It started with a simple premise: Seasonal festival frenzies aside, Austin got its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World because of what happens around town on any given night of the week.
So we set out to capture that magic. Once a month, for a full year, we spent a full night sampling live music at a wide variety of venues. Our “One Night” series began in April 2016 on our Austin Music Source blog at austin360.com and concluded last month, when we hit the 12-month goal on March 29.
Catching at least six shows in one night generally meant getting an early start. That’s easy in Austin: Happy-hour shows at nightclubs are common, and many restaurants have dinner shows. Add in a handful of hotel lounges that feature music and the occasional record-shop in-store, and plenty of “One Night” itineraries started before sundown.
What follows is a recap of highlights from the series, plus a final tally of all the venues we visited.
Best show each month
April 13, 2016 (Wednesday): Paul Glasse & Floyd Domino at Evangeline Cafe. “They serenaded a full house dining on Cajun fare with a mix of both vocal and instrumental tunes, from Hank Williams favorites to Glasse originals.” The far-South Austin restaurant is one of the best places in town to catch dinner shows five nights a week.
May 19 (Thursday): Slaid Cleaves at All Saints’ Episcopal Church. “‘Yeah, I know, honky-tonk songs in a church,’ Cleaves sheepishly owned up after opening with tunes that referenced drinking in Austin haunts the Horseshoe Lounge and the Carousel. But the crowd loved all of it, from those old favorites to some brand-new songs Cleaves said he’d just begun recording for a new album.” This was part of the church’s ongoing Unplugged on the Front Porch series, which features a performance by Eliza Gilkyson this Thursday.
June 13 (Monday): Matchmaker Band at the Highball. “A packed house of mostly 20-somethings grooved to some of the coolest Motown cuts from the 1960s, delivered by a 10-piece band that seems to be having as much fun as the crowd is.” The show, like most of the ones I caught on this night, is a regular residency gig that happens every Monday.
July 14 (Sunday, daytime): Cornell Hurd Band at ABGB. “Fans filled the dance floor to twist and twirl as Hurd and his bandmates cranked out twangin’ tunes such as ‘I’ve Got a Woman in San Angelo’ (as seen on ‘Friday Night Lights,’ Hurd reminded the crowd) and ‘Party Time.’” Part of ABGB’s weekly Sunday Best series, this capped an afternoon of catching music only in the daylight hours on a bright midsummer weekend.
Aug. 26 (Friday): Water & Rust at Cactus Cafe. “Combining guitars, percussion and fiddle with radiant four-tiered harmonies, the quartet has created a sound that’s unlike anything else being done in Austin right now. Part folk, part gospel, and touching on R&B and jazz, they have their own style, as well as an easy banter onstage.”
Sept. 13 (Tuesday): 80H Project at McDonald’s. “Ady Hernandez and his bandmates made lunch diners smile with feel-good tunes that stressed bright three-part harmonies and steady-groove Latin percussion.” Wait, McDonald’s? Ah yes, this was HAAM Benefit Day, where music happens in unlikely places all day and night once a year to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. We hit nine spots total, from grocery stores to pharmacies to, yes, the McDonald’s on Barton Springs Road.
Oct. 28 (Friday): John Fullbright at the Parish. “The Oklahoma singer-songwriter smoked the house with Austin band Shinyribs behind him on ‘Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball,’ a Shel Silverstein classic that Dr. Hook recorded.” This was our one “cheat” in terms of the series’ club-hopping design, as we stayed in one place for the whole night for a Spooky Hoot to help ailing local bassist George Reiff with medical expenses. But the show’s sprawling lineup allowed us to still see six different artists in one night.
Nov. 19 (Saturday): Ray Prim at Strange Brew. “Supported by two violinists, keyboards, drums, bass and a featured singer who goes by the name of Mexican Chocolate, Prim wove magical spells with songs that blended elements of pop, soul, funk, Latin, jazz, rock, classical, world music and more.” Sadly, this was one of the last chances to visit the South Austin coffeehouse that had become a haven for acoustic music; less than two months later, financial issues forced its closure.
Dec. 15 (Thursday): David Ramirez at Antone’s. “A big crowd turned up to welcome Ramirez back from a tour, and although the crowd was lively right up until he took the stage, they showed great respect for his songs by turning almost completely silent as he began to play.” Much of this outing involved holiday music, from a visit to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar to a rock-band-with-chorus caroling soiree at the Blanton Museum.
Jan. 3 (Tuesday): Letting Up Despite Great Faults at Cheer Up Charlie’s. “The venue is most renowned for the natural rock cliff backdrop of its outdoor stage, but on a cold night, the venue wisely set up the bands indoors. That made for a jam-packed room, but the close quarters just made the atmosphere more festive. The band played off of that, inviting many members of the crowd onstage to dance and sing along for their final song of the night.” The set capped a Free Week stroll among the Red River District venues that proved ideal for the “One Night” series.
Feb. 8 (Wednesday): Japandroids at Waterloo Records. “‘We haven’t done an in-store in a very, very long time,’ Japandroids guitarist Brian King said to the few hundred fans who packed into the aisles of Austin’s landmark record shop to hear the Canadian rock ’n’ rollers kick-start their upcoming North American tour.” Though our “One Night” series focused mainly on local acts, occasionally we worked in a road show when it made sense, as this one clearly did.
March 29 (Wednesday): Suzanna Choffel at Geraldine’s. “A longtime Austin singer-songwriter and veteran of NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ Choffel has a new album coming out in May. Performing solo on electric guitar, she mixed newer tunes with smart covers such as Willie Nelson’s ‘I Never Cared for You,’ as well as older originals (including a memorable one she said she’d never recorded).” We visited eight venues for the series finale, finishing at the Continental Club, where we concluded that if Austin is in fact the Live Music Capital of the World, the Continental might rightly be recognized as the Best Club in the World.
“It was the perfect place to end this yearlong series, with (Jon Dee) Graham and his band boisterously singing the Mexican standard ‘Volver.’ Yes, we will return.”
A handful of discoveries
Monte Warden & the Dangerous Few at Continental Gallery (May). We knew all about Warden, longtime ringleader of Austin country band the Wagoneers, but this was our first time catching his new jazz-and-pop-influenced outfit the Dangerous Few. We liked them so much that we made them our Austin360 Artist of the Month for August 2016.
Jake Penrod at Little Longhorn Saloon (July). Penrod, who hails from the East Texas town of Athens but plays Austin regularly, impressed mightily with his command of classic honky-tonk and his dual-threat musicianship on both electric guitar and pedal steel. We weren’t surprised a bit when he won the Best Honky Tonk Male category at the Ameripolitan Music Awards seven months later.
Amanda Cevallos at Hyatt Regency (August). In our first time seeing Cevallos, who often performs with her band the High Hands but was playing solo here, we were impressed by “the confident and poised performance she delivered to a modest crowd scattered around the bar and restaurant in South Austin’s grandest hotel. Singing beautifully both in English and in Spanish, Cevallos surveyed country classics from the likes of Hank Thompson and Randy Travis, plus a couple of her own tunes.”
Dead Sally at Empire (January). “Adding cello and violin to the basic guitar/bass/drums mix, this charming co-ed quintet stood out from the Free Week pack with engaging indie-pop tunes and boundless youthful energy. … Riffing at one point off of Sheryl Crow, and between songs bemoaning their lack of clever banter, Dead Sally just had a ton of fun onstage, and their spirit spread to the audience.”
Noel McKay at Threadgill’s North (March). It wasn’t our first time seeing McKay, who’s long been prominent locally in tandem with Brennen Leigh. But his splendid set on this night (with piano accompanist Dan Walton) was a revelation, in part because it underscored just how great of a musical experience the Wednesday supper shows at this historic restaurant continue to be, decades after they began. We even got a sneak peek at the song McKay played a week later at the Paramount Theatre’s tribute to Guy Clark.
The venues: A master list
We tried to cast the net as wide as possible, and in the end we visited a total of 59 different venues in the 12 outings. Only one spot was included more than twice, and with good reason: The frequent 5 p.m. in-store shows at Waterloo Records were ideal for starting off a marathon evening. And it was a good reminder that they’re also simply one of the coolest ways to experience live music in Austin: Admission is always free, the sound quality is always top-notch, and they’ll often serve you a free beer or two as well.
Another 10 venues turned up twice in the series: Cactus Cafe, Continental Club, Continental Gallery, Donn’s Depot, Driskill Bar, Geraldine’s, Guero’s Oak Garden, the Parish, Saxon Pub and Strange Brew.
And we made it to each of these 48 places once: 3Ten, ABGB, ACL Live, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Antone’s, Armadillo Christmas Bazaar (Palmer Events Center), Barracuda, Blackheart, Blanton Museum, Broken Spoke, C-Boy’s, Central Market Westgate, Cheer Up Charlie’s, Deep Eddy Cabaret, Evangeline Cafe, Elephant Room, Empire, Four Seasons Lobby, High Road on Dawson, Highball, Hyatt Regency, Indian Roller, King Bee Lounge, Lamberts, Little Darlin’, Little Longhorn Saloon, McDonald’s Barton Springs, Mohawk, Moontower Saloon, One-2-One Bar, Patsy’s Cowgirl Cafe, People’s Rx Pharmacy, Radio Coffee & Beer, Sam’s Town Point, Shady Grove, Sidewinder, South Austin Brewery, Stay Gold, Stella San Jac, Swan Dive, Thirsty Nickel, Threadgill’s North, Threadgill’s South inside, Threadgill’s South outside, Townsend, White Horse, Whole Foods Downtown, Whole Foods Gateway.
A few regrets
We wish our travels had brought us to many other quality music havens around town, including but not limited to Hole in the Wall, El Mercado Backstage, Hotel Vegas, Stubb’s, One World Theatre, Grizzly Hall, Sahara Lounge, Scoot Inn and more. We do stop in at all of them over the course of the year; they just didn’t happen to land in the itineraries of this series. Perhaps “One Night” in the future. …
See and hear more
We presented short videos of everything we heard each month online. They’re all still available at music.blog.austin360.com/category/one-night-in. The next time someone asks you, “What’s live music in Austin like?” — send them here. We think it’ll give them a pretty good idea.