From cramped dive bars to upscale music halls, these venues consistently present Austin music at its best. Austin's downtown music scene is still thriving, but some of the best venues are in south and east Austin.
Toni Price’s Tuesday night Hippie Hour has a cult-like following, but it’s the friendliest cult you’ll ever encounter. Many fans sing along to her country-blues tunes and dance (often badly) on the tiny dance floor. Many of the acts at the Continental Club are mashups of country, blues and rock, but they’re always top-notch bands, seven nights a week. Show up early if you want a seat. They go fast, even on weeknights. 1315 South Congress Avenue; (512) 441-2444
This 2,750-seat venue is home to the long-running Austin City Limits show on PBS. For tapings of the TV show, free tickets are available by lottery. National-level acts also hold concerts here year-round that aren’t connected to the TV show. With comfortable seating, excellent sight lines, 12 bars and 14 restrooms, the Moody Theater is well worth the sometimes-pricey tickets. 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard; (512) 225-7999
For those who prefer their music with a little more of an edge, Mohawk presents everything from rap to heavy metal, plus several bands that simply can't be categorized. Expect a heavily bearded crowd and offbeat events such as wrestling and drunken spelling bees. The multilevel layout is at its best during mild weather, when there’s plenty of room to roam outdoors in comfort. 912 Red River Street
When Emo's moved from downtown to East Riverside Drive, many loyal customers questioned the wisdom of the move. Nonetheless, Emo’s is still going strong at this 1,700-capacity venue. Emo’s previous location on 6th Street was known for its gritty charm, but this version of Emo’s may be on to something: It is actually possible to present hard-rocking shows in a clean setting with functioning bathrooms. The club books a mix of up-and-coming bands and major touring acts. 2015 East Riverside Drive; (888) 512-7469
For an unbeatable combo of barbecue and music, proceed directly to Stubb’s. The multilevel historic building has a relaxing, rustic feel, with exposed-brick walls and high ceilings. The outdoor amphitheater attracts major musical acts, while the indoor stage often presents local artists. Stubb’s pulled-pork sandwich is also a work of art. 801 Red River Street; (512) 480-8341
Brooding artist types tend to congregate at Parish, which books some of the most outrageous and unconventional bands in the country. The brick walls sometimes interfere with sound quality, but the technicians usually get the audio properly adjusted by show time. While the club gets packed on weekends, the bathrooms somehow stay reasonably clean at all times. 214 East 6th Street; (512) 473-8381
Presenting a mix of roots rock and country, the Saxon Pub is the musical soul of south Austin. The bar attracts music fans of all ages, and a few of them are famous. Bonnie Raitt sometimes pops in when she’s in town. Bob Schneider plays a packed show almost every Monday night, and The Resentments anchor the Sunday night lineup. Happy hour is dominated by curmudgeonly regulars. This bar could’ve inspired these words of wisdom from 30 Rock: "Never go with a hippie to a second location." 1320 South Lamar Boulevard; (512) 448-2552
On any given night, The White Horse might feature country, bluegrass, Cajun or conjunto music. Regardless of the musical style, the dance floor at this hipster honky-tonk is always buzzing with activity. House bands include Conjunto Los Pinkys, Rosie & the Ramblers and Two Hoots & a Holler. Dance lessons are offered before some weeknight shows. 500 Comal Street; (512) 553-6756
Located on the University of Texas campus, the Cactus Cafe is an ideal spot to see big stars and up-and-coming artists in an intimate setting. The cafe is easy to miss if you’ve never been there before. It’s inside the Texas Union building near Guadalupe and 24th. Singer/songwriters such as Darden Smith and Sara Hickman dominate the schedule here. 2247 Guadalupe Street; (512) 475-6515
After many relocations, Antone's has found a new home in downtown Austin. Up-and-coming blues star Gary Clark Jr. is part-owner of the club, which is continuing the late Clifford Antone's commitment to the blues. The ground floor has a simple layout with the band at the back and a long bar on one side. The second floor is reserved for special events. 305 E. Fifth Street
A dive bar with consistently great music, Skylark lounge books both local and regionally well-known acts such as Miss Lavelle White and Blues Boy Hubbard. Many of the bands are blues and soul, but there’s also a smattering of country on the schedule. The bar also serves above-average burgers and pizza, and there’s even free popcorn. 2039 Airport Boulevard; (512) 730-0759
Austin’s jazz headquarters, the Elephant Room has all the required ingredients for an excellent jazz club: an intimate basement space, respectful fans and beautiful music. Featuring regular acts such as the Elias Haslanger Quintet and the Jon Blondell Trio, the bar also attracts touring acts from around the country. The Jazz Jam on Monday nights is a great way to see a “sampler platter” of some of Austin’s best jazz musicians. Regular bands such as The Brew add a Latin flair, turning the basement bar into one big dance floor.
315 Congress Avenue; (512) 473-2279