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Austin swings through the roof

When it comes to music, you might be inclined to think New Orleans (jazz), Memphis (rock ‘n’ roll), Chicago (blues) or Nashville (country), but Austin is actually the music capital of the US. The city boasts over 250 music venues, more than any other American city. You can choose from countless live performances and a fantastic music festival every month, such as SXSW. Austin lives and breathes music.

BB King and Velvet Underground played at the Vulcan Gas Company, and Frank Zappa and ZZ Top performed in the Armadillo World Headquarters. Billboard chose KOKE.FM the most progressive radio station in the country, and the equally legendary television programme Austin City Limits is broadcast here. You’ll also find statues of Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. As ‘The Live Music Capital of the World’, Austin has so much to offer musicians and music lovers that the city adopted this as its official slogan.

Austin: The Live Music Capital of the World © PiercarloAbate
Austin: The Live Music Capital of the World © PiercarloAbate

Austin

The Live Music Capital of the World

Gemütliche German beer gardens, food stalls and drinking halls like Scholz Garten, Schaller’s Stube and Saengerrunde Halle are all popular in Austin. This was also the case a century and a half ago, including such suitable entertainment as yodellers, schlager singers and thigh-slappers. More modern performers joined the list later on, such as Glenn Miller, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner. Thanks to the large German community, Austin’s reputation as a music capital dates back quite a few years. But the real music revolution took place in the late 60s, when Willie Nelson traded Nashville for Austin, attracted by the experimental music scene. The psychedelic music stage Vulcan Gas Company went bust before too long, and its successor, Armadillo World Headquarters, lasted a bit longer. Greats from every imaginable genre, such as Fats Domino, Dire Straits, Golden Earring, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music and Bruce Springsteen, stood on stage here until the abrupt closure of the club in 1980. But the musical legacy lives on in the entertainment district of Austin.

“Austin’s reputation as a music city began in the beer gardens of the German community”

Austin boasts more than 250 music venues © Ismael Quintanilla III

The best music venues and festivals

Austin boasts more than 250 music venues in all shapes and sizes, with something for everyone, spread across the entire city. A good place to start is after sunset in the rowdy entertainment district around East 6th Street, where you’ll find the blues club Antone’s, the historic Driskill Hotel and the bakery/beer garden Easy Tiger. Downtown is also the epicentre of the festival South by Southwest (SXSW), held at around 100 locations each spring and featuring 2,000 performances. Austin City Limits Festival takes place in Zilker Park each year, while the TV show of the same name is recorded weekly at the Moody Theater - the backstage tour is definitely recommended. There are also countless record and instrument shops. Those wanting to dive into the musical heritage of the state can visit the Texas Music Museum.
SXSW features 2,000 performances © Jeremy Pawlowski