Welp, here we are in the middle of a virus and the most energetic, best two weeks of the year have been broken down, but Austin isn’t letting it completely stop us! See below for some fun parties and top musicians who aren’t skipping a beat this year. For those still visiting or looking for some fun food stops along the way, you’ll find tips here as well.
From a visitor or local’s perspective, I’ve put together a list of fun places that offer free access and free fun as well as places where you should not miss if it’s your first time attending or living in Austin this year.
Thursday, March 12
- Kick-Off Party: Hotel Vegas & Volstead 9 Year Anniversary Party starts at 4 p.m. with one of my favorite bands, Golden Dawn Arkestra, at 9 p.m. Free here.
Friday, March 13
- Best Local Musicians Under One Roof: Antone’s free show created for Austin’s top local artists. Donation at the door. I recommend Eric Tessmer (8 p.m.) Los Coast (11 p.m.). Bonus: Free Lamberts Sliders and Ranch Rider. RSVP here
- Best South Congress Store Opening Party: My favorite French store for dresses and tops, Sézane, has finally found Austin and opened a pop-up for the next two months at 2000 S Congress right past June’s All Day. Stop by their Grand Opening Party Friday, March 13 starting at 6 p.m. for a live band, cocktails, and shopping! No RSVP needed.
Saturday, March 14
- Where to Hang with your Pup: Outdoor Voices Dog Jog returns 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. at 606 Blanco Street. Their 2-mile runs are always a fun time spirited and will end with Ranch Rider, beer, and Richard’s Rainwater. RSVP here.
- Where to Watch Questlove: Empire Control Room & Garage have put together a Music Tech Mashup over 4 days with music, speakers, tech demos, drinks, for free (although you can buy a ticket if you don’t want to wait in line). Questlove will do an 11 p.m. set at Empire Garage and here is the rest of the lineup to RSVP! Also, on Sunday Eric Tessmer at 8 p.m., White Denim 9:10 p.m., Sir Woman at 11:30 p.m.
- Where to Watch Late Night Music Downtown: Barracuda has a fun outdoor venue and my pal from high school, Walker Lukens goes on at 12:15 a.m. Tickets here.
- Where to Drink Like a Local: Central Machine Works is the newest and hottest brewery with a full service bar, outdoor music stage, and ideal for the cool kids as well as family-friendly. It’s packed every weekend and beautiful way to spend the day drinking and hanging out with friends. Starting at 5:30 p.m. they’ll have a line-up with Tameca Jones, Gordy Quist, and Cory Williams. More info.
Sunday, March 13
- Back to Volstead and Hotel Vegas: Set times begin at 2 p.m. with A. Sinclair outside at 3:15 p.m., Mobley at 8:15 p.m., and Blackillac at 9:15 p.m.
Monday, March 16 & Tuesday, March 17:
- Best Summer Camp for Adults: Campfire Gathering at Camp Lucy now has single day passes. I’m looking at Tuesday with Robert Ellis at 2:15 p.m. and Shakey Graves at 10:00 p.m. Admission includes live music, complimentary food and beverages for day 1 ($150) and day 2 ($300) has more activities, access to Canvas House Spa, and more. You can also stay overnight. Tickets here.
Wednesday, March 18-21: ***WAITING TO HEAR UPDATE IF STILL ON***
- Best Free Parking Lot Party: SXSJ- This stands for South By San Jose and its the Hotel San Jose on South Congress that puts on its own mini fest during the second week. They have a full line up of awesome bands in the parking lot with vintage clothing and jewelry pop-ups. Drinks and food for purchase as well! It’s easy to get into before 6 ish.
Friday, March 20
- Best Recording Studio Party: If you haven’t seen an intimate show at Arlyn Studio, you are in for a real treat. Willie Nelson, Gary Clark Jr., and Sublime have all recorded here, and I truly belive the space and sound can make anyone sound like a star. See Blackillac at 11 p.m.
- Best Band’s Personal Recording Studio Party: So White Denim has their own recording studio and outdoor stage on the east side called Radio Milk! Catch them playing Friday at 1:30 p.m. followed by friends such as Ohmme, Vanishing Twin and Saturday, March 21 at 1:45 p.m. followed by Pom Poko, Abram Shook, The Orielles. RSVP here.
Saturday, March 21
- Best Pop-Up Market Plus Music: Delta Millworks, the custom lumber mill, is one of my favorite places in Austin to go to a party, especially because they only allow a few a year in there. Music starts at 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. with free drinks and shopping with Jack Donnelly, Zilker Belts, and more. RSVP
- Best Free Live Music at La Condesa: Malverde is a private events space above the popular Mexican downtown spot called La Condesa. While they have great margaritas, tuna tostadas, and elotes downstairs, their upstairs space offers several nights of booked bands during music week that is open to the public. ***WAITING TO HEAR IF STILL ON***
Food & Bar Tips:
- Breakfast Tacos Off the Beaten Path: Valentina’s Tex- Mex has the best homemade flour tortillas in Austin. While it’s BBQ meets Tacos here, drive about 15-20 min outside of downtown and before 11 a.m. if you want breakfast tacos that you can brag about to everyone else who waited 45 min in line at Veracruz or El Primo.
- Under-the-Radar Downtown Tacos: Asador. I actually discovered this taco truck after a show at Mohawk last SXSW. It’s very unassuming and in the back of mezcal and tequila bar, Las Perlas which is situated in the center of downtown by the music venues and Dirty Sixth. They are my #1 taco in the city as they grill the tortilla making it crisp and durable to hold the best chicken or pork inside. I also love the thick chips and guacamole. Play a friendly game of darts out there as well!
- BBQ That Isn’t Too Far or Too Close to Downtown: LeRoy & Lewis. While my favorite BBQ is at Terry Black’s on Barton Springs, it might be hard to deal with lines during a busy festival week especially when it’s busy on a normal day in Austin. I’d recommend going to Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden further down South Congress and ordering from one of the most innovative BBQ trucks called LeRoy & Lewis. Brisket is only served Saturday-Sunday, and don’t miss the beef cheeks. I love all the creative veggie sides that you won’t find anywhere else like Kale Caesar Slaw.
- Best Spa Getaway: Lake Austin Spa Resort. This is one of the top spa’s in the entire country and has all-inclusive lake activities, spa food that’s actually delicious, relaxing massages and pools. You can buy a day package for a quick fix and if you don’t have a car or desire to drive, you can take a water taxi from downtown.
- Best New Wine Bar: LoLo just opened up on the East Side. It’s an all-natural wine bar with a shop inside and an outdoor patio for guzzling down some chilled wine on a hot day. They have cheese and smoked fish snacks at the bar inside and will most likely have DJ’s for some fun entertainment. It’s on my favorite street for bars and food, so make this your first stop before you hop around.
- Where to Hang Out Late Night: Justine’s, a French spot far out East is known for its late night dining as well as long wait times. The characters here dress so well and it’s unlike any other scene in Austin. Head here after dark and pop into Central Machine Works while you wait to order your steak tartare.
- Where to Two Step and Drink Whiskey: The White Horse is a grungy, two-stepping, honky tonk with a gravel outdoor patio and pool tables. There is free popcorn, dance lessons, whiskey on tap, and a food truck with nachos and queso. I think this must be what people dream about when they think of Austin.
- Best New Restaurant: Comedor is a modern Mexican restaurant recently named Best New Restaurant by Texas Monthly and Esquire. Don’t miss the bone marrow tacos or quesadilla!