Fitness in Austin, Part I: An Introduction

Words by Blair Waller

I began a search for the fittest cities in America. As I trolled through copious amounts of data, articles and opinion pieces, one question kept surfacing: What external factors contribute most to the health of its citizens? I considered the following key contributing factors.town lake biking

Weather

Conventional thinking would tell you that sunshine was a major factor. You’d think warm-ish weather year round would encourage folks to get out and enjoy activities in the sun. Additionally, the crop season is longer, allowing fruits and vegetables to be grown locally and be available in greater abundance.

Let’s take a look at USA Today’s 2013 article of “Fittest Cities in America” vs. “Most Un-fit Cities in America”.  By my rough count (and without going into a complex analysis of what constitutes a “warm” vs. “cold” city), out of the top 25 fittest cities, only 25% are situated in warmer climates. Surprisingly, the vast majority are situated in climates I would consider frigid, such as Baltimore, Hartford, Salt Lake City, Buffalo and Minneapolis. By contrast, using the same approximate measure, roughly 60% of the most unfit cities were found in warmer climates, such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and Jacksonville. So much for that theory.

Activities

Does the number of lakes and rivers in proximity play a part? How about proximity to the ocean? Are there mountains nearby, offering beautiful landscapes for exploration? Perhaps hosting an annual marathon would encourage its citizens to embark on the physical challenge.

Using the same data points as before, as well as the same general, not-so-scientific approach, I found that this factor was less than absolute as well. Roughly 48% of fit cities were close in proximity to oceans, lakes and prominent rivers (at least those conducive to physical activity). In contrast, roughly the same percentage of unfit cities had similar access to those same features. Not as glaring results as before but still far from conclusive.

Food

To borrow the old adage, you are what you eat. I fully endorse this concept as fundamental to well being. When I eat fast and processed foods, the gratification is immediate and the consequences negative – fatigue, lowered self-esteem, weight gain, and so forth. On the other hand, when consuming fresh, well-rounded meals, I feel leaner, more energetic and sharper mentally. If we can agree on this concept, we can all agree that the types of food most readily available to a population, the more fit they will be.

Once again using the data points and method, let’s look at the have’s and the have not’s with regards to a healthy culinary culture. This one is a little more complex to breakdown but by my rough count, there was little difference between the fit and unfit in terms of culinary culture. Roughly one-third of each are cities I would consider high on food culture with the likes of Seattle, Portland, New York and San Francisco on the healthy side, compared with Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami and Chicago on the unhealthy end of the spectrum. Basically, each of these cities has similar access to an abundance of healthy options whereas the others, in both lists, possess less access.

There is little doubt that each of the above plays a significant role in society’s collective health. Furthermore, we can assume that the greater the combination and/or extent of each factor, the healthier the respective population. In other words, it’s not enough to possess a single factor (say, warm weather) and severely lack in others. Like a healthy lifestyle itself, it takes the right balance. With a healthy lifestyle, it’s the balance of food and exercise along with consistency. For example, smaller meals over time versus mounds of healthy foods at once or 30 minutes of activity per day versus a 4 hour weight lifting session on Friday. So, balance and time wins the race (and shrinks the waist line!).

The natural question that came to mind was this: How does Austin rank among the fittest and least fit in the United States? Furthermore, what does Austin have to offer within each category – Weather, Activities and Food?b&l jogging town lake

I believe we can cover the first, weather, in a couple sentences. It’s hot in the summer which, unless you’re into the steam room approach of perspiring your weight down, is conducive to staying in the AC. The winters are nice and cool but it’s not like we have mountains and winter activities nearby. In summation, Austin’s climate itself doesn’t do its population any huge favors. If it’s OK with you, we’re going to close the books on that one. Plus, the analysis above didn’t exactly offer any windows of curiosity.

Before we tackle Activities and Food, let’s first explore how Austin ranks among the nation’s fittest. Apparently, this is a popular subject among the leading publications. Take in the following.

  • ACSM American Fitness Index (2011, 2013): Austin ranked #16 in 2011 and jumped to #11 in 2013. This appears to be the most official of all rankings as I found numerous other publications citing the results.
  • TIME Magazine’s “Fittest U.S. Cities” (2013): Austin chimes in at #11. They note that, “Residents in cities with the highest rankings tended to have higher levels of physical activity and low rates of heart disease and diabetes. They also had more parks per capita as well as advanced state requirements for physical education classes.”
  • Forbes’ “Top 10 Fittest Cities in America” (2010): Austin secures the #10 spot in ’10. They say, “Austin has a high number of parks and pools per capita–and low rates of asthma and heart disease.”
  • Men’s Fitness “Fittest and Fattest Cities in America”: Austin stakes claim to #12 in the “Fit” end of the spectrum. Of note, “In Austin, 31.1% of residents are cardio fanatics.”
  • Travel + Leisure’s “America’s Fittest Cities” (2010): Austin’s highest ranking I could find at #3. They attribute the following to the rank, “Austin’s collective creative energy may be strong enough to burn calories all on its own. Hopefully its slip from the #2 spot last year is only temporary. Take a dragon boat out on Lady Bird Lake, a Colorado River reservoir. Or, if weather permits, go for a dip in nearby Barton Springs.”
  • Facebook’s “Fittest Cities in America” (2013): In this unofficially official list, Austin chimes in at #3, stating that the city is the nation leader in yoga.

Not a bad showing for a city situated within a state where “everything is bigger”, surrounded by the some of the most unfit cities in the nation – San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be investigating the aforementioned outstanding topics – Activity and Food – with the view to determining exactly how Austin ranks among the fittest cities in the nation.

Consider this Part One, an introduction, of Three. We here at LIVIN Austin will see you next week. Until then, take care and go for a jog or something.

jogging town lake

Top 10 Activities To Do With The Kids in Austin

Words by Blair Waller

 

I do not have kids. As such, I imagine your first impression to be something along the lines of, “What in the world would he have to say of value about the top activities to do with children? Clearly he has no frame of reference. You never know what it’s like having kids until you have one of your own. I’m exiting this article immediately and going back to Facebook.”

This would be a valid reaction. I understand – it makes sense. I’d even say there was a lot of truth to it. But bear with me for at least one more paragraph.

I spoke with my brother the other day regarding some future weekend plans. He has 2 boys, my nephews, aged 2 and 4. They live up near Fort Worth. As a result, when discussing weekend plans, we must account for the kids, obviously. Now, I may not fully understand being a parent just yet, but I do fully understand what it’s like not having kids, being able to dress up, go out on the town, have dinner, a few drinks and engage in adult conversations. Thus, I understand that although their 2 boys are the light of their life, my brother and sister-in-law might benefit from a few hours alone together like the good ole’ days. So, when they venture down to Austin, I’m quick to volunteer a helping hand. (Before I bruise my back from patting too hard, it does help that our mom lives in Austin as well so she carries most of the load but that’s beside this point.) Moving on.

Given this scenario, I want to entertain my nephews. I realize I can’t take them along in my normal course of affairs, frequenting bars and restaurants and live music venues and so forth (I know, I’m a genius). When considering various youth-oriented activities, I have high standards. This standard is not set by myself but rather by my nephews (and the parenting of my brother and sister-in-law, of course). These kids are more adjusted, intelligent, cultured, courteous and thoughtful than most adults I know. Seriously. I have to be on my best behavior around them.

Me and the nephews out and about in Austin

Me and the nephews out and about in Austin

That being said, I don’t want to merely occupy them for the afternoon. If that were the case, I’d take them to Chuck-E-Cheese and be done with it. I’m sure they’d have fun and maybe even recall the time later in childhood, “Remember the time Uncle Blair took us to eat pizza and watch the creepy puppet band play awkward music?”  No thanks. I want to make it something they’ll remember and appreciate and perhaps even learn from.  Like I said, my nephews have standards and I don’t intend to let them down. At the same time, I don’t want to go all Walter Cronkite on them. A little fun along the way never hurt.

With that as the rub, here are LIVIN Austin’s “Top 10 Activities in Austin To Do With The Kids”.

 

 

 

 

Zilker Parkzilker

ZIlker Park is referred to as the “jewel in the heart of Austin.” The list of activities is not limited to age but there is one notable aspect that caters directly to the kids: The Zilker Zephyr Mini Train. Besides having a really cool name, the attraction is an excellent means of experiencing the “jewel” as the ride meanders throughout the park during the 25-minute tour. Along the way, you’ll chug along Lady Bird Lake, Barton Creek and the expanse of varied forestry. Instead of walking and hearing complaints of tired feet, you’ll get to kick back and relax as the kids experience a slice of early 20th century America.

 

Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuaryzoo

The Austin Zoo began as a mere goat ranch before evolving into an animal shelter of sorts for animals in need. Over the years, as “roadside zoos” gained in popularity, the zoo collected one exotic animal after another to form the animal oasis we enjoy today. I don’t know too many kids that wouldn’t be thrilled to catch sight of an African lion, a Bengal tiger, cougars, lemurs, black bears and even a binturong, which looks like a cross between a badger, an otter and a wolf. And that’s just the start. This is truly an experience the kids (or you!) will not soon forget.

 

Peter Pan Mini Golfpeter pan

My father taught me that golf is the most transparent view toward a man’s character. Golf is a test that challenges and exposes one’s composure under pressure, risk aversion, patience, focus, discipline and etiquette. A great way to begin these lessons is through mini golf, and there’s no better place in Austin than historic Peter Pan to do so. Chances are, you won’t miss it while driving past on Barton Springs, as the larger-than-life statue of the boy himself (Peter Pan) looms proud.

 

Austin Children’s Museumchildren's museum

Following the lessons in mini-golf etiquette, hop over to the Austin’s Children’s Museum located downtown. The museum is an incubator for young and curious minds, equally balancing fun and education. The kids will enjoy the scientific aspect in the “Think.Do.Make” exhibit, learn the basics of architecture in the “Funstruction Zone”, gain insight into sociology with the “Global City” area, and understand the value of recycling in the Design Center, where kids create works of art from recycled materials. Be sure to check periodically for various events and programs as they are as frequent as they are rich.

 

Café Monetcafe monet

Welcome to the “paint your own pottery and mosaic studio.” Here, you and the kids can tap into your creative genius to make fully functional pottery, fused glass and mosaics. A good time to visit would be in the months leading up to Christmas, where you can craft those personalized gifts that loved ones will appreciate both aesthetically and functionally. That’s a win-win-win situation.

 

 

Dinosaur Park in Cedar Creekdinosaur

While the Dino Park is a little off the beaten path, it is well worth the trip to see these life-like creatures in their “natural habitat.” Measures have been taken to create a similar environment to that of the dinosaurs 150 million years ago. With that added layer of reality, the kids are sure to be fascinated in the prehistoric study. In fact, the very genesis of the park was borne out of one family’s curiosity into the subject. You can even indulge in a fossil dig!

 

Scottish Rite Children’s Theatrescottish rite

Granted, this one is hardly a no-brainer as it is perhaps a little high brow for many children. That being the case, it might be a good idea to slip this one in after a long and exhausting day in the sun, where the kiddos will be tuckered out and more than willing to finally sit down in an air conditioned setting. Whatever the case, this 19th century opera house performs plays of the highest caliber. At the moment, they’re showing “Charlotte’s Web”, which is one I wouldn’t mind catching. While attending this “Family Show”, you may inquire about their educational programs and summer camps. Who knows, maybe you have an aspirational actor or actress on your hands.

 

Jumpolinejumpoline

On the surface, this seems like a very straightforward concept. While that is true, Jumpoline takes it to a whole new level. With gigantic slides, bounce houses, obstacle courses and the longest stretch of trampoline I’ve ever encountered…multiplied by 10. One of Jumpoline’s core values is exercise, saying kids burn 600 to 1,000 calories per hour while jumping. I’m certain you’re more likely to convince the young ones to spend a couple hours here over, say, jogging, so that’s a plus.

 

Foodie Kidsfoodie

It is never too early to get children interested in cooking. At Foodie Kids, the little ones will learn the basics of baking, preparation, decorating and, ahem, clean up! With age group specific classes ranging from 1.5 to 12, you’re certain to find you and your child’s niche in the kitchen. They even offer holiday classes as well as manners workshops for kids that aren’t “big on social graces” as they put it. After having college roommates who weren’t quite sure how to fry an egg or toast bread, this is a habit that will pay dividends for their lifetime.

 

 

Rolly Pollies

rolly pollie

I would call this place “inspired fun”. While specializing in the gymnastics arena, Rolly Pollies also offers creative arts and music programs. On the physical side of development, they offer training in hand/foot-eye coordination, jumping/landing and other fundamental skills. Then on the intellectual side, kids are encouraged to practice their creativity through arts & crafts, language development and socialization among many others. More of a longer-term, sustainable option, Rolly Pollies is an investment well spent.

 

 

Now that you’ve received a non-expert’s opinion, feel free to add or elaborate or subtract where you see fit. Whether or not I have kids someday remains to be seen but for now, I plan on being the best uncle I can be. Whether I need all the help I can get, I’ll let you decide.

The Top 10 Museums (and Related Areas of Cultural Interest) in Austin

Words by Blair Waller

After reading a few LIVIN Austin’s articles, you might get the impression that we’re biased toward the city in which we reside. And you’d probably be correct – we are maybe, kinda, sorta a little tiny bit biased. We like to think it’s not hard to be. We live in a great city and we try our best to help you, our readers, make the most of your experience while you’re here, however long that may be. That, and we’d like to have a little fun along the way as we eat hamburgers, drink margaritas, attend shows and dive head first into the outdoors. It’s all in a day’s work.

One truth we absolutely practice, above all else, is to tell it like it is. We gather our facts and present them as they are. It’s that simple.

Having said that, we’re not afraid to admit when we’re not in the top tier of a given area. That is the case this week as we discuss the Top 10 Museums (and Related Areas of Cultural Interest). It’s true that Austin hails in comparison to the likes of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego or Charleston when it comes to museums, both in quantity and quality. While Austin might be one of the more cultural diverse cities in America, it doesn’t seem to prove it in the form of official architectural structures and the physical contents within. It simply isn’t our strong suit for whatever reason.

After swallowing that humble pill, we will say that we are not a dearth on the subject. Furthermore, we might even say that it’s not that we have a severe lack of museums but that they’re just overshadowed by other areas of interest, namely live music, the outdoors, BBQ and festivals. Ask a long time local how many museums they’ve visited and chances are, they’ll hold up less fingers than when throwing a peace sign. It appears museums might not be our “thing.” Or that we just have too many other “things.”

While that last paragraph wasn’t as motivational as Johnny “Mox” Moxon’s halftime speech in Varsity Blues, we hope it might be enough encouragement for you to at least consider visiting the official cultural side of Austin. Besides, as we’re now deeply ensconced in August, it might be a formidable alternative to get out of house and escape the heat. You can’t go to Barton Springs every day.

We present to you, dear Austinites and visitors alike, the Top 10 Museums (and Related Areas of Cultural Interest) in the city.

Bob Bullock Story of Texas Museumbullock

If you’ve ever needed to brush up on the “Story of Texas”, head to the heart of downtown on North Congress, at the corner of MLK and between the UT campus and the Capitol. The museum was created at the hands of Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and opened its doors in 2001. Since then, it has become one of the most popular attractions in Central Texas.

The museum, a division of the State Preservation Board, is divided into 3 main floors:

Floor 1 – “Land”

Many have walked these hills, deserts, coasts and level lands over the last 11,000 years. This section displays that history, detailing the lives of all those that hung their hats for a time. The first to settle were the Native Peoples, whose lifestyle is interpreted by way of art (pottery, jewelry), defense (weapons) and spirit (descriptions of customs, beliefs). Then came the clash with European settlers from France and Spain, hell bent on claiming the New World as their own. A prominent feature of this period was the scientific and cultural advances made to ensure a sustained existence in this harsh landscape. The next period chronicles life in the 19th century, the high and low times of the pioneers plus the mapping of the area known as Big Bend. See how the people shaped the land we stand on today.

Floor 2 – “Identity”

Picking up where the ground floor left off, this section details the leaders, soldiers and citizens that defended and maintained order in Texas. Learn about the battles, wars, treaties through hand written letters, diaries and other artifacts of those that wrote the books. Then gain an understanding of how the state sustained the Great Depression as they promoted their way of life, “the west”, to eventual visitors. Texas was a mystery at this stage and this section pulls the curtains on the enigma.

Floor 3 – “Opportunity”

Have you ever wondered about the genesis of the “Reel Hollywood Cowboys”, Japanese rice farmers of the Gulf Coast, the discovery of oil at Spindletop and the growth of the industry thereafter, flight technology of WWII, and NASA console from the Manned Flight Center? This final section tells the fascinating story of modern day Texas.

After you’ve soaked in the history of Texas, it might be time to slip into the IMAX theater to relax and view some of the finest documentaries on the market. All in all, the Bob Bullock museum will leave you with a heightened sense of identity in this state that came to be known as Texas.

LBJ Library and Museumlbj

We all know the name but would you say you know the man? LBJ was no doubt Texas’ most notable politician and that fact merely scratches the surface. He was a person of influence in all aspects of life in Texas, as detailed in the permanent exhibits:

The Legacy Gallery – View the impact LBJ had on our everyday lives including the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts. These are fruits of his vision of a Great Society.

November 22, 1963 – One of the more important dates in American history, the day more commonly referred to as the assassination of JFK, but also the inauguration of LBJ. This tells the story of that day in Dallas.

Social Justice Gallery – Features telephone calls, artifacts and pictures that documented the President’s influence in the arts, beautification, education and poverty.

The Presidential Limousine – Weighing 5,100 pounds, this vehicle shows how LBJ got from A to B. Believe it or not, the thing had a TV but lacked defensive measures such as armory, bullet-proof glass or any sort of bomb proofing. A sight to see, for sure.

Oval Office – The most prominent room in America, “only” at 7/8th the size, this recreation is a view into the routine life of the President.

The White House Years – The gifts, some lavish while some humble, that LBJ and Lady Bird received while in office.

The Store at LBJ – Pick yourself up a piece of history on your way out!

Either before or after your visit to the museum, stop by the library and flip through particular areas of interests. The experience will certainly have your mind turning pages with vigor.

Texas Music Museumtx music museum 2

Situated less than a block east of I-35, this venue focuses on the faces and sounds that made Austin the “Live Music Capital of the World.” The museum’s mission is to share the history of music as it relates to the town of Austin, through its diverse traditions of Texas music. The tale begins as far back as the Native Americans and continues to traditional “cowboy songs” before covering the German sing societies and Mexican American bands. The story continues to cover early gospel, jazz, blues and country and the genius behind the tunes. The museum is the product of 25 years of research and documentation of volunteers dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of life and music in the area.

This growing, “living” exhibit is a work in progress. Their vision includes the construction of a 10,000 square foot structure that includes classrooms, a gift shop and an array of exhibit. Keep your ear to the hum of this organization.

Austin Nature and Science Center

This organization is on a mission to preserve the natural environment of the city and its surroundings. Austin is known to be one of the more forward-thinking cities when in comes to “green” culture and the ANSC is the lifeblood of this movement. Located on the edge of Zilker Park, the center sports Wildlife Exhibits, a Dino Pit, a Naturalist Workshop and Trade Counter and a variety of education centers, schools and programs. If you’re interested in joining the effort to preserve the beauty of Austin, this is your spot.

Austin Museum of Artaustin museum of art

If you’re more of an art lover than an outdoors person, head to one of the two (or both!) of Contemporary Austin’s locations. Both venues – one on Congress and the other on West 35th – are renowned for their multi-disciplinary exhibitions, programs and special events. The exhibitions are in constant rotation so be sure to check periodically for areas of particular interest. Same goes for the events – we have our eye on Le Dolce Vita Food & Wine Festival this October 24th.  There is a myriad of ways to get involved. You may join the Contemporary Alliance, Corporate Membership, Collectors, Corporate Underwriting or simply just donate. Art is important – get involved.

Elisabet Ney Museumelisabet

Elisabet Ney was Austin’s most culturally significant artist. Her path to Austin was not exactly of the “born and raised” type, however. Born in Munster, Germany, Ney studied sculpture and other techniques throughout Europe. In 1871, she moved to Georgia to raise her child before travelling west to Texas. It is in Texas where she famously proclaimed, “Here will I live. And here will I die!” If that isn’t a Texas romance, I’m not sure what is.

You may experience Ney’s fascinating journey through her actual studio, the Formosa. It is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places. The stunning beauty of the architecture is second only to the works within. You will find historically classic pieces composed in late 19th Europe, including portraits of Otto von Bismarck, King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Arthur Schopenhauer to name a few. If you’re looking for inspiration of not only art, but life, swing by East 44th Street

Mexic-Arte Museummexic-art museum

Founded in 1984, this spot has been integral in the efforts to preserve Mexican American art and culture. In fact, it has been tapped as the Official Mexican Fine Art Museum of Texas by the 78th Legislature. Merely step inside the entry way and you’ll quickly find this is an extraordinary experience. This is a venue most enjoyed with little preface. Enter and you will not regret you did.

Texas Natural Science Centertx science center

An extension of the University of Texas, the TNSC is at the forefront of evolutionary research. Its exhibits contain 5.7 million specimens that focus on life, evolution, rocks, minerals and Texas Wildlife. While all the other museums focus on a max of, say, a thousand years, this one spans millions. Exhibits include the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, Hall of Texas Wildlife, Hall of Biodiversity and many others. Chances are, you won’t have the wildest times here, but if you’re interested in how humans came to be, there is no other spot quite like it.

Blanton Museum of Artblanton

Also a branch of the University of Texas, this spot leans on the artistic side of knowledge. The exhibits venture into pop art, realism, abstractionism, surrealism and photorealism. Needless to say, the Blanton will expand your artistic mind. I’d list the artists displayed but chances are you wouldn’t have heard of them (with the exception being Picasso, Pablo). Ignite your imagination.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museumumlauf

Like Elisabet Ney above, Charles Umlauf – born and raised in Michigan – found his home in Austin later in life. Teaching at the University of Texas for 40 years, Umlauf garnered critical acclaim as an abstract sculpture and this spot in south Austin bears the fruits of his genius. A single gander through his work here and you will no doubt be compelled to view in person. His work is so inspirational that many artists lounge within the grounds, drawing their own versions of abstract genius. Additionally, you are more than welcome to touch the pieces, making it the largest “touchable” garden in Texas.

Perhaps not quite as mesmerizing (but almost!) is the garden in which the sculptures reside. Described as a xeriscape garden, Umlauf Garden reflects the season at the time therefore displaying the work in a unique light each visit. For a breath of fresh air and an abstract experience, visit Umlauf.

Now that wasn’t so boring was it? If nothing else, when you feel life getting routine, change the pace a little with some culture. We’ll bet it pays dividends in more areas than you can count on your fingers when flashing a peace sign.

Simmer Down Now: Austin’s Top 15 Swimming Holes

Words by Blair Waller

I think I speak for the rest of us when I say we’ve had enough of this drought business. The lakes are near an all-time low, the temperatures near an all-time high and that combination, however logical, is a drag. Is it too much to ask for moderate heat (let’s say sub 100 degrees) and lakes and rivers at, say, 75% their maximum level? We’re dying here and we don’t want to go the way of Houstonites who pump out the greatest amount of AC in the nation while travelling in warp speed from house to restaurant and back to the house! We’ve had enough! Give us precipitation!

OK, I passionately digress – I apologize. I blame the heat. Supposedly it causes stress coupled by exhaustion and bouts of unfounded rage. Again, I’m sorry. But look on the bright side – I wrote that late last week and look what happened: our greatest rainfall of the summer thus far over the last 4 days. The LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) quotes between 3 and 4 inches over the past week. Things, as they say, are looking up.

To test my perhaps irrational optimism over a few drops of rain, I decided to look at the grand scheme – lake level averages over the last 70 years. As it turns out, while we are at an extreme low, we have been here before. Our lakes were at similar levels in 2000, 1985, 1965, 1953 and in the early 1940’s. Statistical regression analysis (and common sense) tells us that we’re on a downswing with an eventual upswing on our near horizon. I’d say that’s some rational optimism.

On that note, with the steadily rising water levels in full swing, we come to LIVIN Austin’s topic for the week: Top 15 Places To Cool Off. By this, we mean watering holes (actual, not alcohol / bar related), rivers, streams, lake spots, canals, brooks, straits, reservoirs, ponds, estuaries, tributaries, creeks, lagoons and moats in the city. OK, having a little fun there (again, I blame the heat) but you get the idea. The only requirement is that they must be within an hour drive of Austin city proper.

Barton Springsbarton springs

Distance from Austin: Stone’s throw

Austin’s most iconic and popular summer chill spot is a swimming hole in the truest sense of the word. It’s a naturally fed spring, teeming with aquatic life and maintains a steady 68 degrees year round. For $3 admission, you can work up a heat on the grass, take a skin-chilling dip, get back on the grass and take it the view of downtown. Rinse, bask and repeat.

Krause Springs

Distance from Austin: 45 minutes

More of an insider’s spot than Barton Springs, Krause Springs is privately owned swimming area that is open to the public, if that makes sense (in Austin culture, it makes perfect sense). It has everything you could dream of in a Hill Country summer paradise – 70 degree naturally spring fed pool, relative-to-city seclusion, ancient trees, a waterfall and a rope swing. Make the trip to Spicewood and don’t tell all your friends.

Deep Eddydeep eddy

Distance from Austin: Stone’s throw on Lake Austin Boulevard

An ideal spot for lap swimmers and spring fed enthusiasts alike (it has both). Deep Eddy sports two claims of note: first swimming pool in Texas and Austin historic landmark. Plus, they post a movie screen at the venue during the summer months. A mandatory complement to an afternoon here is nearby Deep Eddy Cabaret where the Lone Star pitchers flow like the eddy itself.

Hamilton Poolhamilton pool

Distance from Austin: 42 minutes

This spot ranks as one of the finest swimming holes in the country. This might be the closest you’ll come to Utah-esque scenery in the Hill Country, complete with massive limestone boulders, rock formations formed over thousands of years due to erosion, stalactites and a 50-foot waterfall. This dome-shaped grotto is a small step from Austin and a grand leap from Texas as you know it.

Hippie Hollow

Distance from Austin: 31 minutes

The place of legend without clothes (yes, they are optional but don’t get too excited – it’s not exactly southern France). Granted, this is more of a novelty than a quality swimming area but it belongs on the must-do Austin bucket list and therefore reserves a spot in this post. Although, for the rare bird enthusiast doing a “big year”, Hippie Hollow is the quintessential location to spot the black-capped vireo!

Blue Hole (Wimberley)blue hole wimberly

Distance from Austin: 45 minutes

Head down I-35 and take a sharp right toward Wimberley and you’ll hit the spring-fed gem of Cypress Creek. Not to get too crazy on you, but the water here is in fact clear – a rarity in these parts. That and a couple rope swings and you can call it an afternoon.

Blue Hole (Georgetown)

Distance from Austin: 32 minutes

We figured one good Blue Hole deserves another but this one is the opposite direction on I-35, due north in Georgetown. Lesser known than most other swimming holes in the area, Blue Hole Georgetown is less crowded and therefore welcomes those apt for a quieter swim and grassy-based lounge. This spot is worth the trip if you’ve experienced the others above and in need of a scene less swum.

Barton Creek Greenbeltbarton creek

Distance from Austin: Approximately 10 minutes

There are many entry points to this 8-mile stretch of creek along beautiful Barton Creek Greenbelt. For a great hike / occasional dip, you have 2 main options of Upper Greenbelt (Lost Creek to Hwy 360) and Lower Greenbelt (Hwy 360 to Zilker Park). We recommend either or both, depending on preference and physical condition. You can hike, bike, swim, enjoy the vegetation or a combination of each. Whatever your fancy, you’re bound to see many kicking back with coolers at the hot spots, doing as Austinites do.

Pedernales FallsPedernales Falls

Distance from Austin: 54 minutes

The furthest from Austin on this list is well worth the extra investment in time and gas. This picturesque spot, with crystal clear water and centuries-old cypress trees lining the water, is a place to clear your thoughts and escape the weekly grind. Throw in a short hike and you’ll actually be mentally prepared to return to work Monday following an adventure well sought. OK, that might be a gross over-exaggeration but still, it’s a release you won’t soon forget.

Jacob’s WellJacobs_well

Distance from Austin: 49 minutes

This secluded swimming hole resides at the head of Cypress Creek just outside of Wimberley. The mostly clear pool sits atop a caving system that is explored by divers although it is less likely these days. Adventure sets in immediately at the trailhead as you trek down a gravel road to this lesser-known oasis.

Rounding out the Top 15, we present the following swimming holes of particular interest…

Pace Bend Park (Paleface Park)

Distance from Austin: 49 minutes

Bull Creek

Distance from Austin: 18 minutes

McKinney Falls

Distance from Austin: 16 minutes

St. Edwards Park

Distance from Austin: 22 minutes

Devil’s Watering Hole

Distance from Austin: 60 minutes

With the heat lasting through September, it’s not too late to hit each of the above if you’re up to it. When in Austin, do as the Austinites, and venture to a swimming hole nearby or within a short hour’s drive, jamming summer tunes and taking in the Hill Country scenery.

Tacos of Summer: Austin’s 10 Hottest Taco Spots

Words by Blair Waller

It is now officially summer. Either the calendar told you that on June 21 or it was the 106 degree weather last weekend. Our schedules are now tighter than ever as we run from event to event, bar to bar, swimming hole to swimming hole. That means countless opportunities for food on the run and what screams the loudest in such situations? We say tacos.

When researching topics, I usually perform a basic Google search in order to gain perspective of where Austin stands amongst other US cities. Not surprisingly, Austin repeatedly pops up in the top ranks. When searching for best tacos in the nation, the story was the same. Here’s what we found:

> Website Epicurious (epicurious.com) listed “The 10 Best Tacos in America.” They mentioned Tacodeli first.

> Rachael Ray and company embarked on a mission to find “The 64 Best Tacos in the Country,” breaking them down by region. In all of the South, she listed 4 of Austin’s finest taco joints: Veracruz All Natural, Tacos La Flor, Papalote Taco House and El Borrego de Oro.

> Food & Wine broke out the “Best Taco Spots in the Country” and Austin made the list of 7, naming La Condesa. Not exactly what we’ve come to expect from the refined crowd of Food & Wine but we’ll take it.

> The latest edition of Southwest’s in-flight magazine featured Paul Qui on the cover, having him rate his Top 5 tacos in the city. Qui named Tacodeli, Maudies, Piedras Negras, Chi’lantro and La Condesa.

> Lastly, even the New York Times wrote an entire article praising Austin as having “The Best Breakfast Tacos in America.” In this “list”, Austin ranked #1 out of 1.

There are almost too many places that serve tacos in the city. So, for LIVIN Austin’s list, we excluded Mexican restaurants that serve tacos. While Maudies, Matt’s El Rancho and Juan in a Million serve up excellent tacos, they’re not exactly the first that come to mind when you say, “Let’s grab a taco.” As mentioned previously, it’s summertime, we’re on the go, and in Austin, it’s socially frowned upon to eat at fast food chains. Actually, it’s downright foolish to do so with so many great local flavors around practically every street corner.

With that, LIVIN Austin breaks down “The Top 10 Places to Grab a Taco in Austin.” Here they are, in no particular order or rank. As always, critiques and comments welcomed.

Piedras Negraspiedras negras

Translates directly as “black stones.” Somehow, that also translates to “best damn taco joint you could pass by 57 times and never notice it until one day, on the 58th passing, you stop by, grab a taco and become forever changed” in Tex-Mexican English. Yep, what this place lacks in aesthetic grandeur, makes up for in Al Pastor. The fajita gordita, deep fried and smothered in fixins’, is also to die for. Be careful, though – it’s one of the more expensive items on the menu at $3 (most tacos are “modestly” priced at $2). Also, they’re cash (and change) only. As if that’s not enough, the final kickers are as follows: A) Mexican Coke and B) The hours – open from 7 am to 3 am.

Chi’lantro

chi'lantro

Although they’re probably best known for their kimchi fries, the tacos are one of the more legit this side of the Texas-Mexico-Korean border(you know, if there was such a thing). They have 3 trucks that roam throughout Austin on a relatively set but altering schedule (check it out here). All you really need to know about the tacos is that they’re filled with bolgogi, which is “Korean ribeye fire meat.” They’re probably the only spot more on-the-go than you so plan ahead.

Bomb Taco

Located within the White Horse, these tacos perfectly compliment the live music, tap-whiskey and dancing. Whether you go with pulled pork, chicken breast or al pastor, you’ll never go wrong. This combo is a match made in East Austin.

Tacodelitacodeli

Many people I know scoff at this entry mainly due to its nationwide popularity. But there is no denying the flavor. There is also no denying their accolades since opening in 1999: Best Taco (Austin Chronicle 2008), Best Lunch Taco (Austin Chronicle 2006), Best Breakfast Taco (Austin 360), 63 Tacos You Must eat Before You Die (Texas Monthly 2006), to name a few. What does it for me, personally, is their award-winning salsas: salsa dona, salsa roja, salsa verde and salsa habanero. And their green hot sauce – wow. I’m simultaneously sweating and licking my lips as I write this.

Torchy’s

There’s now seemingly one on every corner but who said convenience and accessibility was a bad thing? Between the Green Chile Pork, Trailer Park (fried chicken and “trashy” – substitute queso for lettuce), The Democrat (shredded beef barbacoa with avocado) and Brush Fire (Jamaican jerk chicken with mango), Torchy’s packs a flavor punch.

Be More Pacificbe more pacific

I specifically remember the first time I bit into one of their tacos. I even remember the date, time, setting and people I was with. Furthermore, I can recall the same about the 2nd time I crushed them. As they would put it at Be More Pacific, I “rewanted” it. Needless to say, their flavors are etched in my brain for life. Just as Chi’lantro infuses Korean into the mix, this spot follows similar suit with “Filipino Comfort Food.” I firmly believe that the more international cuisine mixing we welcome, the happier we’ll all be.

Taco Joint

A guilty pleasure of ours but c’est la vie. We recommend the El 4/20 (carnitas), the Street Taco (grilled sirloin steak, caramelized onion, avocado), El Porko (pulled with Achiote sauce and habanero salsa) or the Whole Mole (pulled chicken, mole sauce, queso). They call this their “Munchie Lunchie” menu. Rightly so.

La Condesa

la condesa

OK, admittedly, this more of a restaurant than a “grab-n-go” spot but I didn’t have the heart (or the stomach) to leave them off. This is mainly due to phrases like “rotisserie chicken, citrus rub, salsa verde” (Pollo Rostizado), “orange & banana leaf-marinated berkshire pork, pickled red onion, pickled jalepeno” (Cochinita Pibil) and “griddled texas redfish, chipotle aioli, salsa morenita” (Pescado). When it comes to opinions regarding cuisine, you simply can’t argue with James Beard, as they were nominated for the foundation’s award for “Best New Restaurant.” Combine the above with one of their signature cocktails and you have your downtown “go-to”, perhaps prior to an ACL taping.

Tacos La Flor

This modest trailer on South First sports some of the finest carnitas in the city. Their brilliance is in the basics as their tortillas are made to order. Although it could be mistaken for a florist shop (due to a rose on their logo), they’re the real taco deal.

Maria’s Taco Expressmaria's taco express

You might know this spot more for its decorations but don’t let that overshadow their awesome breakfast and specialty tacos. They have all the classics but it’s their simplicity that makes them great. We recommend the “blind taco” (inquire within).

 

 

If you ask 10 people to name their 10 favorite taco joints in Austin, you’re likely to get 10 unique answers with just a few overlaps. Having said that, let the debate begin. Over a taco, of course.

The Houses That Music Built: Austin’s Finest Venues

Words by Blair Waller

When it comes to tackling a subject or debate, I like to begin with data. Numbers don’t lie and they don’t tell the full story, but they’re a solid starting point. The topic here is how Austin ranks amongst the best as a music town. When Googling “Best Live Music Cities in the US,” various articles ranked Austin as follows: #2, #4, #3, #3, #3, and #3. When I did “Best Live Music Cities in the World,” the results were even more impressive: #2, #8 and #2. I’ll leave it to you to figure the means, medians and modes, but the results are clear – Austin is truly “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

I realize this is a foregone conclusion for most, but it might not be for those outside of Texas who see many big name acts skip Austin for the likes of the obvious – LA and NY on the grand scale and Houston and Dallas the sure-stops nearby. But Austin isn’t like that. It has it’s own style going on. It’s weird as we all well know.

So how did this once sleepy town in the Texas Hill Country roll its way to being the “The Live Music Capital of the World”?

The scene started in the late 1800’s in the German Beer Gardens and Halls. Then in 1933, singer Kenneth Threadgill opened the venue bearing his namesake, featuring the finest in folk and country. The country scene continued in 1964 with the opening of the Broken Spoke, housing legends Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills and up-and-coming young buck Willie Nelson. Meanwhile, over on the east side of town, venues such as the Victory Grill, began what was called the “chitlin’ circuit,” hosting many of the big name jazz and blues artists like Ray Charles, B.B. King and Duke Ellington.

One of the more defining venues in this history was the opening of the Vulcan Gas Company, which changed its name to the famous Armadillo World Headquarters in 1970. Over the next decade, the Headquarters hosted acts from the 13th Floor Elevators to Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa to The Talking Heads, ZZ Top to Bette Midler and Stevie Ray Vaughn to Blondie. At one point, in 1977, The Clash teamed up with Joe Ely to play a transcendental show, capturing one of rock’s most iconic photos – the cover of London Calling. Another quintessential snapshot came when Australia’s AC/DC played their first show on American soil under “The Dillo’s” roof. During its 10-year tenure, the venue gave birth to terms like “The Austin Sound”, “Redneck Rock” and “Cosmic Cowboy” – each adding a unique layer to the city’s music scene. Adding to this veneer was the fact that during that time span, the number of Lone Star beers sold was 2nd only to the Astrodome. The venue was razed in 1981 but the stage had been set for the 30 years (and counting) that followed.

Alongside the rise and fall of the Armadillo was the establishment of Antone’s on 6th Street in 1975. Most notably, the venue was critical in the rising of Stevie Ray Vaughn and other world-class blues talents. A few years later, venues like Club Foot, Raul’s, the Continental Club and Dukes Royal Coach ushered in the punk era. Bands such as The Skunks and The Violators brought a derisive clash to the already varied scene that preceded it. Even the most well known punk band at the time, The Sex Pistols, had a contribution to the scene.

Music venues then emerged. Many came and went and many stayed and are here today. Each spot contributed to the scene Austinite’s experience today. We see concerts year round as well as host events like SXSW, Fun Fun Fun Fest and Austin Free Week. It’s a scene unique unto itself.

This week, LIVIN Austin pays tribute to the finest music venues in Austin. They come in all shapes and sizes, hosting the widest variety of musical sounds around. If a band wishes to make a name for themselves in their particular genre – whether it be country, rock, blues, jazz, punk or a combination of the above – they’d be well advised to come through Austin. Here are the places you’ll find them.

We’ve divided the finest music venues in Austin into 3 subcategories: Large, Medium and Small. Creative, isn’t it? There is some overlap between the groups with an admitted fuzzy distinction between each. The basic idea is this: where you see a particular band, many times, makes all the difference. In other words, there is a difference between seeing, say, The Black Keys at Saxon Pub in 2002 vs. at the Erwin Center in 2013. The former would be life changing while the latter would be pretty-to-kinda cool. The location depends largely on how big or popular they are at the time, and there is little correlation between the quality of the band and the size of the venue. That’s why you have to be diligent with your musical acumen as a small up-and-coming band playing at a tiny venue isn’t going to smack you upside the head from the Life & Arts section of The Statesman. I digress slightly but you get the idea.

OK, now we’re ready to rock.

Austin’s Finest “Large” Venues

As prefaced a moment ago, biggest is not always best. However, that’s not to say you won’t see some great bands at their respective heights playing some damn fine tunes. These tickets will be mostly on the pricier end, requiring that you purchase tickets far in advance and probably see more than a few people you know. Having said that, they’re still in Austin and we don’t exactly have any professional arenas like the American Airlines Center in Dallas. That’s usually a good thing.

Waller Creek Amphitheater at Stubb’s Bar-B-Qstubbs

Upcoming shows: Little Hurricane, Blondie, JJ Grey & Mofro, Cyndi Lauper

Had Forrest Gump been from Austin instead of Alabama, I like to think he would have said him and Jenny went together like BBQ and music. That’s what Christopher “Stubb” Stubblefield created when he opened his doors in the 70’s. All the Austin greats “played for their supper” here – SRV, Willie – but also the likes of Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, George Thorogood and John Lee Hooker. Today, it’s a hub for the headliners of SXSW and an excellent spot to catch an ACL sideshow.

Emo’s East

Upcoming shows: Andrew Stockdale (of Wolfmother), Pentagram, Tricky

Had this article been written a couple years ago, Emo’s would have found itself in a different category. Since relocating from downtown to East Riverside, the venue can now house far larger acts in their warehouse-style setup, complete with 4 different bars and Evil Kneivel graphics.

The Moody Theater

Upcoming shows: Robert Plant, Cheap Trick, Belle & Sebastian, Buddy Guy, Steve Miller Band

Admittedly, it’s not a large venue but tickets are either expensive or impossible to get. Usually, you have to win them or have an “in” somewhere (like knowing the fire marshal as a friend of mine did once). The stage and the acts it attracts are reverential due to the history and the usual taping for ACL Live. It’s interesting to note that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced it will release the archives from nearly 40 years of the show’s tapings to the public. Might be worth a trip to Cleveland for that. (Not really, but you thought about it for a half second, right?)

Austin’s Finest “Medium” Venues

This category is what I believe is the sweet spot. This is where you’ll find high quality acts in a relatively intimate setting, potentially right before they become big (or burn out and fade away which is great as well in the music world).

Antone’s

antones

Upcoming shows: Jimmie Vaughan, The Psychedelic Furs, Reverend Horton Heat, Tribal Seeds

At the ripe age of 25, after dropping out of UT because of a marijuana arrest, Clifford Antone opened this “Chicago Blues” club on 6th Street. The venue quickly became paramount in the burgeoning Austin music scene as it hosted legends like Fats Domino, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, to name very few. We’re now in the midst of an interesting chapter in the club’s history as it closed its 6th Street doors and opened anew on East Riverside. While larger, the new venue still has that “Chicago club” feel with a balcony overlooking the stage and pool tables and a charming dirty feel in the walls (I say this in the most endearing way possible – honest). I have little doubt this spot will be integral as the city develops and grows on the Eastside.

Mohawk

Upcoming shows: Mikal Cronin, The Octopus Project, Dirty Beaches, Mudhoney

A relatively new kid on the block (Red River, that is), this spot opened in 2006. It has quickly become one of if not my favorite venue in Austin. Sporting 2 very different stages, one intimate indoor and larger terraced outdoor, Mohawk attracts many of those bands you might not know now but you certainly will in the years to come. Always a great, eclectic crowd.

Lambert’s

Upcoming shows: The Possum Posse, Kevin Lovejoy Trio, Dirty Bourbon River Show

Known mainly for it’s culinary chops, this West 2nd Street venue is a great spot to see an intimate show. They have a good chance of attracting some of the more mellow up-and-coming acts.

Austin’s Finest “Small” Venues

While the above might be the sweet spot, these venues are what truly make the Austin music scene special. What they lack in big name acts, they make up for with consistency and uniquely-Austin charm. They are spots that you’ll stumble into on a random Tuesday evening and catch a casual show you won’t soon forget.

Continental Club

“The granddaddy of all local music venues, the Continental Club has enjoyed a coast-to-coast reputation as the premiere club for live music in Austin since 1957.”

Cactus Café

“Billboard magazine listed the Cactus as one of fifteen “solidly respected, savvy clubs” nationwide “from which careers can be cut, that work with proven names and new faces.””

The White Horse

“Since opening we’ve hosted some of Honky Tonk, Rockabilly, Rock, and Outlaw Country’s most respected artists including Rosie Flores, Wayne Hancock, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Nortons, John Evans Band, Bo Porter, Leo Rondeau, Roger Wallace and some of Austin’s finest including Mike and the Moonpies, Jim Stringer, Crooks, The Austin Steamers and many more.” Their take on cover charges: “Instead of handing us $5 at the door why don’t you buy a band CD or a t-shirt or a shot of T.W. Samuels for those talented musicians that are pickin’ away on our stage? We like supporting the live music that makes Austin so damn great and that’s why we hardly ever charge a cover. In those rare instances that we do, we promise it’s for damn good show.”

Sahara Lounge

“A club that provides a welcoming, comfortable community space … an escape from the intensity of downtown Austin that provides high quality musical entertainment and free parking!”

The Parish

“Located in the heart of downtown Austin in the historic district of 6th Street, The Parish is arguably the best indoor live music venue in Austin that offers the highest quality production for artists and events alike. With a 450 capacity, The Parish has hosted musical legends such as Pete Townshend, Slash, and Perry Farrell as well as independent artists such as Grizzly Bear and Yeasayer. It is an all-genres venue that provides an intimate, live music experience for all music fans.”

Donn’s Depot

“All aboard! One of Austin’s most unique nightspots is housed in an old Missouri-Pacific train depot. Real train cars serve as seating areas, and the ladies restroom is a real caboose! … Featuring live music six nights a week Donn’s Depot is the venue of some of Austin’s most talented musicians … Donn’s depot bridges the generation gap with its diverse range of musicians and musical genres, ranging from swing, country, and modern folk/pop.”

The Hole In The Wall

“WELCOME to the Hole in the Wall, friends!  What took you so long? “

Beerland

“Rock & roll club seeks bands, fans, and hangers-on for all-out orgy of loud music and cheap beer. Also have liquor, pool, and arcade games. Must love music.”

Saxon Pub

“Opened in 1990, the Saxon has hosted well over 22,000 musical performances. On any given night you might see a major celebrity from the film or music industry either having a beer or sitting in on stage jamming with the locals. It is also known for booking some of the greatest music legends around, performing in an intimate atmosphere that Kris Kristofferson likened to “playing in his own living room”.

Elephant Room

“As different offshoots of jazz come and go in the popular music sector, the Elephant Room has remained the home of traditional jazz in Austin since 1991. They are not impermeable to fancy; the influx of world music and the occasional jump blues band to the Elephant’s schedule belie the abundance of jazz talent in Austin, but the club continues to provide the essentials — jazz.”

The Carousel Lounge

From Frommers: “In spite of (or maybe because of) its out-of-the-way location and bizarre circus theme — complete with elephant and lion-tamer murals and an actual carousel behind the bar — the Carousel Lounge is a highly popular local watering hole. You never know what will turn up onstage — this place has hosted everything from smaller musical acts to belly dancers.”

Victory Grill

From The Guardian: “The Victory Grill opened in 1945, back when E 11th Street was the heart of Austin’s “Chitlin’ Circuit” – a name used to describe the network of clubs across the country that welcomed African American performers at a deeply segregated time. Johnny Holmes, a booking agent and band manager, opened the Victory Grill to serve black soldiers returning from the second world war and it quickly became a hotspot for blues and jazz. Over the decades, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Etta James and Janis Joplin all performed here. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Victory Grill is a museum as much as a live music spot, but it’s worth stopping by for their Monday-night blues jams and to take in the vibrant murals on its west-facing walls. Make sure to call ahead as the music schedule varies.”

That’s basically a brief history on where we are and how we got here. Now strap on your boots or lace up your Chuck Taylor’s and experience the music of Austin.

Fighting Digital: The Finest Jukebox Joints of Austin

Words and Photography by Blair Waller

shangri la

It is safe to say that with regards to playing music these days, we are in the digital age. That is an understatement. On the grand scale of music ownership evolution – from vinyl records to CD’s and now to digital – we have sacrificed quality for quantity. In this most recent revolution (late 90’s and 2000’s), we saw the erosion of CD sales, the rise and fall of Napster and the like, the collective meltdown of record companies and recording artists alike and the birth of iTunes, GrooveShark, Spotify and other online sharing applications. We now enjoy more music at a lower cost and while doing so, downgraded in sound quality. That’s the reality.

While the above tone might sound like the somber sobbing of an old-timer, it is not. Personally, I am more than OK with the current climate of music. While I do enjoy listening to vinyl (and even CD’s) immensely, I prefer having access to exponentially more bands and albums than I could have than before. As a result, the depth and scope of our music tastes have matured and broadened. We know more about the artists we love, learn more about the bands that influenced them and learn of countless other artists that never would have crossed our radar previously. It is almost as if we had been taking college courses at an online university and now we’re attending an Ivy League PhD program. It has been difficult to maintain pace with this acceleration but it’s been exciting. It is still exciting today. It will continue to be exciting.

So we have our personal collections expanded but what about the demonstration of this newly developed knowledge; the social aspect of playing tunes with our friends in public forum?

DSC_0712

Somewhere amidst the thread of this musical evolution, there was the jukebox. Wide usage began with vinyl, then CD’s and naturally, the trend points toward digital. With each medium, the general concept was simple: jamming the tunes you and your friends wanted to hear at a bar. In fact, the term is derived from the Gullah word “joog” meaning “disorderly, rowdy and wicked.” God willing, your experience with jukeboxes is in that vein. Anyway, the point is that regardless of the medium in which the jukebox plays, there is a distinct magic in the idea. It’s not that you don’t have access to the music in the jukebox but that you’re able to play the tunes you love in such a public setting. This act can’t be replicated by bumping your speakers in a parking lot or cranking your iPod player in Zilker Park. Playing a jukebox is a socially acceptable and respectful way to enjoy music with your fellow people, friends and strangers alike. A jukebox unites unlike any other medium of music.

Now, the question is, as the proprietor of an establishment with a jukebox, what sort of music is most appropriate for your clientele, or your preferred clientele? If you want the boots-and-spurs type to two-step, you go with the Top-40 country hits. If you want the college crowds to fist-pump in droves, you make most classic rock anthems available. If you want a more subdued atmosphere for music snobs, you select obscure albums from obscure bands. Or maybe you just go with you and your staff’s favorite albums and let the cards fall where they may. (It goes without saying you leave a couple alternate albums in the mix for profiling purposes a la Talladega Nights – “No one plays jazz here at The Pit Stop!”). Whatever the rationale, an establishment’s jukebox says a great deal about the style and culture of the establishment.

Conventional thinking says that in a time not too far away, jukeboxes will all be digital. The days of selecting the top 50 or so albums are numbered, thus phasing out the CD jukebox era. Patrons will have a seemingly limitless selection to play what they want. But maybe – just maybe – this isn’t inevitable.DSC_0708

In speaking with various owners and employees of Austin’s top juke joints, the consensus was that their jukebox is sacred – it is their most overt example of character. Their music selection attracts and retains their preferred clientele. The meticulously selected albums spin while they watch patrons nod their head or dance to the beats and rhythms of the box, the box of their creation. This display of taste is personal. (Plus, the employees are the ones working there 8+ hours a day so they prefer to hear the music that won’t drive them to insanity.)

This makes for an interesting stage on this frontier. Perhaps the technology trend will infiltrate and dominate the jukebox scene, giving patrons the seemingly limitless options we now experience on our iPods. But for now, there is still plenty of Austin “juke joints” rocking it old school. We at LIVIN Austin raise our glass, tip our hat and pump our fist – whichever the particular tune calls for – toward the best jukeboxes in the city. Bear in mind that the list of bands represented under each are a snapshot. They are most certainly subject to change, some more steady than others. When compiling the list of bands represented in each respective joint, the main strongholds were The Clash, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Ramones, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. I’m not quite sure what to make of that unofficial list – just thought it was interesting. With that, let us get down and dirty with it.

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When in search of the widest array of juke joints in Austin within a few block radius, you needn’t venture any further than East 6th street. Here you will find the bars and social clubs most resolute when it comes to music selection.

Violet Crown Social Club 

Bands represented: Ty Segall, White Fence, Roky Erikson, Radio Birdman, Gentleman Jesse, Babies, Thee Oh Sees, Metallica, The Who, Hot Snakes

This spot keeps their selection fresh. It is a social club in the truest of sense of the phrase.

1111 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

Rio RitaDSC_0759

Bands represented: Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, The Stones, Outcast, Queen, Sharon Jones, Jay Reatard, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Waits, The Clash, Thee Oh Sees, Ween, The Good Bad & The Ugly Soundtrack, Dengue Fever, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elton John, Django Reinhardt, Creedence, Tame Impala, Gorillaz, The Zombies, Sinatra, The Smiths, Grinderman, Dead Kennedys, Curtis Mayfield, Yardbirds, Dylan

Astounding great selection. One of the most well rounded selection of the jams you want to hear when having drinks at really any time of day.

1308 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

Liberty Bar

Bands represented: Nick Cave, Modest Mouse, Wolf Parade, Neil Young

This selection of bands was listed by memory. Needless to say, I visit here often. The speakers play softly in their large outdoor area where the delectable East Side Kings food trailer resides.

1618 1/2 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

Shangri LaDSC_0732

Bands represented: Black Lips, Bowie, King Tuff, Devo, Melvins, Sonic Youth, Ramones, Howlin’ Wolf, Iggy Pop

1016 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

The White Horse

The main reason I haven’t listed their selection is because they have live music playing 7 nights a week. However, I have had a glance and it is totally legit.

500 Comal Street, Austin, TX 78702

The Brixton

DSC_0776

Bands represented: Iron Maiden, Black Flag, The Damned, The Specials, Ice Cube, The Descendents, Buzzcocks, Hank Williams, Beastie Boys, At The Drive In, Bowie / Ziggy Stardust, Bad Religion, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Misfits, Fugazi, Public Enemy, Toots and the Maytals, Ramones, The Clash, Best Coast, Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Ween, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma, The Modern Lovers

Great hole-in-the-wall spot with character and charm in spades. This selection acquiesces to those with a fine-tuned taste for punk jams.

1412 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

We now move around to various clubs around the city.

Deep Eddy Cabaret

DSC_0711

Bands represented: Elvis Costello, Merle Haggard, Black Joe Lewis, Willie Dixon, Uncle Tupelo, Billie Holiday, Steve Earle, George Jones, Dylan, Beck, Nat King Cole, Decemberists, Flying Burrito Brothers, 13h Floor Elevators, The Clash, Marvin Gaye, Bowie, Johnny Cash, The Pretenders, Commander Cody

2315 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

Longbranch Inn

Bands represented: The Clash, Grinderman, some great mix CD’s

This is a classic spot to chill, listen to lesser-known tunes and shoot pool while pre-gaming for the night.

1133 E 11th Street, Austin, TX 78702

Horseshoe Lounge

Bands represented: Reid Wilson, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, David Allen Coe, Willie, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Lyle Lovett, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Uncle Lucious, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Ely, Conway Twitty, Jimmy Buffet, Don Williams, Charlie Daniels, Otis Redding

Heavy on country and loyal to local acts, this spot is firm on their musical roots. Of note, they only serve beer and have arguably the finest shuffle board in Austin.

2034 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

Barfly’s

Bands represented: Thin Lizzy, Deerhunter, Fugazi, velvet, Flaming Lips, Pentagram, Joy Division, The Zombies, Waylon Jennings, At The Drive In, The Beatles, TV on the Radio, The Roots, Eric and Rakim

5420 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751

LaLa’s

Bands represented: Ray Charles, Glen Miller, Richie Valens, The Coaster

I believe they say it best: ”If you’re grandma listened loved it and it was recorded before 1965, chances are you’ll love it here.”

2207 Justin Lane, Austin, TX 78757

Casino El Camino 

Bands represented: Swayed, Albert Collins, Ramones, Madness, T-Rex, The Cars, The Who, Texas Tornados, Iggy Pop, ZZ Top, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, Tom Jones, AC/DC, Aerosmith, George Jones, The Vaselines, Jimmy Cliff, Birdland, Buzzcocks, Eddie Curran, Churchwood, The Dictators

Dirty 6th a little bit much for you? Dip into this shady spot for a breather from the “glitz” and vomit smell that is present in most surrounding spots.

517 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78701

Red Shed Tavern

8504 S Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78745

Sidebar

602 E 7th Street, Austin, TX 78701

Buddy’s Place

8619 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78757

Bender Bar & Grill

321 W Ben White Blvd #300, Austin, TX 78704

Mean Eyed Cat

1621 W 5th Street, Austin, TX 78703

G&S Lounge

2420 S 1st Street, Austin, TX 78704

As you can tell, I love the jukebox. However, nothing compares to live music. That goes without saying. Somewhere in between, though, when researching such a topic, you might encounter a wily-haired gentleman inconspicuously playing piano in a virtuoso-like manner. With no disrespect to the transcendent jukebox, an encounter such as this is far more special and actually has the power to change your perspective on life in Austin. Enjoy this picture and visit the White Horse.

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