And she lived to tell
PHOTOS BY JOHN ANDERSON
There came the day, in the middle of July, when Red River dried up. Sixth Street was washed up, too. The creaking of shoes on the sidewalk turned into sluggish beats. The smell of too much cologne and expensive hair product became nauseating. The rock all sounded like roll. On this night, I got fed up. There must be more than this. Where is this fabled "Live Musical Capital"? There are dozens and dozens hell, hundreds, maybe of venues and semivenues from Highway 183 to 71, and I'll be damned if I spend one more night on this strip. And so it was.
Thirty-one nights later I'm writing this Wednesday morning, Sept. 1 I'm regretting that day. OK, I'm not really, because I discovered a whole new Austin, but now I'm thinking there must have been an easier way. All those nights spent in a bar or coffee shop or outdoor space off of Red River and Sixth. Off of the beaten path, as they say. Here's what I learned.
1) There's more music in Austin than there probably should be.
2) You can visit any part of town at any time on any day and see bands of differing calibers.
3) The human body is not meant to enjoy the luxurious qualities of Austin nightlife every single evening.
Warning: Do not try this at home. With September rearing its head, my house in boxes strewn across rooms, my cats lonely and neglected, I can only say that 31 nights of music is a ... very ... very ... very ...
[Ed. note: ... wasted young lady.]
NS = no smoking
S = smoking
SS = sometimes smoking
NC = no cover
C = cover
SC = sometimes cover
BL = beer & liquor
B = beer only
NB = no beer
BYOB = well, BYOB
F = food
NF = no food
Time listed = NOT hours of operation but rather when Darcie was in the house
1. Jovita's1619 S. First; 447-7825
(6-8pm) NS, SC, BL, F
What have I done? No one warned me about screaming, dancing children. A blond 2-year-old bounces in his pampers, which need their oil changed. Now. The Dads Who Rock Matt the Electrician, Nathan Hamilton, Michael Fracasso, and Beaver Nelson with their weekly song-swapping and backslapping, they're used to this sort of thing. Hamilton's honey-coated voice is sticky, and the children are drawn to the jar like Pooh.
2. Ego's Lounge510 S. Congress; 474-7091,
(8-10pm) S, C, BL, NF
Honky happy hour in a garage bar, and not a martini in sight. Gimme a beer, Coach. Ego's, dark, dingy, cheap, but happy hour is 5-7pm tops, and it's edging up on 9pm now. The trio takes the postage stamp stage, and not everyone knows their eardrums are about to rupture. Southern rock is ignorant of decibels, but in this burrow, do we really need a freight train through the amps? Cuervo please.
3. D&L's Texas Music Cafe1321 S. Congress; 445-4441,
(8-10:30pm) S, NC, BL, F
This oak tree center-stage is hitting all the wrong notes. The giant's old, and Slim Richey's hairy, so don't call the trimmer yet. Julie Lowry belts out saucy tunes from the Thirties "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," "When I Get Low I Get High" like she invented the speakeasy. The patio at D&L's ain't so clandestine. The inimitable Alan Munde sits low, head down. Slim laughs, Francy cackles. Sweat drips down my neck, while mosquitoes liquor up behind my knees. Texas summers. "We're gonna take a five-minute break, and be back in 30."
4. Waterloo Ice House1106 W. 38th; 451-5245,
(8:30-9:30pm) NS, NC, B, F
Six middle-aged guys and one young lady sit in a circle facing one another, backs to the tiny crowd. Bows sway, fingers strum, Ptarmigan jigs. They must be Irish; red hair and freckles meet ballads and love songs. The only thing missing is the dancer ... and a set list.
5. Cafe Mundi1704 E. Fifth; 236-8634,
(8-10:15pm) S, NC, B, F
Here on the tracks, Tamaras, a "singer-songwriter" from L.A., is wailing like a hyena. This is why hippies get such a bad rap. Hours past her call time, she relinquishes the Eastside spotlight to Jerm Pollet & the Total Foxes. Well, one total fox. Stacy Hoobler spins sticks like Peter Criss under the banana leaves. As Pollet launches into an opus about ostriches turning into emus 3 million years ago ("Flightless Loverbirds"), the air outside the cafe gains weight, and the small platform blends into the towering greenery. I need more coffee.
6. Carousel Lounge1110 E. 52nd; 452-6790
(9:30pm-12:30am) S, C, B & BYOB, NF
The Carousel Lounge: drunk, stubborn, old, just like the clientele. Not East enough for the ghetto, not West enough to be moneyed, this is the place for Austin tradition: Hoot Night. Both the Pretty Please and Fellowship Students cancel, so the underdogs shine. Shawn Jones of Something Happened organizes these tributes, and as Carousel fixture Stella Boes swears, they're almost as important as the real deal. With Things That Go Pop setting the Bowie bar high, Life on Mars is the next best thing to Ziggy at the Backyard. Did I mention you can bring your own (urp) bottle?
7. Hole in the Wall2538 Guadalupe; 477-4747,
(11pm-2am) S, NC, BL, NF
Ant Man Bee is progging the redecorated Hole. These local vets have been around since last decade, but we've never been introduced. The "new" Hole: still hazy, and louder than liftoff. The cops show up to pick up a lone punker, who's drunk his weight in PBR. Old Hole. I'm afraid to put my cigarette out on the carpet, so the smoke drifts up into the naked rafters. New Hole. A pitcher of Lone Star, a few dozen close friends, a Casio, and a talk box. Why you say Pong? The buzzer sounds. First quarter of the game down. My throat itches.
8. Flipnotics1601 Barton Springs Rd.; 322-9750,
(8:15-10:30pm) NS, SC, B, F
This place should be in black and white. Upstairs, the Boxcar Preachers are stompin' 'n' hollerin'. Fiddling like Charlie Daniels with washboard to burn, the local fourpiece plays songs older than the devil himself. Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary") and Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues") get their due, too. Chick gives her bass a licking. "This is like therapy for us," cracks the guitarist, to which the fiddler replies, "It doesn't really work, but it is therapy." No drummer, no rimshot.
9. Reed's Jazz & Supper Club9901 Capital of TX Hwy. #150; 342-7977,
(7:30-10pm) NS, NC, BL, F
My shoes aren't nice enough, and my tattoos are showing. This place is a 1942 photograph in a strip mall next to REI. White linens, black bar stools, tiny lamps lighting each table, and a grand piano in the corner. Marc Devine is playing soft jazz on the Steinway. Perfect music for rich wine, delicate fish, and a congenial waitstaff: how the other half lives. The wine soothes. Suddenly my shoes don't seem so old.
10. Cactus Cafe2247 Guadalupe (UT); 475-6515,
(8:30-9:30pm) NS, C, BL, NF
Not only is Leslie West playing through double stacks in Austin's acoustic Hall of Fame, he's wearing a patched shirt, red satin scarf, and leather vest. He is a rodeo clown. The aging bass player to his right couldn't be more depressed, and I'm right there with him. "Are you familiar with Mountain's material?" screams the motorcycle fanatic at my ear. Yeah, dude. "That's the great thing about getting old," he says. "All the arena rockers start playing in small bars." I can't wait.
2330 S. Lamar; 442-8283,
11. Artz Rib House
(7:30-9pm) NS, NC, B, F
Good thing there's barbecue. I came for Susan Gibson, and I'm being force-fed a huge (pregnant) dose of Shelley King's country blues. The woman's voice is irritating my allergies. Booming, shaking, vibrating. The scene is here, though, and it's hungry. Tissue, please.
3601 S. Congress Ste. D-200; 707-9637,
12. Ruta Maya International Headquarters
(10-11pm) NS, SC, B, F
An earthly vacuum has sucked all the slackers out of the corrugated steel walls of Ruta Maya. Five people are Jade Day's audience. Jeff Buckley's ghost has invaded the Coloradoan's body, and he's screaming alto growl to über-falsetto in one second. From Damien Rice to Jeremy Enigk, he hits every note. With the ace sound system at the South Congress coffeehouse, my heartbeat echoes in my brain. Rustic coffeehouse has given way to the contemporary hang. Sometimes acoustic is a good thing.
209 Pedernales; 220-1428,
13. The Church of the Friendly Ghost
(9-10:30pm) NS, C, BYOB, NF
It's a church all right, or close enough. The Friendly Ghost's large front room is whistling with beeps and blasts of such high-pitched frequency, dogs are running to the front door. A cat, anyway. Bran(...)Pos hides in the black-box stage in self-made darkness, but with every squeal, a spotlight lands on his molded facial expression. Suited up like Aphex Twin's nightmare, the Bay area boy is creepy even from the back pew. Amen, brother.
6507 Burnet Rd.; 465-9468
14. Poodle Dog Lounge
(11pm-12:30am) S, NC, B, NF
Halftime never comes soon enough. I need a pep talk. Thank God for the Poodle Dog. Now this is a bar. The blonde behind the bar serves ice-cold Lone Star in cans, of course while the Telecaster of Chili Cold Blood harmonizes with the lap steel. Old-timey, gritty-as-hell blues. Damned if he doesn't sound like John Lee Hooker. You'd be laughed out of the bar if you ordered a martini. Ethan Shaw plays pedal like a lap, and the drummer makes sure he looks cool in the wall of mirrors. Doug Strahan takes us back to the time of rotary dials.
302 Bowie (formerly the Electric Lounge); 472-3213
(8-10pm) S, NC, BL, NF
Rubinchik's Yiddische Ensemble. Southern Jews, we're a lost breed. Mark Rubin leads his quartet clarinet, accordion, standup bass, and sax on the swanky stage. Tonight, virtuoso klezmer violinist Steven Greenman is guesting, and toes are tapping. No "Hava Nagila" here, but there's no mistaking Rubin's love of traditional Jewish music. The curtains lining Tambaleo's deep stage frame the grand band leader as he talks about the heritage of shers and klezmer enthusiasts. The ghost of the Electric Lounge has left the building.
1308 E. Fourth; 320-0004
16. Red's Scoot Inn
(10pm-12:15am) S, NC, B, NF
G ... L ... O ... R ... I ... A ... The Van Morrison anthem rings through the sparse crowd like Them's onstage. Here at the Eastside dive no one worth their tight jeans and black eyeliner knew about until this year, the stage isn't big enough for more than two stacks and a small kit. At least it seems tiny with a Mick Jagger skinny jumping around like Pee Wee Herman on speed. Man, that hair. Coifed, black, and matching the set like it was 1984. Fuck the Riverboat Gamblers, the Vain know they're it.
1320 S. Lamar; 458-2552,
17. Saxon Pub
(8-10:15pm) S, C, BL, NF
I knew this would happen. My glands are swollen, and I'm beginning to snot. Note to self: Fill flask with DayQuil. Mexican radio is making my head pound, but Stan Ridgway is clouding any illness, temporarily. Telltales of carnivals, trains, and cops. He still exudes coolness the way he did in '82. Black hair, L.A. stories. How the West was won. A keyboardist and guitarist add a comic element to Ridgway's weathered caricature. "You can't be in the middle when you're sleeping with a Siamese twin."
1102 E. Cesar Chavez; 480-0688,
18. Big Red Sun
(7-8:30pm) NS, C, B, F
Last night's bloodletting missed the boat. A Central Texas remedy: Best Wurst and beer, almost as good as gumbo and tequila. Big Red Sun's Head East humpday saves this wretched vessel from imminent doom. Los Jazz Vatos swing from the jutting metal overlay in the xeriscaped garden at the Eastside refuge. "Think of us as Los Lonely Boys without all the money." Dogs and children chase tails. Live Oak flows, and Ernie Durawa keeps the beat to which we sway. A spread of identities to match this city relaxes in the sunset. The bats are flying. Their highways crisscross the cloudless sky as the sun hides from the vampires. Mi corazón.
1133 E. 11th; 472-5477,
19. Longbranch Inn
(9:15-11pm) S, NC, B, NF
Back to the 18th century. Could be my imagination (or delirium), but once upon a time, across this bar slid unlabeled bottles of moonshine as whores wooed cowboys and ruffians played poker. Ridgetop Syncopators played then, too. The devil smokes atop the bar, and Mark Rubin takes the stage again. "We've had a request," he grins, "but we're going to keep on playing anyway." The 10 of us there scoff sympathetically. Where's Belle Starr, Coleman Younger, Jesse James?
3002 Guadalupe; 476-9051,
20. Ballet Austin
(9-10:30pm) NS, C, B, NF
This might be the end. My feet feel like granite, and my spine is permanently mangled from wood bar stools and plastic chairs. The towering, ancient facade of Ballet Austin jets off the Drag and into the cloudy night sky. No tutus or pattering of pointe shoes tonight. Instead, it's AMODA's Digital Performance Series, and Xiu Xiu, of whom there are two, are down from Seattle. She makes noises, he whimpers. Paint is peeling. The crowd packed into the cavernous practice room remains silent save for 30 seconds between songs. What manners.
2008 S. Congress; 447-0969,
(11:30pm-1:30am) S, C, BL, F
Good news, bad news. The good: Immune system is rallying, and half my house is in boxes. The bad: The p.a. has crapped out, and half my house is in boxes. Awesome Cool Dudes at this point are neither awesome nor cool. Their personalized jerseys stand static onstage as the bartender jiggles cords. They're silly, but not silly enough to make up for no vocals and muffled guitars. Smoke layers the dingy bar, and the Lone Star warms. Crickets chirp. This is what happens when rap and rock mingle.
5434 Burnet Rd.; 458-1813,
22. Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon
(7-8pm) S, NC, B, NF
A bar with a history as mixed as country music, Ginny's is bedrock. All stripes lean up against the pool table as Dewie's Coop takes up the green felt. It's Chicken Shit Sunday. One-hundred dollars isn't enough incentive for me to stand. Exhaustion is winning. A wee Dale Watson honky-tonks from the front of the room, interrupting the dancers only to announce the winner. Dewie takes care of business yet again, this time on square eight.
1600 W. Fifth; 478-0336,
23. Donn's Depot
(10:45-11:15pm) S, NC, NF, BL
Monday, the rock star's Sabbath. All quiet on the Austin front. Tonight the railroad bar: cars strung together and anchored by the ladies room/caboose, a grand piano, and wooden dance floor for square dancers and dilettantes alike. Chris Gage hits his last tinkling note, and applause pats him on the back. It's not 1am. Is that clock right? Two hands' worth of patrons and one bartender do not a profitable evening make. The keyboard maestro bows modestly. "Happy Monday, everybody. It's bedtime." The man's a genius.
3201 S. Lamar; 442-6189,
24. Broken Spoke
(9:30-10:30pm) S, SC, B, F
One drunk, two frat boys, a soldier and his girl, an elderly couple, Rowdy (the mannequin) and me. Broken Spoke on a Tuesday night. The strong, quick bartenderess takes no shit. From anyone. She cuts off the drunk, and he whines. She doesn't care. Rick Broussard covers Georges Jones and Strait with a scratchy voice. His future is in show business. The pedal steel man picks and slides. Gracious players packed into the corner of the front room thank the empty room after every tune. I sneeze, and Broussard blesses me. No, bless you, Rick.
301 W. Riverside; 472-9304,
25. Threadgill's World Headquarters
(8:30-10pm) S, C, B, F
"England is known for many things, but gospel is not one of them," admits the Greencards' British fiddler. The mandolin player tunes for the zillionth time, and the smell of fried batter somehow squeezes up my stuffed nose. I need chicken-fried steak. Carol Young starts to sing through her nose again, so I go inside for some grub. People with no rhythm dance frantically as I hobble for the gate. Later, back outside, "Orange Blossom Special" smokes. Here's a jam band without the psychedelics. Wasn't that the only thing jam bands had going for them in the first place?
1300 S. Congress; 444-3800,
26. Jo's Hot Coffee
(7-8:15pm) S, NC, B, F
Ahhhhhh, punk rock. I miss it as much as I miss downtown. It took me 26 days to miss it, but dammit, I can't wait to rub my tired dogs on the trashy, frat-boy-covered street of Sixth. I miss Hoek's. I miss Leslie. I miss bike cops and loud music and stinky assholes. Here on Congress, three chicks bounce onstage: Same Day Service. The makeshift pile of 2-by-4s behind the tiny coffeehouse is supporting twins and a bass player who's plainly been to too many NOFX shows. Headbanging should be kept to a minimum in a pop band! OK, pop punk, and it's damn refreshing. I almost feel like I'm at Beerland ... with coffee.
315 Congress; 473-2279,
27. Elephant Room
(11pm-12:30am) S, SC, BL, NF
The pachyderm's basement, I'm getting closer to Sixth. Three gentlemen with a mean age of 309 are staging some sort of contemporary jazz, a mix of Hill Street Blues and St. Elmo's Fire. How's that for funk? Up North, they call this blues. The sax is muffled by the wail of the keyboard, white ponytail pushing keys like he's Ray Charles. The drumbeats slow and quicken, and the trio Red Young & Friends take their respective solos. The pattern repeats. The drinks empty. Nothing helps at this point. My dogs have been put to sleep.
618 W. Sixth (above Katz's); 479-8848,
(11pm-12mid) S, C, BL, NF
If I never see bluegrass again for the rest of my life, it'll be too soon. That damn mandolin sounds like an open jewelry box. This doesn't even count as bluegrass. As much as the South Austin Jug Band is beloved in our fair city, this is Hot 100 Bluegrass if ever there were such a thing. Toby Keith should be singing over the thump of the standup. How many twentysomething ball caps can you fit on a multileveled, corner stage? Garage doors reveal an airy deck behind the bar, which saves my bacon. Are the shows getting worse, or have I just grown bitter?
7701 Bee Caves Rd.; 32-WORLD,
29. One World Theatre
(5-7:30pm) NS, C, NB, NF
Chalk up a save for the One World Theatre. A power nap, coffee, Red Bull & vodka, cough drop, and the One World have made my jaded stupor take five. Overlooking a rolling valley on Bee Caves Road and more than a few other palazzi the intimate theatre is the perfect place for an afternoon foray into classical music. My palate cleansed by the immense talent of Brazil's José Feghali and South Africa's Petronel Malan, child prodigies all grown up, I think I can face two more days. That passion, that intensity, two pianos, four hands. This is music. Time to finish packing.
1413 Webberville Rd.; 926-2200
30. T.C.'s Lounge
(11pm-12:30am) S, NC, B & BYOB, F
Remember that scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby walks into the dance hall with Johnny, and all the greasers and dancers from the camp are grinding? That's T.C.'s Lounge. There are more tables than dancers, and more pool sharks than greasers, but trust me on this. Onstage, J.J. blows harp Chicago-style, while a large black man growls into the distorting mic. A curvy blonde slaps her ass and shimmies across the dance floor while her friend doubles over in hysteria. My Lone Star has iced over, but this room is steaming. All colors, shapes, and lifestyles are represented in T.C.'s narrow hall, but everyone knows one thing: This life is too short.
603 Red River; 477-EMOS,
(12:30-1:45am) S, C, BL, NF
Never did smoke and sweat and piss smell so sweet. Hipsters teaming like roaches, furrowed door guys, don't-even-look-at-me bartenders. I made it. My tattoos and old shoes don't matter. The circles under my eyes don't matter. My amputated feet, steel-rod back, and blind eyes don't matter. Quite the opposite. No one in this room even knows I'm here. I'm as anonymous as a ghostwriter, a marble in a bucket of golf balls. So many nights passed here as I scattered my common sense across this city, and not a thing has changed. Animal Collective, Black Dice: the future of music? Is this music? Blasts of sound bounce off the graffitied walls. Maybe it's just noise, but it's music to my wounded ears. No rhythm, no patterns, no words. This is punk rock. I walk out to the courtyard and count the fashion mullets. Ten, 15. I'd like to kiss every single blessed one of them.
How Many Licks Does It take?
Fast-food meals: 13
Almost empty rooms: 10
Bluegrass bands: 4
Country singers: 2
Rock bands: 15
Yiddish groups: 1
Irish groups: 1
Antique music: 2
Flirting cowboys: 3
Flirting frat boys: 0
Nights accomplished: 31