Austin’s Music History

Austin Texas has long been known for its vibrant live music.  Music in Austin ranges from folk to country to ethnic to rap and reggae; you name it Austin has it.

Austin’s early German Swede and Mexican settlers brought their musical heritage with them.  Bars featuring music attracted Custer and his soldiers when they were stationed in the Texas capitol after the Civil War.  By the 1880s German music halls were lining Pecan Street (present day 6th Street).

In the 1920s Austin became the home to several jazz venues. Blues pianist Roosevelt Thomas “the Grey Ghost” Williams was a  big part of the Austin blues sound.   During the 1930s and 1940s country and classic big band music took the stage.  Trumpeter Nash Hernandez founded an all Hispanic band in 1949 playing big band country and Tejano music and opening the door for many Hispanic musicians. The Nash Hernandez Orchestra led by Ruben Hernandez Nash’s  son continues this tradition today and the band now has non-Hispanic members as well.

In the 1960s and 1970s rock and roll became popular on the Austin music scene while country Tejano and folk also grew in popularity.  The television show Austin City Limits which showcases a variety of music styles began as a series in 1976 and continues strong today.  ACL was filmed at the KLRU studio 6A for thirty-six years and is now filmed at the state-of-the-art Moody Theater.  Country star Willie Nelson was the debut performer on the show’s pilot which was filmed in 1974.

Blues and rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan made Austin his home during his rise to fame in the 1970s and 1980s.  Vaughan’s group Double Threat released its debut album Texas Flood in 1983 and the recording was an immediate success.  Texas Flood was followed by the even more successful Couldn’t Stand the Weather. Vaughan died tragically in a helicopter crash in 1983.  A memorial statue in Vaughan’s honor stands at the head of Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake).

austin guitar

Austin resident Milton Verret purchased and donated the eight Gibson Guitar sculptures seen atop of the luggage carousels at the Austin-Bergstrom Airport.

Photo By Michael Coghlan

Today’s Austin Music Scene

Today Austin continues to be a vibrant center for live music.  Its official motto is “The Live Music Capital of the World.”   Hundreds of live music venues dot the city and are particularly congregated on 6th Street.  There is even live music at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Threadgills is one of numerous music venues. It offers delicious food and great live music at two Austin locations.  The original Threadgills began life as a filling station back in 1933.  Owner Kenneth Threadgill loved country music and his gas station/bar became a favorite hangout for local bands.  Janis Joplin began her career at Threadgills.  Eddie Wilson owner of Armadillo World Headquarters purchased Threadgills in the late 1970s.  The new Threadgills transformed into a restaurant rather than simply a bar opened next door to the old Armadillo Headquarters on New Year’s Eve 1981; the Armadillo had been closed the previous year.

Another great Austin Texas tradition is Stubb’s Bar B Q. Stubb’s offers great live music as well as delicious food.

Austinites simply love their music whether it is with food or in the great outdoors. The Backyard at Bee Cave is an open air music venue dedicated to the best practices to preserve the environment while promoting music and fun.   Notables such as Willie Nelson regularly play at The Backyard.

Concert events in Austin offer music for every taste.  The Hartman Foundation offers classical music “Concerts in the Park” each year in the Hartman Concert Park.  “Concerts in the Park” are also offered at the Zilker Hillside Theater in Zilker Park; a variety of performers are featured each year and a summer musical is a favorite tradition.

The Old Settler’s Music Festival is held each spring.  It is dedicated to Americana and features bluegrass acoustic jazz and blues as well as arts and crafts.  Camping is encouraged and there are events showcasing the musical talents of children and young people.

The Austin Reggae Festival is also held each spring and features reggae artists from around the world.   Visitors can shop the International Marketplace for unique items from around the world.  Proceeds from the Reggae Fest go to help the local food bank feed the hungry.

The South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) is an annual event designed to draw the attention of the music industry to Austin.  Each year thousands of visitors attend the conference which showcases music film and interactive media.  The SXSW has helped make the Austin Texas music scene known around the world.

If you love music you have got to visit Austin Texas.  Its music scene offers something for everyone.

Check out the links below for more articles related to Austin’s music scene and don’t forget to check our calendar for live music events!