Music of Austin, Texas

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The music of Austin, Texas, USA is best known for its variety of live music acts. Austin's official motto is the "Live Music Capital of the World." Originally live music venues appeared mostly on 6th Street. Austin has several other neighborhoods and districts known for live music venues, including the Red River District, the University of Texas, the Warehouse District and Downtown, South Lamar, South Austin, East Austin and the Market District. Every night over one hundred venues stage live music. Austin supports two orchestras: the Austin Symphony Orchestra and the Austin Civic Orchestra.


A large portion of Austin's early musical heritage began in the German Beer Gardens and Halls in the late 1800s, in places such as Scholz's Garden and Hall (the hall later to become Saengerrunde Hall) and further up the road at Dessau Hall. Dessau Hall peaked in the 1940s and 1950s with acts as diverse as Glenn Miller, Hank Williams, and Elvis Presley. Other major venues for country music included Big Gil's on South Congress and The Skyline on North Lamar. Local singer/yodeler Kenneth Threadgill opened Threadgill's in 1933 on North Lamar, a venue that later hosted Folk/Country jams where Janis Joplin participated in her early days. On the African American East Side of town other music venues such as the Victory Grill, Charlie's Playhouse, Big Mary's, Ernie's Chicken Shack, and Doris Miller Auditorium featured local and touring acts. These destinations, which were part of the "chitlin circuit" featuring big bands, jazz and blues, became famous for later hosting musical legends including Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner and Tina Turner.

In 1964, the Broken Spoke, opened featuring country acts such as Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and the young Willie Nelson. The late-1960s and 1970s saw the country music popularized by Willie Nelson and others being joined by a host of other music brought by the more liberal inhabitants, who migrated to Austin during these two decades. Specifically, Roky Erickson and his 13th Floor Elevators helped bring in this psychedelic era.

Austin was home to the Vulcan Gas Company that featured headliners such as the 13th Floor Elevators, (Johnny and Edgar) Winter brothers, and Shiva's Headband. The Vulcan morphed into the Armadillo World Headquarters in 1970 and for more than ten years featured music of all genres, from Bruce Springsteen to Bette Midler, as well as local ballet, blues and jazz. The artwork from this establishment was a part of the Austin scene and the Armadillo became the Austin city animal. Songs such as Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues" (which includes in the chorus "I want to go home with the armadillo") made this a staple of Austin. The artist who began the Armadillo logo was Jim Franklin, who is still working today.

In the following years, Austin gained a reputation as a place where struggling musicians could launch their careers in front of receptive audiences, at informal live venues. A major influence during this time was Clifford Antone and the namesake blues club he founded in 1975, at the age of 25. Antone's located on Austin's 6th Street fostered the careers of a number of musicians, including Stevie Ray Vaughan. Liberty Lunch was a live-music venue in Austin and during its heyday in the late 1970s and 1980s featured all kinds of music, including reggae and ska, punk, indie, country and rock. The venue was forced to close to make way for Austin's downtown redevelopment rampage in the late 1990s. Since then, Liberty Lunch has attained a legendary status in the history of Austin music. Now-defunct Armadillo World Headquarters has attained a similar status. Austin's live music scene has experienced a resurgence in the past few years after losing some of its best loved venues (Antone's, Liberty Lunch, Armadillo and others), a host of new clubs have risen up to continue Austin's rich live music heritage. Places such as the Skylark Lounge, Stubb's, Ginny's Little Longhorn, and a list of others have become a stalwart of a new generation of live music stages throughout the city.

The punk/new wave era in Austin began in earnest in 1978. The Club Foot played an important role in hosting many of the local punk/new wave acts. The city's first two rock/new wave bands, the Skunks and the Violators, made their debut at a University-area club called Raul's in February. The explosive show by the Sex Pistols in San Antonio the previous month helped build toward an excited reception for local purveyors of the style.[1] The Skunks' lineup consisted of Jesse Sublett on bass and vocals, Eddie Munoz on guitar and Bill Blackmon on drums. The Violators featured Kathy Valentine (later of The Go-Go's), Carla Olson (later of the Textones), Marilyn Dean and Sublett on bass. The Violators were short-lived, as all the members except for Sublett moved to LA the following year. Margaret Moser, of the Austin Chronicle, later wrote that "The Skunks put Austin on the rock n' roll map."[2] Another influential band that led the punk scene in Austin was the Big Boys.

Austin became one of the important stops on every tour of important punk/new wave acts. Many of these bands, such as the Police, Joe Jackson, Blondie and Talking Heads, played at the Armadillo. A number of them, including the Clash, Elvis Costello and Blondie, would make appearances at gigs by the Skunks and take the opportunity to jam with the band.[2][3]

The 1980s and 1990s also helped shape Austin's music scene. Waterloo Records, which has been voted the best independent record store in the country and hosts live in-store shows, first opened in 1982. Austinite Stevie Ray Vaughan won a Grammy in 1990 for best contemporary blues album. After tragically dying in a helicopter crash, he was memorialized with a statue on the shores of Austin's Lady Bird Lake. Additionally in 1991,[4] Austin city leaders named Austin, "The Live Music Capital of the World", because of the number of live music venues.

Visitors and Austinites alike may notice the 10-foot guitars standing on the sides of the city's streets. In 2006, Gibson Guitar brought Guitar Town to Austin, placing 35 of these giant guitars around the city.

The Austin Music Foundation is one of several Austin groups that help independent artists further their music careers. Assisting musicians with medical needs are the Simms Foundation and Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM). Promotion, preservation and education is the mission of the Austin Blues Society, formed in 2006 by Kaz Kazanoff and other blues community notables. Helping to promote the $1 billion music industry in the city is the Austin Music Office. A department of the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Austin Music Office offers creative, personalized assistance in booking live music, discounted Austin Compilation CDs and mini-guides to the city's live music scene, assistance with utilization of live music venues for off-site events, and guidance with local music attractions and creation of music tours.[5]


The PBS live music television show Austin City Limits began in 1974[6] and has featured, as of 2005, over 500 artists of various genres, including rock, folk, country, bluegrass and zydeco. Part responsible for Austin's reputation as a live music hub, the show is broadcast worldwide and stands as the longest running music television program ever. On February 26, 2011, ACL held its first taping in its new purpose-built Moody Theater and studio in downtown Austin's W Austin Hotel and Residences. Despite a seating capacity of over 2,700, audiences will be limited to around 800 (the original total seating capacity of the old studio). The additional seating capacity will be used for the ACL Live concert series at the venue.

Austin was also home to the Austin Music Network (AMN), which broadcast from 1994 to 2005. AMN, featured on cable channel 15, proclaimed itself to be the only non-profit independent music television channel, and its programming was mostly music videos or recorded live sessions, interspersed with presenters. Although all musical tastes were broadcast, AMN emphasized non-mainstream music such as indie, punk, blues, country and jazz.

Channel 15 was a 24-hour music channel now run by Music and Entertainment Television (M*E). M*E launched October 1, 2005 and was broadcast to Austin and the 44 surrounding cities. M*E was a regional network dedicated to showcasing and providing television exposure for regional artists as well as the hundreds of touring groups that make up the vibrant Texas live music scene. Supporting established artists and promoting and discovering new talent is a priority. M*E represented different musical genres and areas of the arts community with numerous original programs highlighting everything from filmmakers to art galleries, and musicians to the ballet. In addition, M*E's mostly music line-up, spotlighted live performance footage, concept music videos as well as biographies, reviews, restaurant tours and more.[7]

Musical styles[edit]

Austin's most well-known styles are varieties of country music. In the 1970s the "progressive country" and "cosmic cowboy" movements were established.[8]

There is also a history of Blues music,[8] which developed by the 1950s in the "Negro district" of East Austin; it was one of several places on the "Chitlin’ Circuit".[9] One of the earliest venues which used desegregation was Charlie’s Playhouse in East Austin, and further desegregation occurred there as time passed.[10] Barry Shank, a cultural scholar, stated that the white and black Blue's scenes in Austin remained distinct but that the black one influenced the white one. By 2012 the blues culture became racially integrated, spread outwards from East Austin, and decreased in size.[11]


Austin City Limits Music Festival with view of stages and the Austin skyline.

Austin is the home of South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual film, music and interactive conference and festival, and the expanding number of fringe events that take place during the festival, at venues all over town. In the fall, Austin hosts the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) and the Fun Fun Fun Fest. In the spring, the long-running Old Settler's Music Festival takes place at the Salt Lick Pavilion & Camp Ben McCulloch just outside the city. Every summer, local businesses put on a series of free blues shows in Zilker Park entitled "Blues on the Green." Numerous other music festivals occur year-round. Other annual festivals include the "Keep Austin Weird Festival" and the Heart of Texas Quadruple Bypass Music Festival a.k.a. The Texas Rockfest.

Austin is home to other large annual festivals including:


The Austin Chronicle, Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, Do512, and Phosphene Productions offer information on the most common venues that host local bands.

Below is a short list of notable venues:

  • The Amsterdam (closed)
  • Angel's (closed)
  • Antone's (reopened in new location)
  • Artz Rib House (closed)
  • Aus-Tex Lounge (closed)
  • Austin Music Hall (closing)
  • B. D. Riley's
  • The Backyard
  • Beauty Bar (closed)
  • Beauty Ballroom (closed)
  • Beerland [1]
  • The Black Cat Lounge (closed)
  • The Blackheart
  • The Broken Spoke [2]
  • The Broken Neck (closed)
  • Breakfast Club
  • C-Boy's Heart & Soul
  • Cactus Cafe (UT campus)
  • Café Mundi (closed)
  • Carlos 'n Charlie's (closed)
  • The Carousel Lounge
  • Cedar Street Courtyard
  • Central Market
  • Central Presbyterian Church
  • Chances (closed)
  • Cheer Up Charlies
  • Club De Ville (closed)
  • The Continental Club
  • Cotton Club
  • Dirty Dog Bar
  • Donn's Depot
  • Ego's
  • Elephant Room [3]
  • Elysium Night Club
  • Emo's East [4]
  • Empire Control Room and Garage
  • Evangeline Café
  • Flamingo Cantina
  • Flipnotics (closed)
  • The Frank Erwin Center
  • Friends
  • The Fort
  • Geraldines
  • The Ghost Room (closed)
  • Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon
  • Goldroom
  • Green Mesquite
  • Guero's
  • Headhunters
  • The Highball
  • Hill's Cafe
  • Hole in the Wall
  • Hotel Vegas
  • Icenhauer's
  • Jovita's (closed)
  • La Zona Rosa (closed)
  • Liberty Lunch (closed)
  • Lovejoy's (closed)
  • Lucky Lounge
  • Maggie Mae's
  • The Mohawk
  • Momo's (closed)
  • The Moody Theater (AKA ACL Live)
  • Mulligan's
  • Nasty's
  • Nuno's
  • Nutty Brown Café
  • The Oaks (closed)
  • One World Theater
  • The Parish
  • The Parlor
  • Plush
  • Poodies
  • Radio Room (closed)
  • Red 7 (closed)
  • Red Eyed Fly (closed)
  • Red Fez
  • Republic Live
  • Reed's Jazz Club
  • Room 710 (closed)
  • Ruta Maya International Headquarters (closed)
  • The Sahara Lounge
  • Saxon Pub
  • Scoot Inn
  • Skinny's Ballroom (closed)
  • Skylark Lounge
  • Shady Grove
  • Shooters
  • Steamboat (closed)
  • Speakeasy
  • Spider House Cafe
  • Swan Dive
  • TC's (closed)
  • Tellers
  • Threadgill's
  • 311 Club
  • Trophy's (closed)
  • The White Horse

In addition to the usual restaurant/bar venues listed above, Austin offers live music in unexpected places as well. These unique venues include:

  • City Hall - Every Thursday, City Council honors a local musician at its council meeting. Also, the free concert series "Live from the Plaza" takes place at City Hall every Friday at noon from April to December.
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport - Live music is featured 11 times a week at four locations.
  • Grocery Stores - Central Market features live music three times a week, while Whole Foods Market hosts the "Music at the Market" music series every Thursday evening in the spring.
  • Road Races - The Austin Marathon hosts more than 30 bands along the race course and the Capitol 10K features a band at every mile marker.

Musical acts[edit]

Some Austin musicians who are currently active in the city include:

Roky Erickson Billy Gibbons by Ron Baker.jpg
Joe Ely in concert at the Blues On the Green music series, 2006.

Musicians who previously contributed to the Austin music scene (including those who died, have broken up, or moved from the city):

Deceased Austin musicians include:

The Austin Music Memorial at the Joe and Teresa Long Center honors those who have contributed to the development of the Austin music community.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Austin Chronicle:December 8, 2000
  2. ^ a b "Jesse Sublett." Austin Chronicle. Retrieved on August 3, 2016.
  3. ^ "Never the Same Again: A Rock N' Roll Gothic," memoir by Jesse Sublett, published 2004
  4. ^ Zeller, Tom (November 29, 2006). "Don't Mess With Austin's Music Moniker". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau
  6. ^ "History of ACL". Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Music and Entertainment Television
  8. ^ a b Gatchet, p. 211.
  9. ^ Gatchet, p. 211-212.
  10. ^ Gatchet, p. 213.
  11. ^ Gatchet, p. 214.
  12. ^ Gatchet, p. 212.

External links[edit]