Austin Convention Trip Notes, Part 2

Below continues my write-up of our latest trip to Austin. Read Part 1 here.

What About The Music?

No trip to Austin would be complete without seeing at least one live show, but once I discovered I was not chosen for a taping of Austin City Limits, I defaulted to selecting one by venue instead of by “band I’d heard of before.” Thus I found myself at the legendary Stubb’s! (It’s a BBQ restaurant in the front, and a party in the back! Or, you know, upstairs and downstairs.) It was a night of local favorite bands playing four in a row, and not all of them were my cup of tea so I didn’t stick around for the whole shindig. It was, however, just cool seeing somebody up on that stage in a historic venue and being part of that scene. I guess you could say I also experienced six or seven free live shows while walking down 6th Street at various times, and I also re-visited my friends at Waterloo Records to see what they were featuring that I would be interested in listening to soon.

The most profound connection to the world of Austin music, however, came early in the week when I paid a visit to the memorial statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan standing on the shores of Town Lake. From here, Stevie stands with the downtown skyline as a backdrop, the statue casting a symbolic shadow of him in the middle of a guitar solo. The plaque behind the statue simply calls him a “musician,” which is fittingly understated for such a game-changing guitarist. RIP, Stevie.

Let’s Wrap It Up: Miscellaneous Thoughts

Another reason Austin is a great town is the built-in 10-mile plus trail looping around Town Lake, crisscrossed with several bridges including a couple of pedestrian-only options. I was able to keep eating all the great food I mentioned above without feeling terrible by going on several long, humid runs around various sections of the trail. I looped into the expanses of Zilker Park and Barton Springs on several occasions, as well, and I was never alone on the trail matter what time of day I started jogging. Three cheers to you, Austin, for fitness.

Gina, a group of her co-workers, and I tried to check out the Congress Ave. Bridge bats one evening. Apparently June is a hit-or-miss season for them, unfortunately. We crowded against the rails with several dozen others, hoping for a Batcave-worthy swarm of the nocturnal masses, but the swarm never came. We did see decently-sized groups of the bats dart in and out from under the bridge in brownish blurs, and we certainly heard their chirps (or whatever you call the noise a bat makes) rise up from below. I also smelled them quite plainly when I jogged underneath the bridge later that week, but that was it for bat sightings. I guess the bats will have to wait until next time.

One last food-related plug: if you’re in Austin and in need of some sauce (either barbecue or hot, it doesn’t matter), there’s only one place you need to go: Tears of Joy.

Since I think it’s clear I’m fond of the city and I’ve said everything positive I can say over the course of what has turned into a treatise, I will close my Austin odyssey with a note about graffiti and construction. It seems the local government is a-okay with officially commissioned murals and probably less-official graffiti adorning the various sides of historic buildings and newer structures alike. These pieces quite often rose far above the mere scribblings of gang members; I would call many of them proper works of art. Some were commercially tied to restaurants and bars, some gave shout-outs to Willie Nelson and other Texas heroes, and some were just plain weird. For this reason, I kept my eyes open and camera ready as I walked through downtown, always on the lookout for some kind of graffiti Easter egg, and they usually made me smile.

Just a small sampling of Austin's free artwork.
Just a small sampling of Austin’s free artwork. Yes, that is a tank coming out of the side of a building.

Austin is a great city, but that’s no longer a well-kept secret. Throughout the week, streets were periodically closed due to construction, and it was clear that several buildings had been recently demolished or were being hastily constructed to keep up with growth. Orange cones were littered everywhere. The residents I talked to had very mixed reactions about this kind of growth, which I can totally understand coming from densely populated and traffic-choked Northern Virginia. The picture below sort of sums up Austin’s current state in my mind: a cool, retro, slightly odd public building being quickly obscured by construction.

Progress is progress, and change isn’t something to be feared. I just hope as Austin grows, it’s done smartly. And I hope those in charge manage to keep it weird.

Austin Convention Trip Notes, Part 1

As I wrote in the fall after Gina and I visited for a weekend, I quickly found out that Austin, Texas and I were going to be best friends. Food and music, two of my very favorite things in the world, can be had by the plenty in the central Texas city. Quirkiness and friendliness, weirdness and awesomeness, country and rock ‘n’ roll, all mixed up in the same roughly 272 square miles. In short, what’s not to love?

Recently, Gina had to return there for a conference, so I wasted no time in arranging to take off work to join her. I remembered that I had quite a list of things to do there if I ever went back, and spending a week in Austin offered me nothing but time in which to do them.

Out of respect for your time, I wrote so much about this trip that I am splitting the trip notes up into two parts. This is the first; the second will come next week.

I Will Have All Of The BBQ, Or At Least All Of The Food

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, one of the first things I do in any new city is to compile a list of intriguing restaurants through Yelp, so as my time there progresses I have a short list of places to eat, ready at a moment’s notice. I did the same for this go round in Austin and pretty much stuck to it, with a few detours based on suggestions from friends. The thing is, Austin is so chock-full of good places to eat that you have to try pretty hard not to find something tasty.

Practically every meal I had during the week was a highlight. I stopped at several coffee shops, but Patika Coffee‘s little truck that could served up the best brew by far. The friendly girls making smoothies at Blenders & Bowls guided me to the perfect post-run recovery drink full of healthy goodness. The Asian-fusion specialties of Koriente and its jasmine tea was the best break I could have hoped for on a hot afternoon. We revisited Moonshine one night for a piece of bison meatloaf as big as my head, which put Ted’s Montana Grill to shame. Other highlights included the authentic New York style pizza of The Home Slice, local food trucks Kebabalicious and Downtown Burgers, Torchy’s Tacos (where I partook of a taco stuffed with beef and bacon – need I say more?), and the one chain I must have anywhere it’s within driving distance: In ‘N’ Out Burger.

But a special mention needs to go out to La Barbecue, an unassuming food truck tucked away a few blocks from downtown. On advice from my former co-worker Nick, who had already guided me to Home Slice to hang out, I made the walk out to La Barbecue early on a Thursday. But I must admit I didn’t follow his advice to the letter and didn’t get there at 10 AM like he’d advised. If I had, I probably would have gotten to sample some of the meats that ran out by the time my 45-minute wait in line was over. As it was, the free sample of melt-in-your-mouth brisket was enough to bring me to my knees. I hedged my bets and went with the El Sancho, again on Nick’s advice, which featured both pulled pork and brisket (I would have gotten it “loco” with sausage but they had already ran out). Suffice it to say that all my prayers were answered. I had found barbecue heaven, and its name was La Barbecue.

Just a small sampling of when I remembered to take a picture of where (and what) I ate.
Just a small sampling of when I remembered to take a picture of where (and what) I ate.

Besides catching up with Nick, I also looked up college friend Kent, he of the incomparable laser gun noise of years past. We met up at Torchy’s, which proved to have not only one of the largest and best tacos I’ve ever eaten, but also an original-recipe Dr. Pepper concoction on tap that dates back to the origins of the drink itself, but since 2012 it’s had to stop calling itself Dr. Pepper, settling on the name Doppelgänger instead. Duplicate or no, it tasted just like the good Doctor but with pure cane sugar that offered a sweeter finish.

Good For a Few Laughs

Kent also invited me to join him for a show at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. This is a group of local theaters that not only screen the latest Hollywood releases, but they also specialize in quirky showings like 90’s music video singalongs and re-screenings of cult classics. We indulged in a recurring show featuring the local Austin comedy troupe known as Master Pancake, which basically involves a group of guys doing a live action MST3K-style commentary of some of the greatest films ever made, or at least the most popular. Wackiness ensued as they tore apart the 90’s movie that simultaneously launched and ended Michael Jordan’s acting career while spawning one of the most inexplicably popular soundtracks ever, Space Jam.

Another highlight of the week for me was sampling a couple of hours of The Hideout Theatre‘s 45-Hour Improv Marathon, which was just as it sounds and just as hilarious. A group of eight core people were involved with all 45 performances at some point or another, resting only for a few minutes between shows. That’s serious business, but also hilarious and delirious as time went on, I’m sure. I personally saw their takes on the original Star Trek and 70’s cop shows, and both were well done. The troupe offers improv classes as well as resources for teaching local children. Hurrah!

The Hideout Theater's take on Star Trek.
The Hideout Theater’s take on Star Trek.

To Be Continued…

That’s it for now. As promised, check out Part 2 next week!