Arts and Culture

Austin Music Guide: Discover the Live Music Capital of the World

Filed Under: Austin, Texas

Willie Nelson's appearance at the Armadillo World Headquarters in 1972 is often cited as the birth of the live music scene on Austin's 6th Street. This Texas city is now home to a vibrant music scene mixing rock, country, folk, blues and punk. Currently there are over 200 live music venues in Austin and more than 1,900 musicians who call the Live Music Capital of the World their home.

The Best Live Venues
6th Street
Likely Texas' best-known street, the 7 blocks between Congress and IH-35 are the center of the Austin entertainment and music scene. The many historic houses and commercial buildings on 6th Street are now host to a bevy of live music, including jazz, blues, country, rock, hip-hop, beat, progressive, metal and punk. You can refuel at one of the many restaurants offering Texas staples like chili, ribs, steak, Tex-Mex and Cajun.

Along this famed street, you'll find more live music than you could cram onto your 80-gig iPod, but some notorious stops are the Flamingo Cantina and The Parish Room. The Flamingo attracts all subgenres of reggae -- dancehall, ska, rocksteady and dub -- as well as varied local bands and DJs. At The Parish, local blues, rock and jazz take the stage nightly.

Learn about all things 6th Street here including upcoming shows, festivals and events.

Broken Spoke
South Lamar
While 6th Street might be the epicenter for live music, it's not the only gig in town. Visit the Broken Spoke in South Lamar, Austin, for a genuine Texas experience. The Western honky-tonk dates back to 1964 and is the perfect location to don a cowboy hat and bust out the 2-step. Complete your experience by ordering their signature dish, chicken-fried steak, accompanied by a couple of long necks. Broken Spoke prides itself on being the last of the true Texas dance halls, so this is the place to be if you're looking for some authentic country and blues.

La Zona Rosa
Downtown
Another Austin classic, La Zona Rosa is a renovated garage outfitted with kitschy memorabilia. It's a fun place to listen to good bands, even though it's departed a bit from its more funky roots. Big names like the Joss Stone, Patti Smith and Greg Allman and Friends have graced the stage at LZR. There are two stages here: the club side offers smaller, more intimate performances while big names are booked on the larger stage.

Antone's
Downtown
Named for owner Clifford Antone, this club is known for promoting some big blues acts. Blues royalty like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Etta James and Edgar Winter have all held court here. Boasting the title as the first club on 6th Street, it's now located on 5th and Lavaca streets and continues to be a legendary site to hear live blues in Austin.

The Best Record Shops
Antone's Record Shop
Part of the joy of visiting the Live Music Capital of the World is that you can take a piece of it home with you -- on genuine vinyl. Antone's Record Shop was opened in 1897 by one and the same, Clifford Antone. The store specializes in roots music and jazz, although Willie Nelson commands an entire row and a half in the shop.

Cheapo Discs
This is the place for used music and hard-to-find releases. Locals know this is the place to buy, sell and trade the dusty discs of your CD collection -- and to bulk it up with live performances by local artists or rare cuts by the big names.

End of an Ear
Used classics and limited editions are specially stocked at End of an Ear. Dan Plunkett and Blake Carlisle, the store's 2 owners, keep a packed schedule of live performances, so stop by early in your trip for an aural souvenir and a schedule of must-see concerts.

Waterloo Records
Waterloo is widely considered the flagship of Austin's record collecting and selling culture. The aisles overflow with vinyl jewels and, during the store's frequent live performances, with fans. Its CD-release parties are customary here, featuring concerts by local and mid-sized national bands. This is the place to go for the obscure and arcane -- the knowledgeable staff will help you bin dive or special order that hard-to-find gem.

The Best Festival
South by Southwest (SXSW)
While it started out as a local music and media event in 1987, SXSW is now one of the entertainment industry's biggest annual celebrations of music, film and media. The Austin Convention Center hosts the festival, but there are literally hundreds of gigs round the clock at venues all over the city. Usually occurring in early spring each year, the festival welcomes big-name acts and local heroes alike.

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