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With its well-earned moniker of ‘live music capital of the world’ and endless dive bars, we defy you to get to bed early in Austin

It’s late on my final night in Austin and I know I should go back to my hotel. For once, I think, it would be nice to get on a plane without a hangover. But this is not to be. East Austin’s dive bars are far too beguiling for that.

This once-Hispanic neighbourhood of small, one-storey buildings is now one of Austin’s hippest enclaves; eclectic, sometimes-shabby bars, cafes, restaurants and food trailers line a street that is, by day, a laid-back place to drink a coffee and, by night, a music-filled playground. 

In the no-frills live music bar Hotel Vegas, I watch post-punk band Crooked Bangs, the female frontwoman all tousled hair, tattoos and eyes rolling back in her head. They’re followed onto the tiny stage by Los Vigilantes, whose beer-spitting, cape-wearing energy turns the front of the crowd into a stumbling mosh pit.

Down the road, in the brilliantly named Cheer Up Charlies – which with its pastel, rainbow-painted exterior, looks like a childrens’ nursery where your kids just might be fed acid – electro act Brute Force play an ear-splitting set while outside, under a parachute strung with coloured lights, people sit and drink beers.

I leave and follow my ears around the corner to the cavernous White Horse, packed with folk of all ages, many in rockabilly ensemble, dancing or boozing to Americana band The Bellfuries. 

It is music, of course – diverse, varying wildly in quality but always on offer – on which Austin has built its reputation, exemplified by the epic annual South By Southwest music festival in April, at which upwards of 2000 acts play at venues across the city.

“Live music capital of the world” is one of Austin’s self-awarded tag lines (the other is “Keep Austin Weird”) and, after a few days here, rarely finding myself more than a stone’s throw from live music in some form or other, I’ll go with that.

Austin is small (population about 820,000) and it’s easy to find your niche. Further along 6th Street, on the other side of a freeway flyover, Magaluf-esque student madness reigns: girls dancing with glow sticks, bucking broncos and commercial dance music entice (or otherwise) patrons into shoulder-to-shoulder venues and people spill out of the bars onto the street.

In Austin’s centre, the beautiful, historic Paramount Theatre is definitely worth a visit and I spend one night listening to the exquisite Kat Edmonson, a critically acclaimed jazz singer who launched her career here in this very city.

Arguably the most important music venue in Austin, however, is Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater, a state-of-the-art, 2700-person space in which America’s cult music TV series Austin City Limits is filmed. ACL Live is “the jewel in Austin’s crown,” says assistant general manager Gary Rushworth.

He is understandably proud of the venue and, with his lifetime career in rock’n’roll (that he once drove Slash down the central reservation of a motorway on the way to a Guns N’ Roses concert seals it for me), he should know. A constant roster of big name bands play ACL (from Al Green to Jay-Z), but up-and-coming acts are also given a platform and at any given gig you might just be hearing the next big thing. 


Leftfield Austin: the 'live music capital of the world'
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