One of the brightest voices coming out of the Austin dive bar scene is Chris Castro. Putting in his time, one song after another, Castro is finding his speed and niche within the city that calls itself “the Live Music Capital of the World” and is doing so on his terms. Castro’s recent single, “Good Bars and Old Guitars,” it’s a clear shot into a world that’s a little Travis Tritt and a little Cody Jinks. If there’s any good place to kick off a new home in Austin – it’s right here in this pocket. Having moved up from his native Houston, Castro is taking a chance on Austin’s laid-back vibes and appreciation for live music to ply his trade.
The single is a solid look into what Castro is capable of as he develops into an artist, but more so one who’ll be influenced by his experiences in Austin, slugging it out in the clubs, seeing how vicious some of the players are when handed a guitar or a pair of drum sticks, having one too many cold Lone stars.
Check out “Good Bars and Old Guitars” here and the video is below.
I’m coming close to a decade in Austin, Texas. I’ve seen the changes, and yeah, some of them are worth complaining over. But, as the city evolves and becomes one Thanos stone away from some megalopolis that only Elon Musk can afford, there’s still plenty of aspects to this cultural wonderland to celebrate. Great Tex-Mex is everywhere, no shortage of cheap Lonestars at beer joints across the city, and there’s still hot music every night of the week.
Hippies and cowboys shit-kicking one another built this city on the good timin’ sounds of Willie and Waylon. Since then we’ve seen the rise of bands like Black Pumas, Ghostland Observatory, and Gary Clark Jr, who all showcase the best things about the Capital City every night throughout all corners of the world.
Keeping housing affordable in town so the creative class can continue to live here is critical to maintaining the identity of Austin intact because as much as we all love dorks on Bird scooters zipping around downtown in their $500 Nikes, we need the artists, musicians, and now comedians.
With so many good bands playing every night, I thought it was imperative to share some of the music that folks need to know, ones that show the best of what the city has to offer. If you dig what they do, buy some merch, stream their stuff, or catch them on tour. And if you can’t do any of those things, there’s always planning a vacation.
In no particular order, these are some of the bands you need to know in Austin right now:
GoodEye delivers some heavy psyche that’s got serious Sleep meets Radiohead vibes. They’re heavy but not scared to get all “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” either. If you’re looking to smoke out before going to Riff City, this is your band, Cheech.
Another classic Austin band that should be a bigger deal than they are. If you’re looking for that wild-ass early Butthole Surfers vibe, these guys bring it like total fucking weirdos. These dudes are that perfect drunk marriage of country and punk that smells like spilled Bud Light and cheap reefer. If you’re in Austin for a weekend and these guys pop up on Showlist, don’t sleep on them. Buy that ticket.
Yeah, weird name, but pound for pound, the best metal band in Austin.Riffs for days, everything has a hook, and they’re totally in on the joke. Any chance I get to catch the Rickshaw, I take it. I even have their sticker on my laptop. And I don’t listen to a ton of metal.
The Sword Yep, the local gods are still around and still ruling. It’s a fucking crime these dudes aren’t everyone’s favorite band. Either way, they’re still here, and they never stopped being awesome.
Nether Hour If you’re looking for that country-rock slug that goes straight to the dome, Netherhour brings the noise. Think Allman Brothers meets Al Green. There’s a lot of deep country soul here. Netherhour also serves as the house band for many of comedians’ Redban and Tony Hinchcliffe’s live shows at comedy hotspot, Vulcan Gas Company.
Trace of Lime Another Vulcan Gas Company house band, Trace of Lime, is straight-up 90’s alternative worship. It’s weird being old enough to see my years in high school become a musical source of inspiration, but these kids are doing the decade justice. This is right up your alley if you’re a fan of Dinosaur Jr, the Pixies, or the Violent Femmes. Plus, these guys crush live, too.
User Unauthorized These kids aren’t even drinking age, and they’re getting on all of the best crusty hardcore and punk shows in Austin for a reason: they deliver. The music is abrasive, fierce, and with them still being so young, like high school young, this is a band who’s only going to get more pissed off as the years fall within the hourglass.
Transit Method Think Mars Volta meets Smashing Pumpkins riffs and then layer in Coheed and Cambria. That’s Transit Method. They’re a band you need to watch just as much as listen thanks to how complex and layered the playing can go from small moments to gigantic movements, all with a riff that one minute sounds straight from the Grateful Dead’s catalog and then goes all rock and roll city.
David Ramirez If there’s one singer-songwriter you need to embrace in the cultural history of Austin, it’s this guy. David Ramirez is the real deal. He’s no-frills and comes from the school of the heart of George Strait, but has all of these moments that are more art school and Echo and the Bunnymen all within a breath. If you’re into Black Pumas or Tyler Childers, David Ramirez should be on your playlist just the same.
Thanks to the pandemic, the Red River District has lost three more live music venues. Barracuda, or “Barry’s” to the faithful, closed its doors, same with DJ spot Plush, and the hip-hop room, Scratchhouse. Sidewinder sits vacant, so does the old Emo’s, as well as the former Headhunters. And Beerland, after a murky deed transfer, it’s anyone’s guess what the little room becomes.
Red River is a unifying theme of Austin. It’s got weirdos hanging on street corners, Elysium throbs with goth anthems, and Hoboken pizza slings pies for all of those with bleary eyes after having too good of a time at Better Days. Is this magical mixture of punk rock, country, hip-hop, and everything else going away? It’s one of the things that make this city hum – or twang.
The words, “the time has come for Barracuda Club to bid adieu,” it hit home. Barracuda was laid back, the staff was always down to help, and they booked good shows. Everyone knew the routine: pre-game at Sidebar, walk over to Barracuda for rock and roll city.
Every DJ in town knows that Plush is where you build a name. For twenty years, it held down its address next to Swan Dive at Red River and 7th, and now, another one bites the dust. According to a Facebook post back in May, it was a “combination of ever raising prices and new regulations,” which is an all-too-familiar story. Scratchhouse also cited rising rents as the reason for closing its doors. Plush plans on re-opening somewhere else, but who knows how long that will take in this market.
Where are our leaders who love to be martyrs for everything that sucks about Austin when we need them? The tourists might think of 6th as the musical heart, but we all know it’s Red River’s little five-block district.
In May, district leaders proposed getting the city to commit $35M to purchase venue properties to mitigate closures via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Austin got $170.8 million; you’d think allocating some of that to the very thing that draws people into town would be a priority. Instead, Austin is complicit in letting culture die because all we need is more places for overpriced sushi or a quiet yoga center.
This begs the logical question to ask: who’s next? Could we lose Valhalla? Is Cheer up Charlie’s ok? Is Mohawk on the chopping block? There aren’t many venues left in our so-called “music district,” a massive piece of Austin, an area that defines the “Live Music Capital of The World” moniker, despite everything seeming to go in the complete opposite direction. The city loves to brag about the “cultural district” so much, it’s got a whole page on its official website. But where’s the support? Are we actually about supporting music, or does it just look good on a t-shirt at the airport?
The bosses on Red River pleaded. They need the cash – to the tune of $40K a month until the business can get back to normal. The city approved grants for working musicians, but without places to play, it’s a moot point, isn’t it? No matter where you look, live music hasn’t been considered as a means for support. What district reps wanted was the city to buy buildings to fight skyrocketing rents and yuppie redevelopment projects who complain about noise and bbq smoke. We’re pushing our venues out of downtown and off into the far-flung reaches. That’s problematic. If this city is going to hang its Stetson on live music is our lifeblood, then back it up. Our local businesses need support. And that proposal? It fell on deaf ears, like always. You lose the music, and we’re on our way to becoming Dallas.