Anyone who lives in Austin knows why the city council adopted the slogan live music capital of the world” in 1991. For those just visiting, the city offers many opportunities to find out.
The famed music scene of Austin began in the 60s and 70s at the Vulcan Gas Company. Musicians played country music here to crowds of loud and enthusiastic fans. Willie Nelson moved to Austin in 1965 and kick started his career in front of these audiences. He went on to become one of the most successful country music artists of all time. Not long after, the Vulcan Gas Company became known as the Armadillo World Headquarters, or just The Armadillo, and Austin’s music really took off.
As the music scene grew more popular, Austin gained a reputation for welcoming struggling artists. Bands and singers knew they would find receptive audiences at numerous informal establishments and the type of music played expanded to include jazz, blues, rock and roll, and everything in between.
The music scene in Austin has fostered the career of many now famous musicians. Perhaps the most legendary, Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of the most influential blues guitarists in the world. He first played at Antone’s, the club founded by his mentor and record producer, Clifford Antone.
Television and annual festivals have helped Austin develop into the live music capital. The show Austin City Limits first aired on PBS in 1975. The live music experience showcased the variety of artists heard in Austin and helped significantly to grow the city’s music reputation. Almost every kind of music imaginable can be heard at the three day Austin City Limits Music Festival held every September. Since its inception in 2002, it has become one of the premier music festivals in the country.
The Sixth Street area of downtown Austin houses the largest collection of live music venues and is the location of the South by Southwest Festival. SXSW, as it is known, is a music and film festival that has generated more revenue than even the Texas Longhorn’s home games.
Certainly, the times of year that coincide with the music festivals are the most exciting for fans of live music. At any other time of year, tourists may be disappointed with the atmosphere of the famed Sixth Street area. Several of the original, small music venues have closed and in their place are more profitable bars and clubs.
While some may believe the eclectic, small feel of Austin’s music scene is waning, others still revel in the live entertainment.