Free Live Music in Austin, Texas

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Austin band Calliope Musicals shoots confetti in their performance during SXSW 2014. Courtesy Photo / NPR

I read something that said people don’t live in Austin to work; they work to live in Austin.  The Texas capital is known for its diverse groups of people, state parks and preserves, and of course, the live music scene.

Recently, Austin lived up to its title as “Live Music Capital of the World” by hosting free week. Most of the venues on Red River as well as near campus hosted four to nine local bands a night. Every night, I went to a free show downtown.  My friends and I saw shows at Mohawk, the Sidewinder, Empire Control Room, Swan Dive and Spiderhouse Ballroom. Other spots like Stubb’s, Beerland, Cheer Up Charlie’s, Hole in the Wall, Hotel Vegas and Parish also had free shows.

My favorite show of Monday night was Burgess Meredith, a local band with a ’60s feel and tight harmonies. They played Swan Dive and had even the most stoic hipsters tapping their feet. I saw them again last week at the historic Cactus Cafe when they filmed a TV performance. Other acts included an acoustic set from Scott Collins and a psychedelic avant-garde show from Casual Strangers which reminded me of music you might hear playing in a haunted house.

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Austin band Burgess Meredith has a ’60s vibe with tight harmonies.

On Tuesday, my friend Jon and I went to Sidewinder to see an “aggressive post hardcore” band called Easy Prey and another band named Brother Ghost. Around the end of their set, I got a text from my friend Blake who told me he was watching the best show of 2016 at Empire Control Room and Garage less than a block away. We ran over just in time to catch the end of Megafauna’s show. Megafauna defines itself as “the thinking woman’s hard rock” and is led by frontwoman and epic guitarist Dani Neff. It turns out the friend who texted me was actually inside Empire seeing another band Calliope Musicals, proving that in Austin you can miss the best show of 2016 and still find something good.

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Dani Neff, lead singer and guitarist of Megafauna, at Empire Control Room and Garage

On Wednesday, I went to Spiderhouse Ballroom near campus and saw the “soul-infused” blues rock show of Sideshow Tragedy. I enjoyed their guitarist and manic drummer. At one the point, the lead singer seemed to be possessed by the spirit of blues demons; his eyes were rolling as he played his steel guitar. After the set, Not in the Face played. Their band began as a joke when two friends thought it would be funny to start a cover band “playing hyperactive renditions of classic R&B, doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll songs.” They were an unexpected hit and have covered slots for bands like ZZ Top. The band was high energy and having a good time.

On Thursday, my friends from work and I went back to Sidewinder and saw Ghostbunny whose lead singer seemed to see himself as a stand up comic, joking about pizza and getting old. We enjoyed the set, and afterward we headed back to the indoor stage where our favorite band of the night Summer Salt was playing. The three-piece band’s music reminded me of surfing through the tropics with tracks like “Driving to Hawaii,” which they renamed “Driving to Barton Springs” for the evening. They were really fun, and my friends and I made plans to see them at a house show on Jan. 23 for their upcoming album release.

On Friday, I saw my favorite show of the week, a set from the magnificent Calliope Musicals. This was the show my friend told me was his favorite of 2016, and it did not disappoint. The band radiated warmth and energy. They passed out bubbles, and their confetti cannons showered the audience in colorful strips of paper at random times. At one point, their beautiful singer Carrie Fussell climbed down from the stage, came into the audience and stood in front of me. She held out her microphone, and we sang the last song together, a repeating chorus of “I dreamed this dream would never end.” Everyone in the crowd was dancing and singing, and it was truly the best show of free week.

That night I also enjoyed sets from Strange Fiction and Young Tongue. Afterward, Strange Fiction passed out free EPs to the crowd. The second best show of the night, and one of my favorites of the week, was by local band Quiet Company. The band started off their set with a recording of Charlie Chaplin’s speech in the film “The Great Dictator.” On the stage, they had also painted a quote from one of my favorite books “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. I had originally heard the band covering a Christmas song on the radio and immediately liked them. Their show was high energy, with kids jumping around and most of the crowd singing along. The lead singer seemed warm and personable and invited everyone to join him at the “ drive-thru at the Whataburger in Cedar Park” after the show. It was a good end to a week full of live music and local talent.

The free shows went on until Sunday, and I’ve been able to go to a free show every week since then. Usually Austin has at least one free show playing somewhere around the city daily.

If you visit Austin, make sure to go to at least one live show while you’re here. Showlist Austin gives a concise, compact list of shows playing around town along with times, locations and cost. Also, do512 is a good reference for music and other types of entertainment in Austin.

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