Best Live Music in Austin

By September 4, 2019Austin, Live music

Sure, Austin is known for South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits, two of the nation’s most iconic annual music festivals. But what about good ole’ regular, everyday music shows? In a city that boasts being the Live Music Capital of the World, where are the best spots to hang with friends, grab a drink and hear some talented performers throughout the year?

Consider any of the following as some of Austin’s best music venues. Many are free, many are themed and all are ready to satisfy your live-performance whims any day of the week.

Austin’s Top Live Music Venues

These venues make Austin a live performance mecca for new and transplanted Austinites alike, plus the music-loving tourists who flock to the city year-round.

1. The Continental Club

A list of Austin’s musical must-sees would be incomplete without the Continental Club.

For nearly seven decades, this South Congress spot has held a gravitational pull over some of the best free and ticketed shows in the entire city. Owner Steve Wertheimer — who also manages a few other prime music venues on this list — revamped the club from its swanky supper club roots to be the multi-genre, nationally acclaimed music hub it is today.

The Continental Club hosts performances every week. Blues, roots, rockabilly, country, classic rock and more blast from its central stage, which has seen the likes of everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan to The Replacements. You can’t miss it walking down South Congress Avenue. The neon-sign decked entrance beckons to all, casting those who pass by in its warm glow.

Stretch your legs by touring the Continental Club’s Gallery, located on the second floor. The Gallery serves as one part booking ledger and one part museum, showcasing the Club’s history through some of its most memorable sets’ merchandise. You’ll rub elbows with tourists and locals alike here, each soaking in the Continental Club’s memorable music-history aura.

2. Kenny Dorham’s Backyard

Stepping into Kenny Dorham’s is like stepping into the backyard of its namesake, the legendary jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham, whose home still stands just down the road.

The outdoor venue is a cultural and historical landmark in East Austin. Its musical offerings reflect that, preserving the African-American music scene that contributed so much to the ethos of East Austin. You’ll hear jazz, soul, blues, rhythm and even gospel on any given night, the notes floating through the open-air venue as you sit under the umbrella-lined picnic tables or in your own lawn chair.

Kenny Dorham’s Backyard also serves as a multidisciplinary space for other artistic and social activities. The lot hosts food trucks, art stalls, formal neighborhood celebrations and much more, notably on the weekends.

3. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q

Stubb’s Bar-B-Qin the Downtown Red River District has it all — great food, great drinks, great history and, of course, great live music, served up nearly every night alongside its full bar and storied kitchen.

Its parent location in Lubbock became a near-instant performance hub back in the 1970s, hosting sets like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and the Muddy Waters. These performers would “play for their supper,” because even famous musicians can’t pass up a plate of Stubbs’ homestyle, hickory-smoked, Texas-style barbecue. Who can blame them?

Check out the outdoor amphitheater for the best lineups. Stubb’s stage setup carries great sight-lines and surprisingly crisp sound quality for an outdoor space, made even better with a smoked brisket sandwich in your belly.

4. Empire Control Room & Garage

Sure, the Empire Control Room may have been initially built for SXSW. Yet there was no way Austin residents were going to let this three-stage venue space sit idle for most of the year.

Empire Control Room now hosts shows nearly every night in its interior Garage stage and its Control Room. Performances lean on the contemporary side, including nationally touring headliners in hip-hop, R&B, electronic, indie, and alternative. Yet you’ll also get your healthy dose local up-and-coming talent. Empire Control Room & Garage even put on specific “vibe” nights — themed showcases dedicated to a particular genre of music.

If your ears need a break from the warehouse-style acoustics inside, pop out to their waterside patio. Just be wary — that’s where stage number three can be found.

5. The Parish

Hint, hint, wink, wink — the Parish likes to call itself Sixth Street’s little secret — which is surprising, given Austin’s sixth street is too loud and boisterous to have secrets of any size.

The Parish’s hideaway aura comes more from its location, tucked away rather inconspicuously on the second floor near Voodoo Doughnuts. The interior ambiance does enhance this hideaway reputation, though. Charcoal walls and a black-beamed ceiling are broken only by a few peripheral tables and chairs, with the Parish’s bar tucked off to the side.

The focus here is on the music. Expect an unpretentious, intimate and standing-room-only atmosphere with a small stage drawing your attention. Acts include all genres of music, from reggae to pop-funk to singer-songwriters with their beloved guitars. Most shows here are general admission, so things can get cozy. But hey, that’s half the fun.

6. “First Thursday” at South Congress Hotel

Every first Thursday of the month, South Congress Hotel in South-Central Austin hosts a free concert in its picturesque, upscale courtyard. The event also features drink specials and a pre- and post-show DJ, making it the perfect mixer for you and your music-loving friends.

If you get hungry, simply walk to any of the hotel’s three adjoining restaurants and cafe. We like Cafe No Se for an easy bite. You can also gain entrance to the VIP pool area during South Congress Hotel’s First Thursdays, where you can enjoy music while sprawled out on your inflatable floaty. While the crowd here tends to skew younger and the music pop and electronic, you’ll still experience a one-of-a-kind music venue in a city obsessed with good live music.

7. The Broken Spoke

Few places in Austin scream Texas as loudly as the Broken Spoke. A classic Texas dance hall, the venue is unmistakable in its little slice of Lamar Boulevard, with its red shiplap exterior, vintage Coca-Cola signs and plenty of hung wheel spokes making a statement to anyone passing by.

Head to the backroom where the real fun takes place. A large, center dance floor gives patrons plenty of room to partner up as authentic honky-tonk gets played on the nearby stage. You won’t find anything but this flavor of country music at the Broken Spoke, and it won’t be changing anytime soon. We wouldn’t want them to, anyway. How else will we master our two-step?

8. Carousel Lounge

There’s no place quite like the Carousel Lounge — and no performance venue helping keep Austin as weird as this live music sanctuary.

Dedicated to all things circus, the Carousel Lounge greets visitors with wall-to-wall murals depicting lions, tigers, and bears — oh my! Candy-red booths and bar chairs line the walkway to the back-of-house stage, where an eclectic assortment of local Austin musicians do their thing. And, of course, there’s the signature carousel of the Carousel Lounge, looping beneath its blue striped tent right there behind the bar.

Come for the quirky decor, stay for the music, but bring along your own liquor. The Carousel Lounge sells beer and wine, but spirits are on you.

9. Cheer Up Charlies

Cheer Up Charlies will, indeed, perk up anyone who passes through its doors.

The hippie-aesthetic, LGBTQ-friendly bar and music venue offers up fresh-pressed juices, kombucha, and booze to guests, but with a moody twist. Its dim interior is lit up primarily from a sprawling psychedelic mural that frames its inner stage, where bright lights and beaming acoustics bring the space to life.

Yet the real treat lies in Cheer Up Charlies breezy back patio, complete with an even bigger stage tucked inside a natural limestone cliff. Live performers can be found here nightly, mostly local talent ranging from arthouse rap to experimental new wave to indie rock. Cheer Up Charlies is an inviting, warm and atmospheric space blending the urban with nature — just like it’s ready to blend elderflower with your gin.

10. Scoot Inn

The quirky corner bar Scoot Inn has been an Austin watering hole since 1871. That makes it the oldest continually running bar in Central Texas, not to mention an East Austin staple known for its history, warm ambiance and nightly musical performances.

The Scoot Inn features live music on its indoor and outdoor stage every night. Performances tend to be in the rock and indie vein, ranging from soulful acoustic renderings to head-tossing, body-tingling experimental synth.

The drinks aren’t anything to complain about, either. The Scoot Inn serves an impressive array of cocktails, craft beers and even rotating wines on tap for reasonable prices. Plenty of the Inn’s shows are free, and the outdoor patio, in particular, boasts one of the best spots in town to kick back, jam and dance with friends.

11. The Backyard Amphitheater

A night out in West Austin might just be incomplete without a stop at the iconic Backyard Amphitheater.

Tucked fittingly between Willie Way and Stevie Ray Boulevard in picturesque Hills Country, the Backyard Amphitheater brings county music and classic rock to an outdoor, festival-style venue. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets to set up on the Amphitheater’s pit-style general seating, then crack open an ice-cold beer to fully settle into the upbeat atmosphere.

For the best sight-lines, you can also purchase VIP preferred seating as well as stake out a spot in one of the Backyard Amphitheater’s three skyboxes. We’re partial to getting here early and staying late, soaking in the full lineup of true Texas sounds strumming from the stage.

12. Skylark Lounge

Skylark Lounge knows itself — and doesn’t compromise for anyone.

Considered one of the best spots in the city for live blues, Skylark Lounge is the place to be when you’re in the mood for a cool, cozy and unpretentious atmosphere. The touch of Austin quirk keeping things interesting doesn’t hurt, either.

The dive-bar atmosphere sits tucked away into Austin’s Eastside and bears many of the neighborhood tells that goes with that. You get the picnic-table lined outdoor patio with the almost basement-like darkness of the bar’s interior, complete with an intimate stage near the building’s rear. Visitors sit around metal-lined tables and chairs facing the stage. You can also dip to Skylark’s backroom for a quick game of pool — though we doubt you’ll stay there too long with the caliber of blues music present in the next room.

Skylark Lounge is also BYOB, though wine and beer are sold at the bar. Bring friends then make friends at this one-of-a-kind Austin music venue.

13. The White Horse

Grab your cowboy boots, things are about to get totally Texan — you’ve entered the White Horse, and that means you’ve entered the “whiskey-slingin'” capital of Austin’s bar scene, complete with live country music and a whole lot of other shenanigans every single night.

Locals and tourists alike flock to the White Horse to get their honky-tonk fix. The White Horse sticks with local country talent plus roots rock, southern folk and the occasional swing band happy to serenade you through a two-step. Get a drink from their whiskeys on tap, then mosey over to red velvet curtained stage where, sure, you may feel like you’ve stumbled onto the Twin Peaks’ Red Room set. Or you may just have the night of your life.

The White Horse also holds a fantastic weekday happy hour plus bar games and special events. They also offer free two-step dance lessons for those of us looking to fine-tune our Texas street cred. Step outside for a quick bite between line dances — Bomb Tacos food truck sits right outside, serving goodies till bar close.

14. The Elephant Room

Like jazz? Like basements? Like a quieter, contemporary reprieve from the boisterous bustle of Downtown Austin? Then the Elephant Room has your name all over it.

Serving 365 nights of jazz in the Capital City, this basement dig has been hosting everything from avant-garde to Dixieland to fusion jazz sounds since opening in the early 1990s. Its weekday happy hour shows are almost always free, but even weekends are worth the gentle cover charge to make your way into the underground club for total jazz immersion. And while the venue is small, that’s part of the charm. Arrive early to nab precious table real estate near the stage, then hunker down with a drink or two while some of the city’s best jazz musicians carry you away.

15. Vulcan Gas Company

There’s no pumping the brakes on this one. Vulcan Gas Company charges full-steam ahead when it comes to defining live-music clubbing on central Sixth Street in Downtown Austin.

The two-floor, nearly 10,000-square-foot bar, and club boast nightly live bands and DJ sets for guests to let loose to. Some of the area’s top electronic talent shows off their sounds on a body-tingling Funktion-One sound system. No worries if the pounding base becomes too much, though. Simply step outside to Vulcan Gas Company’s outdoor terrace green, where the music still wafts through the walls but the ambiance levels down a notch, letting you sip cocktails and hold a conversation with your friends.

Enjoy the neon steampunk decor, open dancefloor and nightly drink specials at this one-of-a-kind Austin club in the heart of the city’s nightlife.

16. Geraldine’s

Geraldine’s is a gem of a live music spot. Located on the ground floor of Austin’s Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt, it’s the perfect triple threat venue featuring good food, good cocktails and great live music highlighting local talent every single night.

The swanky spot is also one of the city’s most picturesque musical venues, barely a stone’s throw away from Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River. Head to their rooftop bar to sit under a cozy cabana and get the full waterfront views while sipping a craft beer or cocktail. Your drink will likely be locally inspired, too, since Geraldine’s is highly committed to supporting area ingredients and alcohol brands. They have a live music show nearly every night around 9:30 or 10:30 p.m., with sounds ranging from crooning blues to soulful acoustic to arthouse hip hop featuring some of Austin’s best homegrown headliners.

17. The Highball

They say there’s always something to do at the Highball. Turns out, they’re not wrong.

This plush, red-and-leather accented bar offers more to do in a single night than some establishments do all week. Start your eve in one of the Highball’s themed karaoke rooms, singing smash hits with your friends while a server delivers seasonally inspired cocktails or draft beers from the Highball’s rotating 24 taps. Wander into the main bar afterward for another round while listening to Motown, country and classic rock from the city’s top performers on the Highball’s main stage. Then stick around till the tables clear and the dancing starts.

The Highball also hosts some of Austin’s most memorable weekly bar events, including numerous themed trivia nights that have garnered a city-wide reputation of their own. In short, you’re in high spirits at the Highball, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

18. The Little Longhorn Saloon

The only “little” thing about the Little Longhorn Saloon might be its square footage. Yet that doesn’t stop this Austin dive bar from delivering top-tier live music and events six nights a week right in the core of the city’s Northwest corner.

The Little Longhorn Saloon hosts a minimum of 10 bands a week for free shows and dances. They commit to never charging a cover, and you commit to musical acts covering classic rock-and-roll, country, folk, rockabilly and more. Happy hour specials keep draft beers flowing at under $2 a pint, while you have your choice of sitting inside near the stage or cooling off out on the backyard patio.

Yet few things beat the Little Longhorn Saloon on a Sunday night. That’s when they host their infamous Chicken Shit Bingo — a bingo game featuring real-life chickens let loose from their back-patio coops. We’ll let your imagination fill in the rest of the game’s details. Or you can show up and see for yourself.

19. C-Boy’s Heart & Soul

There’s more than heart and soul that goes into C-Boy’s in South-Central Austin. Since its opening in 2014, the bar and lounge has been delivering free jukebox rock, soul, blues, and R&B shows to music-loving Austinites seven nights a week.

The dimly lit first floor mixes neighborhood dive with juke-joint aesthetics, featuring a generous cocktail menu and the tinsel-curtained musical stage. Yet the real gem is upstairs. Head to the second-floor Jade Room for a speakeasy atmosphere styled after 1940s and 1950s GI bars, complete with pin-up posters, retro neon signs, and vintage shuffleboard tables.

C-Boy’s Heart & Soul is a welcoming, warm and atmospheric joint ready to serve anyone a good time. The fact that its blues and soul nights are some of the best live music in all of Austin is just the cherry on top.

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