I’m a big fan of the Austin live music scene. What I like about Austin musicians is how down to earth they seem. They’ll chill with their audience after the show; they’ll invite everyone to hang with them at the Whataburger in Cedar Park; they’ll play an acoustic set for only four fans. They stay humble despite their talent and really support other performers and local artists.
Here are a few of my favorite local performances from 2015-16. While I enjoyed the overall musicianship and sound of these artists, what really impressed me was the little moments of kindness and authenticity they offered their fans.
- Mingo Fishtrap
This was the under-the-radar-show that saved my first SXSW experience. After waiting in lines for hours for the KGSR showcase and not getting into the Bud Lite showcase to see Santigold and Bloc Party (both nostalgic bands from my high school days) I was feeling pretty meh about the whole South by Southwest scene. I’d had fun at some smaller shows with bands like Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and Houston rapper Lyric, but overall, I was tired of the crowds and long lines of people who didn’t seem to care about the music. After all, most of the badge holders trying to get into the Santigold show admitted they didn’t know any of the artists, they just wanted free alcohol. I was tired of lines and traffic. Then, my friend told me about a small show for the Art Institute with free refreshments, student artwork and a performance featuring Denton-turned-Austin band Mingo Fishtrap.
And they were heaven. Soulful lyrics, anti-Trump anthems, funky dancing, free Mai-Tais… This show had everything.. The guys spent some time in New Orleans which influenced their blues and soul sound. My friend Lydia and I had a great time dancing along with students and fans of all ages.
- Quiet Company
Although not my usual taste in music, this band impressed me with their warmth and connectivity during Free Week. The band started off their set with a recording of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic speech in the film “The Great Dictator.” On the stage, they had painted a quote from one of my favorite books “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. 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.
3. Shakey Graves
One of my favorite musicians, his live shows will always be on my list due to the experimental nature and raw skill he brings to his sets. He’s one of those performers who outdoes his own recordings when he plays live. As he becomes more well-known, I expected fame to change him but when he sold out Stubbs at a recent show in October, he still seemed his cheeky, grateful self. My friend ran into him at IKEA in Georgetown the other day and rather than being aloof he was good-natured enough to take a photo with her and her friend, joke about their height difference and talk about how weird it was to take fan photos in Swedish department stores.
- Julian Acosta and the Hustle
It’s not every day you run into someone who has their own citywide holiday. Although Julian Acosta is a local celebrity of sorts, he still took the time to support his friends at their recent art gallery opening with an acoustic set. Although he was pretty sick with allergies, it didn’t affect his vocals as he played a few new songs he’s been working on, the song about Austin that made him famous and an excellent Donovan cover that reminds him of his mom. The set only had 12 audience members and only four of us were people he didn’t know, but he still gave his all, sitting on the floor with us, taking the time to learn our names and giving us hugs after the show. A really nice guy and stand-up musician, I’m looking forward to hearing more from Acosta.
- Calliope Musicals
Still my favorite show of 2016. The explosive Calliope Musicals will be hard to top. I haven’t had this much fun at a show… well, probably ever.
Calliope Musicals shows are an experience. They pass out bubbles. Their confetti cannons shower you in bright strips of paper at random times. People in tiger onesies run through the audience. At one point during their show in January, 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 the best show of Austin’s Free Week.
*Although not technically a band, this list wouldn’t be complete without the “godfather of Austin blues” W.C. Clark, who at 76 is still going strong. He absolutely killed it at a performance at Antone’s after they reopened several months ago.
Texas music has much to offer people from all walks of life. Combining Austin hospitality with Southern soul, I’m thankful to be in a place that lives up to its name as the live music capital of the world.