A Look at Some Popular Music Venues at SXSW
Written by Glenn McDonald
My first experience at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, several years ago, was nothing less than revelatory. I’d been to my share of street fairs and music fests, but nothing on this scale.
It was a kind of rock and roll heaven, or so it seemed to me, navigating 6th St. along with the throngs of musicians, fans and freaks moving from venue to venue. I remember Yeasayer at some Pitchfork party; then Bon Iver at Emo’s; then some impossibly foxy blues singer at Stubb’s. And I remember it all remarkably well, since the strongest substance I used the whole weekend was SPF 50 sunblock.
The weekend as a whole seemed like barely controlled chaos; a pulse of energy and music that threatened to go off the rails at any moment. Like the best rock shows always feel, come to think of it. The reason SXSW works as well as it does on the scale that it does is the remarkably concerted effort (pardon the pun) by festival organizers, town officials and the management teams of Austin’s legendary music venues.
Bear in mind too that SXSW is only one of many music events staged in Austin throughout the year. There’s a reason it’s called the Live Music Capitol of the World. You’ve got your Austin City Limits Music Festival. Your Austin Reggae Festival. Your Fun Fun Fun Fest. Your Urban Music Festival. Your Old Settlers Music Festival. In other words, this is a city that knows how to throw a party.
If you plan to hit the SXSW music festival (March 16-19), be sure to check out the performance lineups at these famous—and sometimes infamous—Austin venues. Each has its own unique place in the city’s history and culture (click here for a longer profile of Antone’s; Austin’s most historic venue). And if you plan to hit the many outdoor shows on street corners and in parking lots, don’t forget the SPF 50. Trust me on this one.
801 Red River St.
Usually in the running to top various “Best of Austin” polls, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q has a double-bill appeal. Musically, you’ve got a small indoor stage and large outdoor stage with a sloping standing-room-only area for bigger shows. Then there’s the food. Stubb’s is renowned for its authentic Texas-style barbecue – brisket, ribs, turkey, sausage and more. It’s a rock carnivore’s paradise.
SXSW 2011 artists at Stubb’s include TV on the Radio, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Panic! at the Disco.
1315 S. Congress Ave.
For a swankier evening, consider “The Mighty Continental Club,” which opened in 1957 as a private supper club featuring big band music from artists such as Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. After a brief stint as a burlesque joint in the 1960s, the club hosted national country and roots bands until a 1987 major renovation returned it to its original late-’50s décor. The club hosts a lot of R&B, country and folk, with occasional detours into rockabilly, electronica and just about everything else.
SXSW 2011 artists at the Continental Club include the Fleshtones, the Mother Truckers and Uh Huh Her.
603 Red River
Emo’s website invites you to “come down and support the long-standing, though somewhat ambiguous, history of drunkenness and/or debauchery.” Don’t let the imposing doormen or bartenders scare you off; these people are simply rock and roll professionals who are accustomed to bringing what order they can to the seemingly never-ending party at Emo’s. With two stages under normal circumstances, Emo’s usually adds a couple outdoor performance annexes during SXSW. Emo’s has been around in various incarnations for longer than anyone can seem to remember; more recently it has been the zeitgeist-y epicenter of SXSW and the place to go for maximum rock and roll weirdness.
SXSW 2011 artists at Emo’s include the Kills, the Cool Kids and Das Racist.
618 W. 6th St.
Known for its distinctive and popular lounge-style layout, 6th St. staple Momo’s prides itself on featuring a wide variety of local and national acts of all stripes—bluegrass, electronica, French pop fusion, et al. Momo’s owners are particularly active in Austin’s behind-the-scenes music scene; working to preserve the city’s live-music heritage. One nice aspect of Momo’s, for smokers and non-smokers alike, is that while smoking is allowed only on the huge outdoor deck that overlooks the city skyline, everyone can still see the stage and hear the music just fine. Everybody wins.
SXSW 2011 artists at Momo’s include Sarah Jaffe, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, and Head for the Hills.
Austin Music Hall
Recently renovated and expanded, the new Austin Music Hall is one of the city’s largest venues, with a general-admission capacity of 4,400. It doesn’t win much affection from locals and veteran scenesters as it’s basically an all-purpose municipal event facility, but it does have enough raw square footage to handle large crowds drawn by bigger acts.
SXSW 2011 shows this week: Fishbone, Wu-Tang Clan, Filter, Puddle of Mudd, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, Meat Puppets with Roky Erickson and Lo Down Loretta Brown (Erykah Badu).