Austin's Top Musicians and Bands

A Roundup of the City's Best Performers

Austin, Texas is the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World," and boy, does it live up to the title. Regardless of which genres you enjoy, the city offers countless music venues, bands and festivals. Read on to learn about some of the best musicians from Austin and in Austin. 

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Lead singer Britt Daniel of Spoon
Kris Krüg

Spoon is a nationally famous indie rock band originally from Austin known for its catchy beats. The band formed in 1993 and was first signed to a major label, Elektra, in 1998. They then signed with Merge records, and when they released their third LP in 2001, Girls Can Tell, they found sudden success. Their subsequent albums grew more and more successful, and their 2007 album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga hit number 10 on the Billboard 200. They have performed on Saturday Night Live, numerous talk shows, and on the Austin City Limits television show. Their music has been featured in dozens of major films and television shows, though the band still takes​ the time to come back to Austin and play shows for the locals.

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Ghostland Observatory

Ghostland Observatory
Brian Feinzimer/Getty Images

This wild duo from Austin creates music that has been described as a mix of electro, rock, and funk. Their music has loud and thumping beats, making it fun to dance to or crank up during a party. Their concerts feature laser light shows and tons of energy. In 2007, the Statesman named them the Band of the Year, and they performed at Austin City Limits in 2009.

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Joe Ely

Joe Ely
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Joe Ely, a country, bluegrass and rock 'n roll artist, grew up in Lubbock. He later relocated to Austin to pursue his music career. Over his career, Ely has been in numerous bands in a variety of genres. He has performed and toured with Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Merle Haggard, Bruce Springsteen, and The Clash. Ely was also asked to write music for the soundtrack of the movie The Horse Whisperer. He performs in Austin often.

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Monte Montgomery

Monte Montgomery performing at Antone's
Emily Starbuck Gerson

Monte Montgomery is Austin's resident guitar god. While he is originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he lives and performs in Austin. Montgomery is a phenomenal performer who uses unusual fretting, fingering, and rhythmic techniques on the acoustic guitar. He was named one of the Top 50 Greatest Guitarists of All Time by "Guitar Magazine" in 2004. He is the only person to have won the "Best Acoustic Guitar Player" award seven years in a row (from 1997 to 2003) at the Austin Music Awards. I have seen him live several times and am always amazed at his talent and how fast he can move those fingers.

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Reckless Kelly

Reckless Kelly
Anthony Pidgeon/Getty Images

Reckless Kelly is originally from Bend, Oregon, but they relocated to Austin in 1997. The popular alternative country-rock band (sometimes labeled with the genre Red Dirt) became a success when it signed with the Sugar Hill record label (it didn't hurt that Joe Ely was a fan of them). While they now tour the country, they still take the time to come back to Austin and perform.

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Guy Forsyth

Guy Forsyth
Gary Miller/Getty Images

Guy Forsyth is a talented Americana singer/songwriter who calls Austin home. He is quite the Renaissance man; he sings and plays guitar (acoustic, electric and slide), harmonica, ukulele and singing saw. Forsyth puts on a fun live show, making him a popular staple in the Austin music scene. He has won several Austin Music Awards, including Best Male Vocalist and Best Miscellaneous Instrument Player (singing saw). He has opened for and performed with musical greats such as Ray Charles, Lucinda Williams, and BB King. While he does do some national and international touring, you can often catch Forsyth performing in Austin at a variety of venues.

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Vallejo singer
Jay West/Getty Images

Vallejo originated in El Campo, Texas when the three Vallejo brothers began creating music together. They focused on rock with an emphasis on their Latin heritage. When the brothers graduated from high school, they decided to move to Austin and make music for a living. They quickly found success and toured across the United States and Mexico with bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, 3 Doors Down, Juanes, Molotov, The Foo Fighters, Matchbox 20, Blues Traveler, Jimmie Vaughan and Los Lobos. They have been named Best Rock Band twice by the Austin Music Awards. They don't tour as much as they used to, but you can still catch them live in Austin sometimes.

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Bob Schneider

Bob Schneider performing live
Eric Schmuttenmaer

Bob Schneider is a folk rock singer/songwriter based in Austin. He began playing piano and guitar at a very young age and was in and out of several bands in his 20s. He played with a group called the Ugly Americans, which opened for Dave Matthews. In 1997, he co-founded The Scabs, which was very popular in Austin. In 1999, Schneider went solo and found success at a more national level. Some of his songs have been played in major films and television shows, he toured with the Dixie Chicks, and he dated actress Sandra Bullock. Schneider still performs in Austin often.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue in Austin
Bill Bradford

Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most legendary musicians from Texas. While he was born in Dallas, the singer/songwriter made a name for himself in Austin. Vaughan then recorded guitar with David Bowie and went on to have an acclaimed music career, hitting Billboard charts, performing at Carnegie Hall, and winning "Entertainer of the Year" and "Instrumentalist of the Year" at the National Blues Awards. Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990 at the age of 35, but he is remembered with a statue of him on the shores of Lady Bird Lake and his music graces radio waves often.

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Gary Clark Jr.

2018 Newport Folk Festival - Day 3
Douglas Mason / Getty Images

Many musicians from Austin seem to build careers out of being regionally famous or by getting occasional national exposure, but Gary Clark Jr. appears to be poised to build a long-term career at the national level. He’s made numerous appearances on the late-night shows, including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, and performed with the likes of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. His music is a mix of rock, blues and soul. He shines as both a vocalist and a guitarist, but he’s also built a multitalented band that brings out the best in his music. While he now spends much of his time touring, he returns home to Austin frequently. He even became a part-owner of Antone’s, the blues nightclub once led by Clifford Antone that helped launch Clark’s career.

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Carolyn Wonderland

2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival - Day 3
Douglas Mason / Getty Images

Blues singer and guitarist Carolyn Wonderland becomes so immersed in her performances that she almost seems possessed. She begins to contort her face and sing out of the side of her mouth, all while playing the guitar with a similar sense of abandon. She plays a swampy style of blues that’s loud and in your face. Wonderland’s vocal range is also impressive. She can hit surprisingly high and low notes, and then she’ll throw in a little scat singing for good measure. Combine that with her fiery red hair and stage antics, and it’s simply impossible not to enjoy a Carolyn Wonderland show. While she often seems angry while playing, most of her performances end with a sweet smile and a “thank, y’all.” 

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