Mark's Guide to Austin Music Venues, part one

This page focuses on clubs that have live music as their primary focus. (Ok, and, in most cases, alcohol sales...) The next page lists other places that have live music as a sideline.


The home of the Blues in Austin, Texas, and has been for many years, and will be for many years to come (Carole Keaton Rylander notwithstanding). While the current location isn't the same one Stevie Ray used to frequent as a member of the house band, the atmosphere is basically the same (minus the terrible ventilation and grossly inadequate bathroom facilities). No seating and they can be very pushy about making sure you don't sit. It can be smoky and crowded when someone popular is there but it's generally worth it; I've never seen anything less than an excellent show there and some of them have been extraordinary. These days most of the blues is as in "blues-rock", especially with the various local acts. Cover charges are a little higher than some of the above mentioned clubs ($15-$20 depending on the act). A lot of touring acts play Antone's while in Austin. There are also the usual T-shirts and souvenirs for sale.

The Broken Spoke:

People come to the Spoke for one and only one reason and that is to boot-scoot to those good ol' country sounds. Do not look for Garth Brooks to be playing here anytime soon (i.e. my lifetime or yours). As the owner states, "There will never be another place like this in Austin -- the chief building inspector for the city has personally assured me of this." Get on down to find out what Austin was like back when the Spoke was out towards the city limits. Recommended act: Yodelin' Donnie Walser (who can also be seen other places, but ...)

The Cactus Cafe:

Despite what you might think by virtue of its location on the UT campus, the Cactus actually attracts few UT students. This is the real singer-songwriter home base in Austin. There are those of us who suspect the ghost of Townes Van Zandt still haunts the place. More often than not they feature touring acts, but still book a great deal of local talent. The sound is good and the volume is just right. Best of all, since it's in an official State Of Texas-kinda building it is no smoking. Depending on the act it will either be empty or crowded, it's hard to tell. The shows tend to be a little earlier than many of the other clubs.

The Continental Club:

The Continenal has a long history of featuring live, original music. It first opened back in the 1960s as a martini bar (yes, it's been around long enough to see trends fade and return) but in its most recent incarnation lives and dies by its live music acts. Covers are low for touring acts and really low for our local acts. Crowd varies by show but you'll see a wide range of ages. Mostly this is roots-rock or uptempo country; occasionally you'll see a performing songwriter but generally only in their rock persona. The volume is about normal for Austin clubs so bring your earplugs. The sound is better than most clubs. Yes, cigarette smoking is prevalent. There are a few seats and some bench-style seating if you feel the need to lounge around. I don't think I've seen a bad show there yet. They also have some "resident artists" some of whom (Jon Dee Graham in particular) are pretty good.


An intimate club where you won't need your earplugs (unusual in Austin in that regard). Acts tend more towards the acoustic here; you can also hear roots-rockers in a more "unplugged" mode. Touring acts make up a noticeable percentage of the roster but more than half are local. I've never seen a bad show here. The emphasis is on the lyrics and the tunes at this club. Although both alcohol and cigarettes are in evidence, neither are particularly intrusive. Low cover charges and I'm told they have good coffee. When the weather (and neighbors) permit, they have early shows outside. (They used to have only outside shows, but the neighbors finally prevailed.)

The Hole In The Wall:

A rock and roots-rock in an authentic "old Austin funky" club. (Now don't you never mind the places where the ceiling is falling in). No martinis, no cigars, no hoi polloi in this crowd, the question is what kind of beer do you want and how many glasses you want with that pitcher. Always consistenly booking live, original, music, with the occasional touring act from some wierd place or other (Amarillo? Finland?) Some curmudgeons have been heard to say that when this place and the Spoke are both gone, there won't be any "real" Austin left. [Later update, much after this page was originally written ... uh oh! On the other hand, there is a "rumor" that it may reopen in the same location. We'll see.]

Joe's Generic Bar:

Always local, always blues, always low cover. One of the last few remaining "real" live (not just pop-cover tunes) places to hear music on 6th Street. Nice and run-down and relaxed. The audience consists of the pierced people through the old farts. You should stop in and leave a few dollars there to support this outpost on 6th.

The Saxon Pub:

Originally more of a singer-songwriter place back in the days of the big Progressive Country scare, now leans more towards roots-rock. The crowd averages a little older here and the musicians are more generally local than touring acts. The sound is fair to good, not too loud (but bring your earplugs), and there are a good number of seats. Unforunately this can be a real smoke-a-torium when those seats are full. Occasionally they'll do a webcast from the stage . Recommended act: the Replacements, every Sunday at 7pm, a kind of local supergroup. (They have several key members and then a varying cast of substitutes with various guests sitting in and whatever. Their shtick is un-P.C. gags, (thus the group name), so their between-song patter may not be suitable for the easily offended.)

Other fabled live music venues missing in action (closed but hoping to reopen in other locations):

Liberty Lunch

Then there are the places that are primarily restaurants with live music as their feature.

Back to my main music page.

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Last updated Sat Mar 29 14:17:39 CST 2003 .