How did I end up at the Hippie Church? I think to myself. I’m back again in Austin this weekend. In retrospect, I probably wasn’t weird enough to appreciate the city’s charms when I first visited decades ago, but repeated trips have made me realize what a Texas gem our capital city really is.
Whenever I tell anyone overseas I’m from Texas, if they know one city, it’s Austin. Not Dallas, San Antonio, or Houston. Nope, we’ve all been out-shined by the golden child of Texas. Austin is internationally known and respected. Why? Lots of reasons, but live music is probably the biggest.
Austin City Limits is back for its second weekend on October 11-13 at Zilker Park. It’s the Woodstock of the south and features such acts as Guns and Roses, The Cure, Third Eye Blind and Billie Ellish. There’s something for everyone and it's a great opportunity to hear some performers that you’d never be exposed on your normal radio station.
Live music isn’t limited to ACL though. There’s South by Southwest, Urban Music Festival and Fun Fun Fun Fest, to name a few. If you can’t make it to any of these, don’t worry. Austin has live music somewhere anytime.
Most locals agree that Austin’s iconic Sixth Street has lost its former charm to tourists, noise ordinances and homeless camps, but there’s still great live music playing every day somewhere. I caught up with Austin-based artist Lance Keltner and put together a list of some of the top favorite venues to see some great music now. Whether you’re looking for blues, jazz, rock, gospel, or Texas roots acoustic, you’ll have no problem finding all that as well as plenty of things you didn’t expect.
Stay at the Lone Star Court in the hip Domain area and you're likely to catch some pretty good musicians that play at the hotel every Thursday through Sunday. There’s a big fire pit next to where the musicians play in the open air gazebo and your hotel room comes equipped with marshmallows, Hershey's chocolate, and sticks to make your own s’mores while you listen to the music.
Established in 1990, this listening room has hosted over 20,000 performances—it has live music every night, and sometimes up to five different acts in an evening—and was the subject of the 2019 film Nothing Stays the Same- The Story of the Saxon Pub. You can’t go wrong with the casual atmosphere and no-cover happy hour, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays. Kris Kristofferson was once quoted as saying that playing at Saxon was “like playing in his own living room."
This is an awesome spot for your Austin jazz fix. Also offering live music every night, the venue is located in a basement for that truly “underground” feel. Weekdays are usually free cover and weekends have a small $5 entrance charge. Elephant Room draws many of jazz’s great musicians in an awesome retro-speakeasy venue.
It started as a sandwich shop, owned by Clifford Antone (from the same Antone’s sandwich shop dynasty in Houston), and eventually was reincarnated into a legendary blues club on Sixth Street in 1975. Although the venue has moved around Austin multiple times, it has hosted big names like Ray Charles and James Brown and remains one of the most popular places to see live music in Austin. There’s somebody playing every night, with free shows as well as ticketed events.
Ask anyone from Austin their favorite venues and Continental Club is always on the list. Billing itself as the “granddaddy of music venues," it’s been around since 1955. A supper club, reincarnated into a burlesque bar, then a dive bar, somehow the venue survived all the changes and hung on to its historical location. Sixty years later, it’s the most popular live music venue in Austin. Anyone who’s anyone plays here. Its original signage and art add extra coolness to its hip vibe.
Where can you find two-step lessons, chicken fried steak and a real Texas dance hall? Look no further than the Broken Spoke. With a '60s country vibe, this venue somehow managed to survive the 20th century while everything around it was torn down and rebuilt. Free live music happens from 6 to 8 p.m five days a week in the restaurant. The dance hall opens at 7:30 pm., and if you want a real taste of old school Texas, this is it.
Christopher Stubblefield opened his first barbecue restaurant in Lubbock in 1968 and by the early '70s his place became the place to hear musicians like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The original Lubbock restaurant was eventually shuttered and moved to Austin. However, the legendary barbecue continues and the concert amphitheater can accommodate up to 2,200 guests. It’s a great outdoor venue for larger touring bands that won’t fit in smaller local clubs.
First, this restaurant’s name doesn’t do it justice. It's much more than a “taco restaurant.” This quirky eatery is a great place to spend your Sunday afternoon at Hippie Church, when Maria brings in a great band from 12 to 3 p.m. with gospel flair and everyone dancing like no one’s watching—there are more white beards than a Santa convention and more tie-dyed shirts than Jerry Garcia’s closet. Some of the guests came straight from “regular church” for a double dose of gospel-inspired music and tasty Mexican food.