With SXSW Online 2021 only days away, it’s time to celebrate the local artists who keep Austin well represented in the music showcase schedule. Due to the restrictions of the online format, there are 280 artists on the roster, 32 of which hail from the 512. And while each artist will get limited time due to the condensed showcase, it will be a great opportunity to take in a wide variety of music in a small amount of time. As I do every year, here are my Top 10 must-see Austin artists at SXSW Online 2021. But first, some notes![Read more…]
This will be a strange one for me. For the last five years, I took four days off from my 9 to 5 and ran around downtown Austin listening to music. Day parties, Black Fret showcases, 2 AM listening sessions. All exhausting, all exhilarating, all inspiring. It’s the journalistic highlight of the year.
This year, I’ll be doing the same from the coziness of my computer. While checking out a showcase, I’ll be able to burp my six month old. Instead of ducking into my favorite sanctuaries for meals, I’ll hit the fridge. But rather than be bummed, I’m intrigued and excited. In service to the artists who made the festival what it is today, SXSW is delivering innovative ways for musicians to perform in what’s hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Here’s everything you need to know to join in on the fun.[Read more…]
I love watching artists evolve. When I first met Mobley in 2016, he was a bubbling-under one man pop powerhouse. Exuding charm, charisma, and musical chops to spare, Mobley turned a rain-soaked Spiderhouse anniversary show into a mad dance party.
Five years later, Mobley has grown from man with the music to man with a message. Philanthropist, activist, and social commentator, this dynamic artist is using his influence and talents to not only create gorgeous music but say something meaningful with it. And his latest six-song opus, “Young & Dying in the Occident Supreme,” is the next evolution for one of Austin’s brightest stars.[Read more…]
My first brush with Cari Hutson was a wonderfully random occurrence. In 2019, my wife and I attended a Black Fret showcase at the 04 Center on South Congress. We were there to see Moving Panoramas and ended up sticking around for Ms. Hutson.
Two hours later, we walked out saying, “Well, I know who’s getting a major grant this year.” We were blown away by Cari Hutson’s spellbinding stage presence, powerful vocals, and gigantic heart for those she’s musically connecting with. And with her latest EP “Salvation & Soul Restoration” set to drop on February 12th during a livestream at the Saxon Pub, fans can expect a record that reflects our times in a thoughtful, emotional way.
A Little Bit Janis, A Lot-a-Bit Cari
Austin-born, Louisiana-raised, Cari Hutson began her musical journey as a young woman walking in the French Quarter absorbing live jazz through open windows. Inspired by the notion that music could be a career, she returned to Central Texas to study musical theater. There she discovered the power of her voice and the connections it can create.
“There’s a theatrical aspect to the way I perform,” shared Cari. “The main difference between theater and a rock concert is that you can break the fourth wall, look into someone’s eyes, and create a connection. Knowing I’m making an impact through song is my favorite part of the performance.”
Upon dropping out of college to pursue music full time, Cari worked in a number of bands before playing the lead in “A Night With Janis Joplin” on stage. Impressed by her soulful portrayal of the legendary singer, drummer Dave Getz of Big Brother and the Holding Company gave Cari the rights to “Can’t Be the Only One,” a song written for but never performed by Janis Joplin.
In 2018, Cari and her band Good Company featured the song on “Don’t Rain on My Sunny Day” to local acclaim. Since then, Cari’s played dozens of shows, embraced live streaming, and was awarded the Black Fret grant my wife and I predicted after her 04 Center show. And now, with five new tracks ready to hit the world, there’s nothing but good things ahead for this one-of-a-kind performer.
Salvation & Soul Restoration
Cari’s latest record is an evolution of her core sound pointed towards two clear themes: encouragement and empowerment. Each of the five songs make up a singular album statement that’s resonant during our current state of personal, political, and emotional unrest. And yes, the tunes absolutely soar.
The record’s first single is “Blame,” a pointed political statement that calls for those in power to take responsibility for their actions as opposed to reveling in the usual rhetoric. A thumping funk/rock anthem in the style of Gary Clark Jr., Cari and her husband/writing partner Hunter hustled to get it done in time for the 2020 election.
“Hunter and I were sitting on the porch of his family home in Galveston, processing the day, talking about the upcoming election”, shared Cari. “He said something like, ‘they all blame, blame, blame’ and the words stuck. When we got back to Austin, I started singing the words to him, he got out his looping pedal and went to town on it, and the song just came out. It was very organic.”
Following “Blame” on the release schedule was “The Rescue,” a striking and emotionally bare cry for help during troubled times. Written during a period of personal upheaval and change, the song begs the listener to look inward for the strength to reach out. The result is a delicate yet poignant ballad that resonates with an honesty that’s rare in a world full of Insta-obsessed artists.
However, if “Salvation & Soul Restoration” is an essay on forgiveness, acceptance, and hope, “Take the Day” is its thesis. Emblematic of everything Hutson does well, the track opens with the subtle plucks of a summer acoustic guitar and blooms into a country/rock anthem of outsized proportions. Hutson’s jaw-dropping vocals are stirring, inspiring, and full of the passion longtime fans have come to love.
The record rounds out with the funky, crunchy go-get-em jam “Stand Up” and “My Breath,” a smokey Southern rock tune that adds welcome heat to the EP. Each of the five songs pulls its weight and creates a cohesive emotional narrative that mines life’s ups and downs through thoughtful, well-crafted songwriting and out-of-this-world performances. Big fancy words to say I like this record quite a bit!
More On the Horizon
With the pandemic continuing to grind live music to a halt, Cari’s embraced the world of live streaming. Although her streams have slowed over the last few months, she continues to write music with her husband and a new band, PACK. Comprised of Paige DeChausse of The Reverent Few, Andrea Magee from Beat Root Revival, and Kelly Green and Violet Lea, both from Madam Radar, the five-some feels like a supergroup of vocal talent.
Cari will also be celebrating the release of “Salvation & Soul Restoration” via a Saxon Pub livestream on February 12th. While it won’t be the same as a true concert experience, watching Cari perform these tunes on stage will be a must-see stream.
When talking about the present, the future, and her brand new EP, I was struck by how real Cari was as a person and a performer. Based on our conversation, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I just really hope people take the 22 minutes and hear the songs from tip to top and experience the EP from beginning to end,” shared Cari. “It’s a gift from me to you and I just want to give a little encouragement and hope.”
Cari Huston’s EP, “Salvation & Soul Restoration” will be available for purchase and on streaming services on February 12th. Check out www.carihutson.com for all the details.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Are you a current Cari Hutson fan? If so, tell us how you discovered her music!
When we think back on the local music scene in 2020, it’s easy to be disheartened. The ongoing pandemic crippled the live music scene. Venues closed, artists suffered, and while a steady stream of in-house livestream concerts helped soften the blow, there’s nothing like experiencing music with a crowd of people.
But take heart! Austin music remained strong and prolific in the face of COVID-19. New music from nearly every beloved artist flooded our fair city and what better way to celebrate than Austin Chronicle’s yearly Music Poll? A great opportunity to not only vote for your favorite artists but discover new ones, this year’s poll is a who’s-who of local favorites. As a primer, here’s how to get involved, some of the key categories, and five of my personal picks. The choice is yours!
Exercise Your Right to Choose
Like everything during the pandemic, this year’s Austin Music Poll needed to adapt with the times. The Chronicle team slashed the normal slate of categories from the usual 50 to a trim 20. The team also jettisoned the genre categories (except for best Hip Hop) in favor of 2020-centric awards like Best Livestreaming Artist and Best 2020-Themed Song.
Polling is open until February 1st and can be done via their official website. And some of my picks are…
My Five Cents
Band of the Year
- …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
- Black Pumas
- Sam Houston & Blk Odyssy
- Ley Line
- Sit Woman
My Take: While Black Pumas will most likely walk away with this one (that Grammy nomination never hurts), I would love to see Ley Line take the gold here. This year’s “We Saw Blue” is a sensational collection of soul-stirring world music incorporating influences from a dozen cultures and climates. Ley Line is the embodiment of what we need as a society right now. Sounds and rhythms from around the world combined to create something beautiful and welcoming.
Musician of the Year
- Gina Chavez
- Jake Lloyd
- Walker Lukens
- Jackie Venson
My Take: AlthoughI adore every artist in this category, you can’t deny what Jackie Venson did this year. She released four albums, performed on ACL Live, and pioneered weekly livestream sessions when COVID hit. All the while, successfully fighting for social equality in the Austin music community by curating an All Black Blues on the Green concert. And she’s still one of the best guitarists in Austin. An exceptional woman who more than deserves this honor
Hip Hop Artist of the Year
- Deezie Brown
- Kydd Jones
- Magna Carda
- The Teeta
My Take: This is an insanely tough category. You could make an argument for every artist on this list, but I’m going to buck tradition and go Blackillac. ZEALE and Phranchyze’s one-two lyrical punch is one of my favorite musical tricks and this duo pulls it off beautifully. Plus “6 Ringz” is a straight-up banger.
Album of the Year
- “End the Summertime F(or)ever” – Botany
- “Candy Blue Like Screw” – Deezie Brown & EC Mayne
- “Welcome to Hard Times” – Charley Crockett
- “2020” – Eliza Gilkyson
- “Primates” – Greyhounds
- “We Saw Blue” – Ley Line
- “My Love is a Hurricane” – David Ramirez
- “Skeleton” – Skeleton
- “The New Sounds of Late Capitalism” – Star Parks
- “Trinidad” – Sweet Spirit
- “The Quarentine” – The Teeta
- “Vintage Machine” – Jackie Venson
My Take: Why oh why must you give me 12 choices! Taking away Ms. Venson and Ley Line, as I already picked them for an award, I’m still left with a wealth of good options. Despite some wavering, I keep returning to Star Parks for my best album of the year. Laid back, lo-fi, and steeped in late 60’s Brian Wilson-esqe songcraft, “The New Sounds of Late Capitalism” is a fantastic listen front to back. But, this is an incredibly good list to pick from.
Song of the Year
- “Revolution” – Heartless Bastards
- “IDK” – Tameca Jones
- “James Crow” – Mobley
- “Karen O” – Sun June
- “Walk with Me Austin” – Adrian Quesdada w/various artists
My Take: With love to all the nominees, this one’s no contest. The first time I heard “James Crow” from Austinot favorite Mobley, I knew it was a keeper. It’s a prime example of everything he does well. Take emotionally charged subject matter, wrap it into an addictive dance jam, and attach a world-class video to the whole ensemble. The result is an instant earworm that, in a fair and just world, would be a Top 40 hit.
“Walk With Me Austin” is important, and “IDK” absolutely slaps, but “James Crow” ticks all the boxes as a standout track in an uncertain year.
And the Winners Are…
In a normal year, the winners would be announced during the Austin Music Awards as a kickoff to SXSW. Although it’s unlikely an in-person event will be possible, the Chronicle promises something special to celebrate the deserving winners.
Whether that’s a traditional livestream or something with a bit more flavor, there’s no doubt the capstone to an incredibly odd year for the Austin music community will be one to remember. Make sure your voice is heard: Vote today!
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Who are you voting for in this year’s Austin Music Poll?
As we all know, COVID-19 has not been kind to small businesses, restaurants, or life in general. And as we roll into the holiday season, many may find it hard to get into the holiday spirit for a variety of reasons.
Luckily, you can’t keep a festive season down, even in the midst of the pandemic. If you’re looking for a bright and jolly way to spend an evening from the comfort and safety of your car, look no further than our top picks for seasonal and safe drive-through light shows guaranteed to delight young and old alike.
NOTE: While many of these events have walking trails, we’re only focusing on the drive-thru portion of the experience. If you choose to take these trails, please exercise proper social distancing and coronavirus precautions.
Fancy a short road trip? Take IH-35 South to New Braunfels and check out Santa’s Ranch where over 1.5 million animated holiday lights await. Not only are the displays stunning, rolling through over a mile of winding country roads screams classic holiday cheer. And it’s all delightfully Austin weird. Cowboys, dinosaurs, biblical scenes, and a host of random ideas combine to create a magical aura for every attendee. It’s a lovely event in a beautiful setting.
Visit santasranch.net for directions, pricing, and tickets.
Peppermint Parkway at COTA
A relative newbie to the ATX holiday scene, Peppermint Parkway at Circuit of the Americas grew from upstart to December mainstay in no time. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s event is mainly vehicular, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing over a million lights displayed over a mile-long course.
This year’s theme lets visitors follow hosts Pepper and Mint as they race to deliver letters to Santa. Exhibits include elves, holiday sculptures, an enchanted forest, and a 60 foot spiral light tree. And no trip to a holiday display would be complete without a visit from the man in red himself! My family will be cruising down Tunnel Road rocking our Christmas jammies sometime soon—so join us!
Go to circuitoftheamericas.com for ticket prices and more information.
Trail of Lights
It wouldn’t be the holidays without the 56th annual Austin Trail of Lights spectacular. And while you won’t be able to take a spin under the Zilker Tree this year, there’s still plenty to marvel at during this incredible holiday experience. Guests will be able to enjoy classic exhibits like Santasaurus, Spaceship Santa, and 12 Days of Christmas whist being dazzled by over 2 million lights.
The Trail of Lights team went to great lengths to capture the spirit of the event while keeping it COVID free. Festive elves scan your tickets upon entry and holiday classics are broadcast on an in-park radio station. They even hand out cookies! And although the entire trip takes about 15 minutes, the sensory overload is worth it.
If I wrote a “You’re Not an Austinite Until” article, visiting this annual holiday celebration would be close to the top of the list. And although this version of the Trail of Lights is decidedly 2020, it’s still worth hopping into the car for a one-of-a-kind hit of holiday cheer.
The Austin Trail of Lights runs through January 3; you can purchase passes at austintrailoflights.org.
Buda Trail of Lights
For a weekend display, visit our neighbors down south for the 12th annual Buda Trail of lights at the historic Stagecoach Park. This year’s event is completely drive-through so you can experience holiday cheer from the safety of your vehicle.
The Buda Trail of lights is free and accessible December 10-13 and 17-20 from 6:00 to 10:00 PM. More info is available on the City of Buda site.
Everyone’s neighborhood has the “go all out” block. The row of homes where everyone gets together to celebrate the season under a blanket of glittering lights. And better yet, can be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of your vehicle. Here’s a quick run down of some of our favorites:
- Spindler Family Christmas Light Show: 2441 Candle Ridge Trail, Georgetown, TX 78626
- Rhodes Family Christmas: 2410 Sharon Drive, Cedar Park, TX 78613
- Chinati Court: Chinati Ct, Cedar Park, TX 78613
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Where are you going for your socially distant holiday cheer this year?
When COVID knocked out SXSW back in March of this year, I was crestfallen. Seven months later, my sadness seems petty, but at the time, it was crushing. And as we all know, everything else live music related fell along with it, including the other marquee music event of the year, the Austin City Limits Festival.
Luckily, the ACL Festival team refused to stay down and crafted a weekend long virtual event that both pays homage to the past while keeping an eye towards the future. All without the need for masks, social distancing or even tickets.
A Blast to the Past
This year’s event will run from October 9th to 11th exclusively on YouTube. The virtu-show starts at 7 p.m. each night and will feature iconic performances from past festivals. From last year’s headliners Billie Eilish and Gary Clark Jr to Phish and LCD Soundsystem in 2010, a decade’s worth of ACL Fest memories will be on offer.
But it’s not all “re-runs” of classic ACL Fest moments. Determined to keep the lineup current, the festival will feature a variety of new content and recorded performances featuring some of Austin’s finest talent. One of the coolest examples of old meets new is an animated video of Willie Nelson’s 2016 ACL Fest performance of “On the Road Again” presented by Texas Monthly.
New Content with a Local Flair
Like the in-person event, this year’s edition leans heavily on both local talent and organizations. Yearly sponsor, Austin Parks Foundation, will showcase local artists performing in unique locations around Austin:
- Melat from the Zilker Botanical Gardens.
- Jackie Venson from Pan Am Neighborhood Park.
- Los Coast from Zilker Clubhouse
- Otis the Destroyer from the Heath Eiland and Morgan Moss BMX Skatepark.
Another long time sponsor, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, hosted a series of brand new performances from the Black Pumas, Mobley, and Paul Cauthen which will be broadcast throughout the weekend. And as they do every year, Tito’s will match all donations to the Austin Parks Foundation up to $10,000 made during ACL Fest 2020.
More Than Just Music
Anybody who’s been to ACL Fest will tell you the weekend is more than epic live music. It’s a gathering place, an innovation showcase, and sometimes a social call to arms. ACL Fest 2020 continues this important piece of the festival puzzle in this year’s virtual format.
In the conversation department, Salesforce has partnered with ACL Fest 2020 to create the Make Change initiative. Matthew McConaughey will host two sessions, one starring tennis legend Andy Roddick and a group of community focused entrepreneurs while the other will center on providing educational assistance to underserved high school students. While these smaller sessions often get swallowed by the music, please make a point to attend these enlightening and important sessions.
Other sessions and partnerships include:
- Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to changing the American electoral landscape by ensuring everyone is registered and empowered to vote.
- The Equal Justice Initiative, committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishments in the American penal system.
- The All Together ATX Relief Fund, a joint partnership with Austin Community Foundation and United Way for Greater Austin designed to combat the economic impact of COVID-19 on already vulnerable neighborhoods.
New Location, Same Energy for ACL Fest 2020
And the list of awesomeness goes on and on! When many festivals packed it in and said, “see you next year” when COVID struck, the Austin City Limits Festival team dug in and found a new way to celebrate. While it won’t be the eight stage, 400,000 person extravaganza we’re used to, this year’s virtual edition is a thoughtfully curated and planned event that does more than make the best out of a challenging situation. ACL Fest 2020 uses the limitations to create something different but equally impactful.
Enjoying some of the best moments of ACL’s past from the comfort of your couch for free sounds like a lovely way to spend an evening. Try to do so at least once this weekend!
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Do you have a favorite ACL Fest performance? Tell us about it!
Well, I done did it. When I moved here from NYC six years ago, if you told me I’d end up having a kid and living in an Austin suburb, I would’ve called you insane. Yet two months ago, my wife, three-year-old, and I moved into an adorable home in Cedar Park. It’s even on a cul-de-sac for Pete’s sake. We’re officially ‘burbing.
While the cool kids in Austin proper consider Cedar Park a cultural wasteland, I’m here to set the record straight. Sure, it may not be a bastion of foodie goodness like the city’s hipper neighborhoods, but Williamson County dwellers have more than chain restaurants and fast causal to keep the taste buds tantalized.
Here’s an insider’s guide about where to eat in this fine town of friends and families, including a couple spots just outside the city limits.[Read more…]
Back when I did my first “6 Singles” article, COVID-19 was still a newbie we all hoped would be gone in a week or four. Nearly six month later, it’s time for another batch of wonderful music to be thrust into the spotlight. Sequestration may have crippled the live music scene, but Austin artists continue to churn out quality art at an inspiring rate. Check out these seven new singles and fall in love.[Read more…]
Whenever people talk about summer in Austin, water activities are always recommended. Dipping in Barton Springs, a trip to Hamilton Pool, floating the river. All fantastic ways to beat three straight months of 100-degree heat.
But what if you don’t even want to be outside? Regardless of your water activity of choice, the blazing sun can turn the coolest of pools into bath water, and fry skin to a crisp. And forget it if you have little ones. Spending any amount of time in broiling temperatures can be downright dangerous. What’s a parent to do?
Cedar Park’s micro indoor water park may be the perfect solution. Allow me to introduce you to Splash Shack, a family-focused waterscape and play area, designed with big and little kids in mind. All without reliance on greasy sunscreen or suffering through triple-digit temps.
And, more good news: Splash Shack is open year-round. So when the heat has passed and it’s actually a bit cool to swim outside, you can find swimming fun right here, every month of the year.[Read more…]