Austin at First Sight

Had a weekend free between business in Houston last week and conference in Vegas this week, so I spent Friday & Saturday on my first visit to Austin, TX.

The SXSW festival was a couple of weeks ago, so I had no idea what to expect from Austin. I’d noticed Todd Snider supporting Yonder Mountain String Band at Stubbs BBQ, so I had a reason to drive up to Austin anyway (even though Todd was also playing Houston House of Blues on the Saturday). Have to say as support, Todd’s set was too brief, but good to see the Stubbs place – a little outdoor “festival” site. Too many in the audience who seemed to know Todd’s songs (Todd has serious fans), singing, whoopin & hollering in recognition at the choruses and riffs, but talking loudly through his verses. YMSB were just not to my taste … trading mandolin and banjo licks … clever, but ….

It turns out Austin is a real bluesy town – live music bars over several blocks downtown, all year round, and particularly lively this weekend with the Urban Music Festival in town … rap on every corner, surreal number of uniformed black biker groups cruisin on their choppers amongst the pimped sound systems on wheels …. with hundreds of Austin’s finest taking their meal-breaks in the bars too. Made for a great atmosphere in the spring warmth … did I mention the meadow flowers lining route 290 on the drive up … beautiful ?

Anyway, blues … Canadian Jo Hell at Latitude 30 – stunning range, technique and an entertainer. Swamp Sauce at Friends with Dave K on guitar (and the tiniest practice amp at full volume) and Jeff Clark on harp and vocals (the latter so reminded me of Graham Parker) great sounds and energy.

The Urban Music Festival after show party (recommended by the latter), at Antone’s (now there’s a place), with Bavu Blakes in front of a real strong band …. rappers not usually to my taste, but done with wit and I enjoyed him/them, supporting Gary Clark Jr. Another great young blues guitarist – heavy too, doubly heavy with Eric Zapata on the very loud and very different rhythm guitar – good job the two obviously get on. Good and loud.

Anyway, judging by the number of live music bars, as many as Nashville and Memphis put together it seemed, looks like my kinda place. I mean I really like Nashville; as well as the obvious lower-Broad venues catering to the C&W tourists, it actually has plenty of real music too, but Austin was kinda like Nashville without the cheese. Good looking place too, the mix of modern high-rise corporate statements and old stone / warehouse blocks, and a little Chicago-style “gothic” high-rise too. By way of variety, after watching the bats (and the water-fowl / pond-life) at sundown under the Congress Bridge, and sunset on the state capitol, I treated myself to a meal at Trulucks Crab House, complete with cocktail pianist. Good food and good service, courtesy of Pedro.

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