With original tunes wafting through the air 365 days a year, Austin isn’t known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” for nothing. The 1970s were a time of wonder for the music scene in Austin, with musicians like Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan hanging their hats in the heart of the Lone Star State between tour dates. Today, local luminaries include Gary Clark, Jr., Spoon, Gina Chavez, Ephraim Owens, Shakey Graves, Emily Wolfe, Balmorhea, Riders Against the Storm, Mandy Rowden, Max Frost, and more.
Every March, thousands of live music acts travel to Austin from all points of the globe in the hope of being discovered at the South By Southwest Music Festival, which takes over the city for a full week. (To stay right in the heart of the action reserve a room at the Hilton downtown.) The rest of the year, touring and hometown musicians can be heard (and seen) all over town without the SXSW-sized crowds. So even if you can’t make it to the festival, read on for the best music venues in Austin to hear a stellar live music set.
The Red River Cultural District
A trip to Austin isn’t complete without a ramble down Red River Street, where the Red River Cultural District encompasses a three-block radius of live music venues. Its cornerstone is Stubbs BBQ, a unique restaurant with an intimate indoor venue and a massive amphitheater next door, hosting a year-round roster of critically acclaimed acts.
Within steps of both Stubbs stages, spaces like Mohawk, Barracuda, Cheer Up Charlie’s, and Empire Control Room & Garage are all great spots to enjoy some original rock, hip-hop, indie-pop, and blues performances. The city allows this stretch of venues to creep past the local sound ordinance, letting live music lovers keep the beat as late as 1 am on weekends.
More Downtown Hotspots
The Red River corridor, which is right around the corner from the Hilton Austin on 4th Street, isn’t the only place to catch some live music. A few blocks southwest, there’s the hallowed Moody Theater on Willie Nelson Boulevard, where nearly every legendary musical act of the last 30 years has performed at least once on the ACL Live Stage, home to the PBS tapings of “Austin City Limits.”
Antone’s is another iconic Austin venue, and although it’s changed addresses a few times over the years, it never loses its audience. Its stage hosts everyone from up-and-comers like Jade Bird and The Peterson Brothers to Lady Gaga, who casually sauntered onstage to keep the party going after an arena tour stop in 2017.
Downtown is also home to a handful of excellent jazz clubs like longtime favorite The Elephant Room and the newly established Parker. For a fun-filled night of ’80s and ’90s cover tunes, hit Cedar Street Courtyard for some retro vibes. Independent touring acts often come through The Parish on 6th Street, while massive arena tours sell out the nearly 17,000 seats at Frank Erwin Center just east of the UT campus.
South & East Austin Music Venues
For a true taste of classic Austin music, make a point to stop by the legendary Continental Club on South Congress Avenue – an old blue-collar bar that’s stood the test of time since it opened its doors in 1955. There, you can catch three shows per day on the weekends, with the earliest kicking off at 3:30 pm, or two nightly shows on weeknights. Or two-step your way down South First Street into one of the oldest dance halls in Central Texas: The Broken Spoke, where even Willie Nelson himself has been known to jump onstage from time to time.
Over on East Riverside, Emo’s boasts a show calendar filled with popular acts like Billie Eilish, Blood Orange, and FKJ. For an intimate backyard-style show with friendly fans and laid-back atmosphere on the eastside, check the Historic Scoot Inn’s show schedule for tickets, or head to the Sahara Lounge or Skylark Lounge for some real-deal rhythm and blues.
Popup Shows and Music Festivals
For music lovers, it’s virtually impossible not to catch some live music in Austin, thanks to the abundance of local venues both typical and unexpected. From live sets at grocery stores to buskers on busy sidewalks and acoustic live music performances at the airport, there’s never a shortage of sonic entertainment. In addition to South By Southwest in March and Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, there’s a never-ending list of festivals, popup shows, and special events held year-round.
In other words, it’s never a bad time to head to the Live Music Capital of the World and see it live up to its name.
To plan your next musical adventure in Austin, book your stay at a Hilton and check local listings to find the best live shows during your visit.