Here’s why Austin can claim to be the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’
Listening to live music in Austin, Texas, is like eating popcorn at the theater. It just makes sense.
Just over three decades ago, the city of Austin, Texas, made a significant shift. Having referred to itself as a “Second Nashville” for years, the Austin City Council and Chamber of Commerce took a step back and realized something that would shape the city’s future forever: when it comes to live music, Austin is second to none.
The story behind the claim
Singer-songwriter Lillian Standfield is credited with helping Austin claim its moniker of “Live Music Capital of the World,” according to Nancy Coplin, the first chair of Austin’s Music Commission.
“I give 100 percent of the credit to Lillian Standfield for bringing it up and bringing it to the Music Commission,” Coplin says.
Standfield called Coplin on her way home from a performance, and said, “You know, I just drove back from a gig in Houston. And as I pulled into Austin and saw the Austin city limits sign, I thought maybe we should have something that says ‘Music Capital of Texas.’”
After several iterations, including “Live Music Capital of the Universe,” City Hall voted on August 29th, 1991, to proclaim Austin as the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
But does the city live up to the hype? Austin residents and city officials believe the numbers speak for themselves.
Home to 1000-plus live music venues
With over a thousand venues for live music throughout the city and its surrounding neighborhoods, Austin boasts an impressive ratio of 46.4 music venues per 100,000 residents. By comparison, San Diego comes in at a ratio of 43 live music venues per 100,000 residents. Sure Nashville, known as “Music City,” is a well-known hot spot for country saloons and iconic stages. But it doesn’t even crack the top 10 cities for ratios of music venues.
Austin doesn’t just offer plenty of options for watching live music and drinking a few beers on a Friday night. It’s also one of the biggest festival towns in the world. It’s home to annual events like South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin City Limits, the Austin Film Festival, Fusebox Festival, the Texas Book Festival — along with plenty of cultural celebrations like Día de Los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo festivals.
Each event — from SXSW’s convergence of tech and art to Día de Los Muertos’ immersion in Mexican culture — is punctuated with a common theme: live music.
And don’t assume Austin is only for country music lovers. Events like the Urban Music Festival bring headliners like Naughty by Nature and Slick Rick, while the SXSW music festival features a smorgasbord of artists each year, from psychedelic rock to classic soul.
An incubator for artists
As Austin continues to attract musical talent from around the world, it is equally committed to nurturing local talent. Agencies like the Texas Music Office “serve as a clearinghouse for Texas music industry information.”
The office’s serves as a between music businesses and government offices. It publicizes significant developments within the industry. Meanwhile, it attracts music industry leaders who foster the economic development of Texas music businesses and musicians.
The show goes on(line) amid coronavirus
Even as the coronavirus pandemic has caused music venues to close, musicians in Austin are still playing. Nearly every day, local musicians are performing livestream concerts or hosting Q&A interviews online.
See a full list of livestream events at Do512.com, Austin’s self-proclaimed “do-stuff network.”
Austin truly has earned its rightful place as a hub for musicians of all genres. As local Austin blues artist Van Wilks puts it, “The musicians made the city. The city just decided to put a moniker on it.”