Best live music in Austin
The Continental Club on South Congress should be at the top of any list for both visitors and locals. It opened its doors in 1955, and the 200-capacity room has since then hosted the likes of Double Trouble, Paul Ray and the Cobras and Joe Ely back in the ’70s and ’80s to legends like Robert Plant and Wanda Jackson more recently. The tiny stage and small room make any show intimate and electric, a crown jewel of the Live Music Capital of the World.
A larger-than-life statue of Willie Nelson lords over the home of the longest-running music series in television history (KLRU-TV/PBS’s Austin City Limits). With state-of-the-art lighting and sound, and a formidable yet intimate capacity (2,750 seats), every show at the Moody Theater sounds crisp, looks spectacular, and feels epic. The only major pain is parking, as it’s smack in the middle of the highly populated 2nd Street District. But a few bucks for a meter or rideshare is a small price to pay for a consistently premium live music experience.
This joint at the northern end of the Red River District is a top destination for musicians one of the most loved locales among live music fans. Rowdier fans flood the ground level in front of the stage while others seeking a more laid-back feel choose three balcony levels including a rooftop patio and a bird’s-eye, side-stage viewing space. There’s also a homey, fireside bar and indoor stage. Even when there’s no live music, the Mohawk is mainstay happy hour haven.
There are myriad reasons why Stubb’s is one of the best venues in town. The 1,800-capacity spot is nestled in the heart of the Red River District, which makes pre- and after-partying a cinch; the outdoor amphitheater features impeccable sound and light displays, plus clear sightlines from almost anywhere on the natural, gradual incline leading up from the stage; and—huge bonus—you can always enjoy barbecue treats like a chopped beef sandwich or brisket platter while soaking up world-class concerts.
Located in an inconspicuous upstairs room just above Bat Bar and the Voodoo Doughnut storefront, the Parish is widely regarded as the city’s best venue for sound. Despite its location amidst the hustle of 6th Street, the 450-capacity upper floor feels like an intimate safe-haven with its cozy, wood-floor interior and tiny, just-below-waist-high stage that features all types of musicians. The only downside comes during sold-out shows—since it’s all general admission, you’ve gotta arrive early to snag the best sightlines.
Though it’s “not the same” as the original 6th Street location (according to purists), the new Antone’s (now on 5th Street) still maintains the spirit of the “World-Famous Home of the Blues” opened by Clifford Antone in 1975. The Texas base for travelling and local blues acts like Albert King, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Double Trouble back in the day, Antone’s still hosts renowned blues and roots musicians in its 450-capacity room. Almost every evening features an early and a late show.
Located next-door to the Mohawk in the Red River district, this self-described “Vegan+Queer” establishment is an ideal space to experience a more contemporary, bohemian side of Austin’s music culture. Cheer Up Charlies books mostly local acts for intimate performances on the indoor stage (complete with psychedelic mural) or on the larger outdoor stage, which connects to a spacious patio (a prime spot for enjoying kombucha on tap and fresh-squeezed juice cocktails). The outdoor stage features a natural limestone cliff face as a backdrop, perfect for expertly projected visuals.
If kitschy spaces and trippy light shows are your thing, check out the varied events at Empire Control Room and Garage. With concerts of all sorts on one of three stages (one of them inside, another a repurposed auto garage) on almost any given night of the week, it’s no wonder Empire has become one of the most popular live music spaces over the past few years. Come for the live music, and stay for the DJ-fueled dance parties on the patio.
This definitive Texan dance hall is all about letting your hair down on the dance floor. It doesn’t get much more Texan than two-stepping to live country music. There are dance lessons at 8pm most nights, so hesitant toe-tappers can fit right in with boot-scootin bosses. Grab an ice-cold Lone Star or three so you’re more willing to say yes when a stranger asks you to dance. After all that dancing, refuel with one of the Spoke’s famous (and famously enormous) chicken-fried steaks.
Scoot Inn has a history as rich as Austin itself. In 1871, the introduction of the city's railway prompted Sam and Nancy Wilson to open a grocery store next to the tracks. The business operated until 1955, when Aubrey Ivy (nicknamed "Scoot") and his wife purchased the store and renamed it Scoot Inn, where it has since served as a saloon and live music venue. A separate bar inside—dubbed Ivy's Room—features regular piano performances.
This funky East Austin dive is a little hard to find, but the search is worth it as you’ll be rewarded with excellent live jazz, blues, R&B, and soul music. Pick up some free popcorn before choosing a spot in front of the intimate stage. Happy hour gigs feature great shows for the early bird crowd (like pianist Margaret Wright on Thursdays and Fridays), and Soul Sundays with Soul Man Sam is one of the best ways to get your week started. There’s also a lovely garden patio for outdoor chilling.