Austin city guide: blues, BBQ & bourbon
by Jono Cusack
Whatever Austin is, it isn’t Texas. It’s this liberal island in the middle of everything Texan governed by the mantra of ‘Keep Austin Weird’. It’s art, it’s music, it’s culture, it’s just so very… cool. Two of the States biggest festivals, South By South West and Austin City Limits, mean a revolving door of the biggest bands and artists in the world. But everything in town all year round feels like it’s ‘on scene’. It’s a place where you can go to a bar and get PBR with a bourbon chaser without it feeling like a travelling cliché. The rock will run through the night, and you’ll wake up in the morning with that feeling of ‘weird is damn good.’
I grew up in a small town in my own corner of Australia, with an experience of live music that went as far as Bon Jovi cover bands, and terrible university punk acts. In Austin, I was met at the airport with the sounds of Stevie Ray Vaughn and B. B. King from a band who seemed to be born into each and every chord. Austin is music, it’s not a metaphor to say that it permeates the air. On your first night out you will definitely walk down East 6th Street. Out of the windows of every bar, and there are a hell of lot of them, there is an act playing with skill and emotion that could headline any Glastonbury Festival. These are bars such as Antone’s where the likes from Muddy Waters to Eric Clapton have played. Music is the city’s life blood. So much so that each year at the Austin Marathon there are about thirty acts that play along the route.
All of those cliches about American Food don’t exist in Austin. Food is taken seriously in Austin, as equally as much as music. It is a foodie’s paradise and delivers everything and of course, so much more than your fill. You’ll start at Stubb’s BBQ, just do it, it defines what quality BBQ is. The smoked meat, those classic southern sides, the cold beer and again, the live music. You will really be left wondering as to why fast food is popular in the States after such quality, and especially after you’ve hit the food trucks. Everywhere in Austin you can find the most amazing meals from everywhere in the world, all on street corners. A must try are the tacos from Chi’lantro, a fusion Korean-Mexican place which define what Austin’s Food Truck scene is all about.
Austin is a honky tonk saloon, it’s a dive bar, it’s that blues bar where you pull up a stool and find exactly what you’ve sought. Like most places in the States, Austin makes itself distinctly its own. It makes its own flavour and has its own place in those United States. With such a creative scene you’ll be left slightly confused that it is actually Texas’ capital. Even more so that George W. Bush once held the position of Governor in the centre of town. I was told by someone who had moved here over two decades ago that “…the only things that the States have in common is that they all hate each other, and somehow Austin is caught in the middle.” Austin survives and takes the best from all sides and combines it into one of the most incredible cities in the world.
From Buenos Aires, to Milan, to Moscow, I’ve lived across the world for the past decade. Some might say I’ve just bounced from one girlfriend to the next, but I say it’s been one cultural experience to another. At the beginning of 2014 I started again and began the first of five long haul trips around the world, the Pan-American Highway. Along the way I will seek the stories of those incredible people whose tales remain unknown and publish them on www.seesomething.com.au.