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Austin Music Scene

Lauren Wells | March 16, 2014

The History

Austin, the official “Live Music Capital of the World,” certainly lives up to its name as a hub for all things music. Big band, jazz, and blues was popular in Austin during the 1930s, as legends like Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Ike and Tina Turner flocked to the city to perform. Austin in the 1940s and 1950s was alive with the diverse sounds of Glenn Miller, Elvis Presley, and Hank Williams before the 1960s shifted toward a twangy country sound that relied on the talents of Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, and Ernest Tubb. Austin natives the Fabulous Thunderbirds got their start in 1974, as their Blues rock sound earned Grammy nominations. This same year, PBS began airing Austin City Limits, featuring hundreds of artists and later becoming one of the most iconic and longest running television programs. The 1980s introduced indie rock musician David Garza and punk rock band the Big Boys. Austin’s music scene in the 90s produced acts like Fastball, Spoon, and Gary Clark Jr. As Austin increasingly became a destination for touring musicians throughout the years, the millennium churned out electronic rock act Ghostland Observatory and indie rock band Peel.

The Venues

Austin, Texas has more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city (even the airport has live music!), so since we couldn’t cover every single venue in Austin, feel free to reference the city’s official site, as it has a complete, comprehensive guide to its venues and neighborhoods. In the meantime, here are some Austin music venue highlights we wanted to mention!

Belmont is a private event and music venue that hosts the best up and coming musicians Austin has to offer. Its upscale yet rustic vibe makes you feel right at home amongst the other concertgoers.

Originally a late 80s punk club in Houston, Emo’s moved its venue to Austin where it opened in 1992. An official SXSW venue, Emo’s has featured big names like Paramore, Kings of Leon, Johnny Cash, Marina and the Diamonds, Rise Against, Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, Green Day, Circa Survive, and the Butthole Surfers. If you’re a punk rocker, catching a gig at Emo’s should be at the top of your to do list.

ACL Live at the Moody Theater, a 2,750-capacity venue, hosts over 100 concerts a year. Home to the Austin City Limits PBS show since 2011, ACL Live at the Moody Theater has three levels: a general admission stage area, a premium theater seating level with an ACL art gallery, and a third level with theater seating and a Jack and Jim Gallery. Try to get tickets to a taping of this iconic show!

Bands like Flogging Molly, Middle Class Rut, The Districts, Yonder Mountain String Band, Odesza, Umphrey’s McGee, Vampire Weekend, Haim, and Turnpike Troubadours come through Stubb’s BBQ, a mouth-watering music haven. Opened in 1968 by Christopher B. Stubblefield aka “Stubbs,” the venue/restaurant is well known in the Austin neighborhood as a place for great barbeque and even better music. Stubb’s regulars included Joe Ely, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and George Thorogood, among others. Get a plate of ribs and get dancing at Stubb’s!

Mohawk in downtown Austin is an intimate concert venue with a casual/hipster vibe. If you want to get up close and personal with your favorite bands, Mohawk is the place to go. A helpful tip: get there early to ensure you get close to the stage — this place gets packed quickly! Talented acts like Public Enemy, A$AP Mob, Cloud Nothings, Phantogram, Band of Skulls, Slaughter House, and Flosstradamus get booked at Mohawk for your live entertainment.

If you’re into big names like Ellie Goulding, Lorde, Steve Aoki, the Pixies, New Order, and Morrissey, look no further than Austin Music Hall for your live music needs. Located in the Warehouse District, Austin Music Hall brings in the best of the best when it comes to music, but try to get a seat on the main floor– some of the sightlines in the back of the balcony area tend to be a bit undesirable.

The Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas was opened in 1981. The 2,900-seat venue features a large stage, orchestra pit, massive dressing rooms for performers, computerized lighting, advanced sound and rigging systems, and a lofty backstage space to accommodate equipment, props, and costumes. Complete with a sixth floor terrace, a cafe, and boasting pleasant views of the University’s campus, the Bass Concert Hall is an environmentally friendly concert space that hosts Broadway shows like Wicked and War Horse, comedians like Chelsea Handler and Aziz Ansari, and musicians like Rob Thomas.

In East Austin, Scoot Inn has been going strong since 1871, delivering lineups like Tyler the Creator, the Underachievers, Rat King, Destruction Unit, Nothing, Drowning Clowns, and Dirty Fences. The oldest running beer joint in central Texas, Scoot Inn used to bring in a rough looking crowd back when it was a railroad saloon, but nowadays the divey bar attracts all kinds of music lovers! This rustic venue provides a welcoming old-school barn atmosphere, minus the cows, chickens, and horses, but with plenty of rock!

One World Theatre, located fifteen minutes outside of downtown Austin, is a live concert, wedding, and event venue in the Texas Hill country. With a private rooftop and sunset decks, One World Theatre is a stunningly beautiful venue that hosts acts like Marc Cohn, Johnny Clegg Band, Arturo Sandoval, Robert Cray, Lalah Hathaway, and Ruben Studdard. Get your tickets and explore this eclectic event space (be sure to catch a beautiful Texas sunset here!).

Founded in 1977, the Frank Erwin Center is within walking distance of downtown Austin and has hosted names like John Denver, Prince, George Strait, Pink Floyd, Janet Jackson, Drake, Garth Brooks, Radiohead, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and the Dixie Chicks. Over 25.8 million people have come through the Frank Erwin Center, making it an integral part of the University of Texas campus. Home to the NCAA’a Texas Longhorns, the sporting and entertainment arena features concession stands, video screens aplenty, and reception halls, typical of any major arena.

If you’re looking for some laughs or just some first-class music, the Paramount Theatre brings in acts like Bonnie Raitt, Demetri Martin, Hannical Buress, Marc Maron, and Fred Armisen. Originally named the Majestic Theatre in 1915 upon its opening, the Paramount Theatre is a historical Austin venue that served as a vaudeville house until the decline of silent film. Film and live performances continue to flourish in this beautiful art deco venue. The Paramount hosts movies, concerts, and theatrical performances, and has seen the talent of Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Mel Tillis.

At the Long Center for the Performing Arts you can catch a lecture from athletic trainer Jillian Michaels or talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, dance performances from Ballet Austin, and orchestral concerts from the Austin Symphony Orchestra. The Long Center has a variety of event spaces, including the Michael and Susan Dell Hall (a 2,400-seat concert hall), and the Debra and Kevin Rollins Studio Theatre (an adaptable theatre that can seat 80-229 people). With terraces, lounges, small reception areas and meeting rooms, the Long Center has been a cultural hub since 1959.

The Backyard at Bee Cave opened in 1993 and has hosted Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Paul Simon, the Allman Brothers, and Willie Nelson. This casual outdoor venue prides itself on its sustainability initiatives, and it has a lot of space for concertgoers to dance and enjoy the show. The scenery isn’t too shabby either – enjoy a Texas sunset while watching the Beach Boys, Passion Pit, Foster the People, Kimbra, and the Kooks.

One of the newest venues in Austin is the Austin360 Amphitheater, a 14,000-capacity spacious venue with lawn seating for those warm Texas nights. Opened in 2013, the venue’s success has earned it the title of Pollstar’s 2013 Best New Major Concert Venue in the World. In the past year, Austin360 has hosted Paramore, Metric, Hellogoodbye, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Maroon 5, Iron Maiden, Dave Chapelle, Flight of Concords, Lil Wayne, Keith Urban, Train, Wiz Khalif, and A$AP Rocky, among many other A-list names in entertainment—not too shabby for its first year! Austin360 is going into its second year strong, so don’t miss out on one of their great gigs!

The Parish is located in Austin’s historic 6th Street district, where it accommodates shows for crowds of 450 people. Slash, Perry Farrell, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, and Pete Townshend have performed here along with acts like Bassnectar, Dierks Bentley, My Morning Jacket, OK Go, and EOTO. This all-genre venue has state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment for their concerts as well as for private events.

Formed in 1933, the ZACH Theatre is a professional, non-profit theatre company that hosts over 500 plays and musicals each year for over 100,000 people. Located along Lady Bird Lake, the ZACH is a theatre complex in addition to a non-profit organization. The 230-seat Kleberg Theatre, the 135-seat Whisenhunt Theatre, and the 420-seat Topfer Theatre make up the entertainment complex. The ZACH has hosted shows like Xanadu, The Laramie Project, Spring Awakening, Hairspray, and God of Carnage, among others.

The Festivals

The iHeartRadio Country Festival at the Frank Erwin Center has an amazing country lineup: Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Eric Church, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Jake Owen, and Dan + Shay will be performing to a sold out crowd this 2014 festival season.

Another country festival option is Redfest, taking place every Memorial Day weekend at Circuit of the Americas. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, Justin Moore, Kip Moore, and Kellie Pickler are just a few of the headlining acts.

If you want to trade in your cowboy boots for a neon wig and some beads, then Carnaval Brasileiro is just the celebration for you! A Brazilian music party, this annual event has some of the best costumes and fun-loving attitudes you’ll find in Texas.

Want to rock a little harder? Try out Chaos in Tejas, a metal festival featuring bands like the Damn, Bolt Thrower, Infest, Left for Dead, and the Marked Men.

Presented by the non-profit Old Pecan Street Association, the Old Pecan Street Festival is a juried arts and crafts festival featuring hundreds of artists who display and sell homemade art and crafts (think pottery, knitting, sculpture, woodwork, metalwork, photography, jewelry, home décor, etc.). With over 60 local and national musicians performing throughout the festival, you’ll always be entertained. Former performers include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tommy Tutone, Rueben Ramos, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

To add some more spice into your concert-going life, check out the Pachanga Latino Music Festival, held every May at Fiesta Gardens. You’ll hear acts like Los Lonely Boys, Grupo Fantasma, Chingo Bling, Chico Mann, Mariachi Las Altenas, and Anna Tijoux while you sample the authentic food vendors’ creations and check out the arts and crafts vendors.

Since 2002, Zilker Park has hosted the Austin City Limits Music Festival, booking jaw-droppingly talented headliners like Depeche Mode, the Cure, Muse, Kings of Lion, Atoms for Peace, Lionel Richie, Vampire Weekend, the National, Phoenix, Wilco, Eric Church, Passion Pit, Kendrick Lamar, fun., Arctic Monkeys, and Local Natives.

A two-day camping and music festival, the Euphoria Festival features art installations, health & wellness exercises, and workshops in addition to headlining acts like Lotus, Boombox, Jessie Andrews, the Crystal Method, the Floozies, Late Night Radio, and Simon Patterson.

Going on its seventh year, the Austin Psych Fest is held in May and hosts a lineup that includes the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Loop, the Dandy Warhols, Panda Bear, the Zombies, the Horrors, the War on Drugs, and the Black Angels.

To see performances by musicians like Kool & the Gang, Cupid, Larry Braggs, and the Church Choir, check out the Urban Music Festival at Butler Park at Town Lake.

Held every April in Driftwood, Texas, Old Settler’s Music Festival has been hosting talent like the Del McCoury Band, Bob Schneider, Jeff Bridges and the Abiders, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and the Black Lillies since 1987.

Want to have some fun? The Fun Fun Fun Fest is held every November with bands like Power Trip, Girl Talk, Yellow Ostrich, Paul Banks (of Interpol), Burning Love, Bleached, and the Black Swans coming to play sets.

Perhaps the most notable of all the festivals Austin has to offer is the famous SXSW festival. A music, film, comedy, and interactive festival, SXSW hosts the who’s who of the entertainment industry, producing lectures, Q&A sessions with your favorite celebs, indie film screenings, and best of all, musician showcases and concerts. This is the kind of festival that won’t make you feel shameful for uploading 4 Facebook photo albums full of concert pictures. Embrace it—after all you’ll be seeing names like 2 Chainz, 50 Cent, Deniro Farrar, Dom Kenendy… Actually, there are so many performers that we’d suggest combing through the alphabetical, categorical list on the official SXSW site. Try not to drool on your keyboard.