It’s one of the three coolest cities in the United States according to Forbes magazine, along with Seattle and Washington. While many Texans are proud that ‘Everything is Bigger in Texas’, in Austin they love being different and quirky, as its slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’ demonstrates.
Austin, which was the surname of the founder of Texas (Stephen F. Austin), has established itself as a Silicon Valley of the south, including high-tech companies and a young population that loves practising sports in the over 30 lakes that the city offers. They prefer bicycles to cowboy Hummer trucks, food trailers to fine-dining restaurants and, above all, live music 365 days a year. It is officially recognised as the live music capital of the world.
It is officially recognised as the live music capital of the world.
The epicentre of this emotion is the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival, which hosts over 2,000 bands, films, conferences and interactive events. It’s the largest festival of its kind and is considered to be one of the most influential in the world. It attracts 250,000 people, which translated into an economic impact of 317 million dollars in 2015. The festival feeling is completed by the Austin City Limits, Fun Fun Fun Fest and the Blues on the Green festivals, which are held in Zilker Park, the most iconic of the 251 parks in the city. It’s very common to hear the song ‘Summertime’ there, as sung by Texan Janis Joplin, the rasping voice of the small blonde who dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin to submerge herself in the alcohol and bars of 6th Street, where everything happens.
The live music capital boasts over 250 venues that offer daily gigs. On 5th Street, The White Horse is the shrine of country music. The venues for lovers of indie and punk music are in Red River Street at Emo’s and Mohawk, and blues fan can find their place at Antone’s. Around the university and what is known as SoCo (South Congress) there are popular haunts like Hole in the Wall, which specialises in female rockers, and the Continental Club where legendary American blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan plays.
The food also goes against the current in Austin. Rather than chains and fancy restaurants, Austin is teeming with family-run establishments and trailers owned by young chefs who serve their creations on fold-out tables with views of the lakes. One of them, Paul Qui, who is from the Philippines, won the ‘Top Chef’ competition, while his psychedelic trailer, which is a laboratory of Asian and European flavours, was chosen as the best new restaurant in the country in 2014.
The truth is, Austin is full of surprises. Perhaps one of its strangest rituals is admiring the sunset while one and a half million bats fly in the sky. We’re still in Texas, not in Batman’s Gotham City.