Austin is a Musical City on the Rise, with Room for Everyone

This guide shines a light on some of the gems in Austin’s art community that string players love

By Emily Bishop | From the March-April 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

Austin, Texas, (or ATX) has changed a lot over the past decade. Much of the city is committed to honoring the “weirdness” of an existing eclectic, creative community of artists. However, it has become the fastest growing metro area from 2020 to 2022. Often described as the live music capital of the world, Austin draws musicians, artists, and tech-driven talent—all hell-bent on success and with the entrepreneurial spirit to become the next big thing.

This guide will help shine a light on some of the gems in Austin’s art community that string players, in particular, love: a few special venues to check out, ensembles to watch, summer festivals to join, shops to support, and even some of the local eateries that make the city such an energizing spot for musicians. 

The Long Center for the Performing Arts
The Long Center for the Performing Arts. Photo: LoneStarMike/Wikimedia.

Local Venues

The Moody Theater
Located downtown on Second Street, sharing the block with the W hotel, the Moody Theater is home to ACL Live—also known as PBS’ Austin City Limits, the longest-running music series in American television history. A diverse array of entertainers perform at this venue, and string players that get the call to play here with big artists get to be part of live music history. 

Pedernales Station
Hidden on the east side of Austin in an old historic building is this speakeasy-like venue. This is the home to Monks Jazz Club, and it’s a great spot to put on intimate performances for a smaller audience. String players who perform in the rock or jazz genres can call this place home, but it can also be a great venue for a chamber group performance. 

The Long Center for the Performing Arts
Though a large part of the music scene in Austin is made up of non-classical genres, there is an impressive classical scene here as well. Internationally acclaimed musical artists and well-known academic speakers come to entertain and inspire audiences at the Long Center. Equipped with a five-tier audience area, box seats, and a modern acoustic design, this venue guarantees you’ll have a fantastic view and immersive aural experience. 


Advertisement


The Continental Club and the Continental Gallery
What I like to call the Continental Sisters, though no one else does, are two local venues right next to each other on South Congress Avenue (SOCO). The Continental Club features louder bands with stiff drinks and too-cool-for-school vibes. The Continental Gallery spotlights a mix of rowdy and low-key mini musical acts. Both offer the sultry low light you want when enjoying your drink, and both are populated by the nicest, most welcoming music-loving audiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around. 

Castle Hill String Quartet
Castle Hill String Quartet. Photo: Victoria Trevino.

Notable Ensembles

Austin Symphony Orchestra
The Austin Symphony Orchestra’s home stage is the Long Center’s Dell Hall. With a full season of Masterworks and Pops concerts, this orchestra has been gaining a lot of acclaim from audiences. Perhaps due to the growing surrounding population and an influx of tech wealth, this ensemble seems positioned to capture the collective imagination of the “cultured” millennial elite.

Austin Camerata and Castle Hill String Quartet
These two local chamber groups are the sweethearts of the local classical scene. With players from the up-and-coming generation of professional string musicians, they offer programs that bring the classical world into the modern day. From reimagining well-known pop genres for string quartet to unique chamber music performances in nontraditional settings, these groups are redefining what the modern classical scene will look like going forward. 

Austin Camerata Three Interventions
Austin Camerata, Three Interventions. Photo: Allison DeFrancesco.

Selmer’s Arch
Selmer’s Arch is a local nonclassical group, predominantly made up of two guitarists and a bassist. With the occasional fiddle player guest, this small ensemble plays a combo of vintage jazz, acoustic folk, and progressive contemporary. They regularly perform around town at vibey, low-key spots and create the perfect ambience for those that prefer to chill out with a slow-sipped martini. 

Music Festivals

Austin City Limits
By far one of the more famous events of ATX, Austin City Limits is an annual music festival that descends upon us every October. Spanning across two weeks, Friday–Sunday each weekend, this festival is probably best described as Austin’s version of Coachella, sans the camping and desert vibes. This music festival is packed with big artists—from oldies coming out of retirement to newer up-and-coming bands and acts. Filled with yummy food, pop-up shops, and drink stands everywhere, it is a big attractor of the local community as well as influencers galore. 


Advertisement


A fiddler rocks out with Niall Horan at Austin City Limits Fest in 2023
A fiddler rocks out with Niall Horan at Austin City Limits Fest. Photo: Pooneh Ghana/ACL Fest.

South by Southwest
In the spring, South by Southwest (SXSW) takes over Austin. A two-week conference and festival, it’s just about everything you can possibly think of. Though there are many musical performances that are officially promoted and affiliated with SXSW, many local groups also continue the local tradition of the “underground show.”

Concert goers flood 6th Street at SXSW
Concert goers flood 6th Street at SXSW. Photo: Anna Hanks/Wikimedia.

Shops

Blackerby Violin Shop
A local favorite for string gear and re-hairs, Blackerby’s is one of the best options for local musicians in a hurry. It’s one of the more commonly recommended shops for local string students and offers solid service. 

Blackerby Violin Shop Sign
Blackerby Violin Shop Sign. Photo: Google.

South Congress’ Music Lane
Not necessarily specific to string players, one of the newest shopping areas in Austin is South Congress’ Music Lane. With a mix of high-end and local shops, this is a local and tourist favorite. Just down the road, you’ll be able to take your picture at the “I love you so much” wall, a local street-art favorite. 

Canopy
Located on the east side of Austin near Boggy Creek, Canopy is a community of artists, galleries, and other creatives. It is the perfect spot to spend the afternoon for those who enjoy supporting the local vs. the mainstream. Grab a coffee or cocktail and browse around to see what real Austinites are making. 


Advertisement


Getting Some Grub

Mozart’s Coffee
It’s really in the name, isn’t it? String players gravitate to this local coffee spot just out of the obvious homage to the late, great musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. With musically themed merch and yummy treats, this is a great spot to sit on the water and sip a cup of joe.  

Mozarts Coffee patio
Mozarts Coffee patio. Photo: Jill Shih.

Hi Hat Public House
For music lovers, specifically jazz lovers, Hi Hat is a great lunch and brunch spot. The food always hits the spot, the selection of cocktails and drafts is superb, and the live music is the real deal. If you haven’t checked this out yet, I encourage it. But don’t tell your friends—it’ll be our secret (I still want to be able to get a seat)!

Choo Sando
This place has nothing to do with music, but it’s my personal favorite, so I’m including it: Choo Sando. Between the Brentwood and Rosedale neighborhoods, it is the best place for a Japanese sando. They sell out daily, and have selective hours of operation, but if you can snag a few sandwiches or omakase sets, you won’t be disappointed. 

Austin is a great city for those who want to be a part, and can handle the hustle and bustle, of a fast-growing community. If you are thinking of moving to Austin, the typical response you might get is “Don’t! We have too many!” But the reality is that there’s room for everyone. With the right attitude and encouraging open arms of the local musicians, this is a great spot to learn, create, and grow. Come on down, and keep it weird, my friends!