Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Austin Texas

I spent the weekend in Austin TX.  I have been to Austin twice before, on both occaisons to play at SXSW.  I found the city to be plenty of fun, though completely awash in hipster slackers.  I assumed most of these thrift store vagabonds came from whatever version their town had of the Grog Shop, The Comet, Magic Stick, etc.  SXSW is so big and has such a dramatic influx of "indie rock dudes" that I never felt like I had the real feel for the town.  I was eager to get a fresh take with the madness and crowds of the now out of control SXSW in the rearview mirror.

First, let me say that the Hipster outbreak that is increasing rents and the creation of organic Amish locally sourced biodynamic chicken taco trucks appears to be sourced in Austin.  I believe there is a ranch right out of town that produces blank faced guys in beards with stained t-shirts.  These overeducated computer savvy ambivalent hordes are then shipped in to East Nashville, Brooklyn, and Wicker Park to destroy the rent and parking situations of those neighborhoods.  I saw these pesky fuckers everywhere.  Many are holed up in crumbling bungalows drinking Shiner and noodling around with never-to-be-produced screenplays.  While you are at work doing something unpleasant, they are slowly peddling fixed gear bikes to get coffee and provide awful service at their bartending jobs.  It’s amazing how many bad fashion choices and questionable tattoos are centralized in one city in America.

Austin is home to the University of Texas, but it is really home to frivolity.  If you like live music, film, government, good food or football, this is a really good town for you.  On any given night there are more cultural options than any place I have ever seen except New York City.  It is absolutely overwhelming.  In the two nights I was there, I saw five bands I was interested in.  That doesn’t even count the 7 movies, and innumerable art gallery installations.  There appear to be 137 food trucks, most of which actually appear to be really good.  Restaurants all vie to be included in the breathless complimentary national press that the city enjoys.  It is an amazing place to waste your time on bullshit.  Frankly, who doesn’t like that?  A warm climate with good food and never ending entertainment?  Sure.  I like that.

Austin reminds me of Nashville in the sense of place combined with an artistic vitality.  In both places old two story buildings squat along heavily trafficked streets, transformed from mundane businesses into artisan shops, high striving restaurants, and art galleries.  It’s refreshing to see the possibilities.  The major difference where Nashville has an “aw-shucks” southern brand of self effacement, Austin carries itself like the cocksure college cool kid.  While certain facts do warrant that mindset, it can be a bit numbing to be surrounded by thousands of people all trying to be cooler than each other.  Perhaps that chest thumping Texas bravado has seeped even into the counter culture.  What Austin might not recognize is that part of being the cool kid is to not let everyone see you try so hard.  My guess is that like all good places, if I looked hard enough, I could find a cranky old hipster that would tell me, "It was wayyyyy cooler back before all these outsiders moved in."  Has anyone ever traveled some place where someone said, "It's never been better than it is right now!"?  The past was always better.  

Let’s not dwell on the negative though.  Austin is a great place to visit.  You’ll see more people wearing cowboy boots in an unironic fashion than you ever thought possible.  Hell, I could have walked around in my stage getup and no one would have looked twice.  People are not afraid to have fun, and that relaxed “do what you want” attitude is contagious.  When as many artistic people as this converge on one place, the competition will take everyone’s game up to a whole new level.  A perfect example is the Texas barbeque wars, where we are all winners.  Unwilling to wait three hours at the legendary Franklin Street, it was decided to wait 90 minutes at La Barbeque for world class beef brisket, pulled pork, and sausage links.  Here’s the drill… They open at 11, but people line up at nine because as the entire operation is just a trailer and a few smokers there is limited supply.  The restaurant closes when they are sold out, in this case at 1:30p.  The line seems like a Soviet era grocery store as it never moves, but with a free keg of Lone Star beer available and performing musicians by the picnic tables, it doesn’t seem so bad.  Let me tell you, that barbeque is righteous.  Wait in line.  It's worth it.    
The Austin restaurant scene is cut throat, and even deadbeat looking street urchins will weigh in on the relative merits on the “grilled foie gras, sage-rosemary and duck fat funnel cake with butternut squash ice cream and chili-walnut butter” at Barley Swine.  The expectations run high for good dining here, with even funky little places like Foreign & Domestic capable of knocking your socks off.  I will heartily recommend the roasted goat entrée, and apparently people will get in fist fights for their gruyere popovers.  The added bonus of getting the Surrano ham and Crispy Beef Tongue appetizers gratis for our wait for the table endeared the place to me even more.   Bottom line?  There’s more good places to eat here than where you live, unless you are reading this in Napa Valley.  Heck, even Home Slice pizza served up a killer pizza that was well beyond expectation.   Going out to eat can be a fulltime job in Austin.

Austin touts itself as "the live music capital of the world" and it probably has no serious contenders.  Check out the upcoming show listings in Austin right now.  I'll bet there are three of your favorite bands set to play there this week.  In the two nights I was there I saw the LeRoi Brothers with Don Leady of the Tailgators sitting in on guitar for a few songs, stood around waiting for the Sons of Hercules show to start, couldn't make it over to see Dale Watson, ducked my head into the Continental Club, and had too many 512 IPAs to venture to see Scott Biram's "Beer-B-Que".  That doesn't even count the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash gig at the Broken Spoke or the nameless honky tonk band I saw at The White Horse, a real roadhouse that smells vaguely of vomit no matter where you stand.  I like the fact that the people of Austin support the bands in a way that we don't in this part of the country.  Music is part of the fabric of daily life there, whereas here the general population seems to think live music is either a wedding band or a Madonna show at the Enormodome.  Not only do most people seem to wrap their arms around live music, but they don't bitch about having to pay a meager cover charge to get into a club.  Bravo.

There is a good craft beer scene is Austin, but nowhere near the quality level of Michigan, Portland, or for my money NE Ohio.  We stopped into this joint called The Ginger Man that had 85 taps of craft, and sampled our way through a heap of beers before succumbing to sit outside on their patio to enjoy the 76 degree night.  I really loved the Squatters IPA (which is from Salt Lake City of all places), which I found to have more body than the local 512 IPA.  Austin Beer Works Fire Eagle had quite a few fans, as the colorful cans seemed to be everywhere.  The St Arnold Lawnmower is a nice choice if you are in a "session mode", which is really just short code for "going to drink a shit load of beer at one time".  There were numerous brewpubs, and several breweries in town that I just didn't have time to check out.  Ah, next time...

A truly unique American city, Austin is worth your time.  While you will have to wade through ironic mustaches, knit caps being worn in 84 degree heat, and some aloof service types, the payoff is there.  After all, who doesn't like great bands, food, beer, and cowboy boots?



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