Outside of Texas, Austin is best known for two things: South by Southwest, the annual conference and live music and arts festival, and Austin City Limits, the live concert series. These events, especially SXSW, don’t quite hold the same appeal for locals as they do for visitors — they mostly mean traffic, crowds, and inconvenience — but Austin is the world live music capital for a reason, and there are more than enough other events throughout the year for locals to kick back and enjoy.
Live Music History at the Continental Club
Dating back to 1955, the legendary Continental Club has a long and diverse history in music: at one point it was Austin’s first burlesque bar, transitioned into a blue-collar spot, and at various points has been a destination for blues music, new wave and punk, rock and roll and more. It was restored back to its original 1955 glory in 1987, so you can take in its historical 1950s mural work while enjoying “the premier roots rock, traditional country and blues, rockabilly and garage rock club in the country,” as the Continental bills itself.
Up and Coming Artists at Hole in the Wall
Only a little bit younger than the Continental Club is Hole in the Wall, founded in 1974 — it prides itself on being a local staple for both up-and-coming acts and established rock stars. Their stage has seen everyone from Lucinda Williams to Courtney Love, from St. Vincent to …and You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead. The Hole now boasts “6 plus hours of wildly diverse musical acts a day” as well as great drink specials. Even if your favorite band isn’t on the show calendar, it’s worth stopping in — you might be seeing the next Spoon, Shakey Graves or Fastball.
Live Music for the Chill at KGSR’s Blues on the Green
Leaving the dark bars for a sunny lawn, radio station KGSR’s Blues on the Green in Zilker Park is a beloved summer ritual. Austin’s largest free concert series prohibits smoking and drinking, which makes it a great fit for families who want to lay out a blanket on the grass and bring the dog to listen to an evening of great music. Blues on the Green has been going on for 26 years now — they must be doing something right.
And while SXSW can be frustrating for Austin natives, it’s well worth it to try to attend what you can, especially if it’s free. Lady Bird Lake’s Auditorium Shores hosts free shows during SXSW, and it’s easier to handle the crowds on the shores of the gorgeous lake. Austin City Limits tapings can also be delightfully intimate, even if their reach is huge, and it’s an amazing opportunity to see big names live.
Real Country at the White Horse
While Austin is unparalleled for seeing music of all genres, it wouldn’t be right to go without live country music in Texas. For that, head to the White Horse, which features live music seven days a week and a dance floor as well as tacos and whiskey on tap. They focus on honky tonk, rockabilly, rock and country, and almost never have a cover.
Whatever your flavor, whatever the night of the week, it’s a comfort to know that there’s always someone with a live mic ready to make your night better somewhere in Austin.