In 1839 Austin became the capital of Texas. Roughly a hundred and fifty years later the city was officially nicknamed the “Live Music Capital of the World.” After spending a few short days in that burgeoning hub of hip, it would be difficult to mount any enthusiastic rebuttal to that Texas sized claim.
The city at least tries awfully hard to live up to this image and with a great deal of success I might add. Austin also has what appears to be cooperation with its local politicians, government officials and even law enforcement to help create and sustain a musical environment that is good for 'bidness'. It has been widely reported that Austin, Texas, has more live music establishments per capita than any city in the U.S.
South by Southwest (SXSW), which takes place this month, will bring the city millions of dollars in tourist revenue. The massive Austin City Limits Music Festival, on two consecutive weekends each October, will do the same. Austin City Limits on PBS, which is taped at the Moody Theater, is the longest running music oriented program in television history. Other massive festivals, annual shin digs which celebrate live music, are also big money makers as well. However, it is the countless small bars, restaurants and nightclubs where live music goes off seemingly ‘round the clock, or at least until last call, and all year long are where Austin gets its distinct flavor.
As far as the blues music spectrum is concerned, Austin ain’t what it used to be, but hey neither am I or anything else I can think of for that matter. However, Austin still has it all going on and I was glad to sample some of that swinging down home, straight ahead, Texas cool last week. Younger musicians share the stages with the old guard who, by and large, are hanging in there and still making tremendous contributions to the scene. It is the youngsters who interest me the most. At this point, with so many other musical options available to them, their commitment to vintage music represents true courage.
What was wonderful was that all three evening gigs we attended had cover charges for admittance. This of course pays for the bands and attaches at least some intrinsic value to the live music experience. It is also is a way of separating the real musical pros from the dilettantes, as well as the real fans of blues music from the interlopers. Ten bucks is a small price to pay to hear great musicians doing their thang.
Another delightful aspect of listening to live blues music in this capital of cool was that the audience seemed to be deeply invested in the music and in the moment. The music was not just mere window dressing and a backdrop for people to socialize and to brag on Facebook that they were at an event to which they weren’t paying attention in the first place. Nobody was making home movies which they would share with the world and the smart phone documentarians were few and far between. For me this meant I was experiencing live music like the good old days. This video nerd free environment was like a slice of heaven.
Texans are doing just two things while enjoying live music. First off, they are (better sit down for this one) LISTENING. Secondly, they might be dancing. If their choice was the latter it seems that they are better at it than folks from other countries like the United States or California for instance.
It has long been my observation that Texans take their music at least as seriously as they do their football and barbeque. It represents something in their lives that is slightly more elevated and important than with folks in other parts of the country. Of course, they take a great deal of pride in their local musicians and believe me if you are in Austin, they have much for which to be proud. Despite several months of the year which feature a scorching hot climate, Austin remains the capital of cool.
For three days BLUES JUNCTION got a chance to kick it...Austin, Texas, style and despite some transportation and communication snafus, we had a blast, but that’s another story.
- David Mac
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