown Austin was changed to read “David Bowie Street.” Austin’s police and public officials were clueless as to who’d executed the professional-looking vandalism until SXSW Creative Director Roland Swenson came clean later that week. Swenson, a longtime Bowie acolyte, admitted to cooking up the idea and executing it with the help of Austin’s Wicked Signs owner Jason Carter. APD declined to file vandalism charges against Swenson, who continued to push for the two-block-long road to be officially renamed “David Bowie Street.”
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