Austin is often hailed as the Live Music Capital of the World. While this grandstand title is nice, if your musical tastes don’t fit into popular genres, you may wonder where to find unique music to enjoy.
If you’re looking to move beyond mainstream, read on to learn about a few of my favorite Austin music venues in town. While by no means an exhaustive list of offbeat music spots, my collection features vastly different options, all worth checking out for a change of pace.
Sahara Lounge Continues an Austin Legacy
Sahara Lounge is unique. Although its location may seem out of the way over by east Airport Blvd, this place has been a popular Austin hotspot since the Lincoln Drive-In in 1962. From 1978-2011, it was the TC Lounge Blues Bar.
Sustaining the music tradition, today Sahara Lounge boasts funky, talented bands across a diverse range of genres.
What hooked me was their Saturday nights. This is when Zoumountchi plays: an African-style band featuring two of the three co-owners, couple Ibrahim Aminou and Eileen Bristol, and many other innovative musicians. The dance floor is always packed with visitors moving feverishly to heady beats, rich sax and – occasionally – traditional African instruments played by Ibraham.
The musical experience is jam band-like, with extended solo sections and improvised poetic tirades sung by Ibrahim.
Saturday nights also feature a food buffet included in the $5 cover. This unmissable venue has chess, pool tables and a firepit out back where comfortable intermingling between the eclectic crowd takes place.
1413 Webberville Rd – Website
Cajun Cacophony at Evangeline Café
With diner chairs and beer cap tables, Evangeline Café lacks any hint of pretension. Emphasizing backwoods Louisiana inspiration, a myriad of creatures decorate the walls and ceiling, including a gaping fish, goose in mid-flight and – of course – a giant inflatable lobster.
This cheerful, humble setting becomes a novelty with the nightly presence of Cajun music. On Monday nights in particular, watch Charles Thibodeaux and the Austin Cajun Aces twang folk tunes under an “Evangeline” street sign. The three musicians belt a lively tune with fiddle, accordion and guitar. An open mouthed armadillo beckons for tips.
While this is a great place for big plated Cajun comfort food with the family, cooked by chef and owner Curtis Clarke, there are also late nights on Wednesdays and Fridays for those more interested in drinking and dancing. Regardless of when you visit, expect the nostalgic, appealing sound of Southern-style musicians and an uproarious atmosphere.
8106 Brodie Ln – Website
Elephant Room: Downtown Jazz Den
Open until 2 AM every night, Elephant Room may be a hidden gem for some Austinites, perhaps partly because it is located entirely underground.
Enter the moody den on downtown Congress Ave, filled every night with soulful jazz music. Many of the groups that play here have been doing so for years, as Elephant Room has been a staple of the Austin jazz scene since its opening in 1991.
This is where jazz and music lovers come together, both as musicians and bar patrons. Students come to see their professors play, musicians mingle and make connections, and beer flows for those there for the cool atmosphere and wide draft selection.
The Austin Jazz Band, full of amateur and professional musicians who love big band music, plays at Elephant Room the last Monday of every month. Another notable group is John Mills Times Ten, led by John Mills, renowned jazz musician and Associate Professor at UT Austin for Jazz Composition and Jazz Saxophone.
Many of these musicians are dedicated to their craft and play in several jazz groups across town. Because of the close contact with seasoned professionals and the admirable selection of drinks, Elephant Room has proven to be a well-established joint in Austin, perfect for experiencing a slice of jazz culture and consistently excellent music.
315 Congress Ave – Website
Keep Exploring Austin for Surprising Music Finds
Maybe you don’t relate to the music on 6th Street or the bands that play at ACL. Perhaps you just want to experience something new. Whatever the case may be, Austin is the perfect city to explore the nooks and crannies of any music genre.
For dancing, go to Sahara Lounge. For a groovy spot downtown, visit the dark, sultry Elephant Room. For a homey setting and great food, hang out with the folky Southern bands at Evangeline. Pay a visit to any of these three Austin music venues for quality sounds off the beaten path.
@erinmayyyy wants to know:
Which offbeat music venues in Austin do you recommend?