I came away with no real plan. Well, the US bit was pretty much planned, but with no onward ticket booked and no accommodation organised other than when I was staying with friends. The idea was to go with the flow and see what sort of opportunities presented themselves. Well, a great opportunity presented itself.
In San Diego I met Carisa’s good friend Christy. Christy came along to the Naked and Famous gig we went to in San Diego, and as we got talking about music after the show she mentioned she was going to a festival the weekend after the wedding in Austin, Texas. The lineup was my dream! A seed of an idea was planted…
When I saw Christy at the wedding we talked about the festival again and she promised to see if she could get me a free ticket (she’s a radio DJ). I didn’t dare get my hopes up but when she told me she had it covered, well I had to make it happen!
I bought flights late on Monday night, to fly down to Austin on Thursday. Then came the hard bit – all accommodation was booked solid. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that I managed to find a place through Airbnb. Phew! I didn’t know what I was going to do otherwise…
Airbnb turned out to be a lifesaver, as did Stella, my host for five nights. Stella even picked me up from the airport and made me feel incredibly welcome in her home in a very nice part of Austin.
Austin is an awesome city! Everyone says so. Its apparently the fastest growing city in the US, drawing people in as the live music capital of the US. There was even a live band playing in the airport when I arrived! It’s an attractive city, alongside a river, and small enough to get around by foot.
Day 1 of the festival was Friday. It was stinking hot and sunny and fun. I found Christy and her man Ty and we got ourselves wrist banded – I had not expected that we would be donning industry wristbands that allowed us entry into a VIP section with an open bar! Wha whaaat? This weekend just got even better!
That first afternoon we saw Jake Bugg, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age and Muse. A storm came over during Queens of the Stone Age which was a nice respite from the heat for a short while, but when it stopped the humidity was intense! I got separated from Christy and Ty during Muse because I wanted to get as close as I could. Muse were amazing, definitely a highlight.
Once it was over I ended up walking back to Stella’s place – the taxi and bus lines were too ridiculous to contemplate. It took me an hour, it was so hot and humid, like walking through water. When I finally got back home I would have promptly collapsed if I wasn’t in such desperate need of a shower.
Day 2 was another hot, sunny day. I saw the much hyped Haim, and really enjoyed their set. These three sisters have definitely got themselves a following. You can tell they don’t have tons of experience in a live setting, and they talked just a bit too much, but there was crowd surfing involved, so all is well.
I also finally, FINALLY, got to see Silversun Pickups. They were a major reason why I so badly wanted to get to this festival. I’ve been wanting to see them for years, and they didn’t disappoint, but damn it was hot out there! We retreated to the shade of the VIP area and found it hard to pull ourselves away from the bar.
We didn’t surface again until the sun had gone down and it was time for Kings of Leon, another kicker on the lineup. Thanks to Christy’s industry contacts we were able to get specific wristbands to get us into the sound tent area to see them, so we were pretty well placed for their set. It was during their encore, and specifically Sex on Fire, when another storm arrived and the sky opened. It was awesome.
But then it didn’t let up. The rain continued to pour and pour like I haven’t seen in a long time. Once KoL were done we walked all the way to the nightlife area of 6th Street, squelching through puddles in the pouring rain for an hour, absolutely soaked to the skin. We took refuge in the first bar we came across and didn’t venture very far. It was a bit of a shame as there were so many cool places to try along that strip but we just couldn’t face any more trudging in the rain.
Day 3 dawned sunny and bright and I headed into the centre to meet Christy and Ty for brunch before hitting up the final day. The lineup for the last day included The National, Grouplove, Tame Impala and Lionel Richie. I was all pumped for it but it wasn’t to be – Christy was notified that Day 3 had been cancelled due to flooding of the site. Damn that storm! We initially thought they were being over cautious until we saw footage of the venue on the news. It really was flooded.
So what were we to do with out newly free day? Luckily there is a great place on 6th Street called Buffalo Billiards which is a big bar with tons of pool tables, air hockey, skiball, shuffleboard, darts etc. Plenty of stuff to kill a couple of hours with! It was my first time playing darts. I was fairly hopeless. I did win at pool though. Mainly because Ty can’t count, but dammit I’m claiming it!
We went for dinner with a bunch of the music industry bizzos, who were surprisingly nice, normal people 🙂 We went to a popular local tex-mex place. It was huge and packed with families. The food was well, how to say it… cheesy. And saucy. And very very bad for you. I couldn’t call it good food, certainly not good Mexican!
Probably the best thing about the turn of events that day was it allowed us to hit up Rainey St. This is another great nightlife area but unique in that they are all cute little weatherboard cottages that have been turned into bars. There was a band playing in the one we went to (of course) and some people doing swing dance. Another place had a ping pong table and hula hoops out back. Ty got his own back for losing at pool and beat me quite convincingly at ping pong.
I still had one more day in town, which I had hoped would involve some stand up paddleboard on Ladybird Lake, but the storm had swollen the river and it was full of junk. Damn that storm again! Instead I took a walk around the South Congress area which had some cool shops and plenty of places to eat. I would definitely return to Austin one day, particularly on a non-festival weekend, to experience more of what the city has to offer.
My flight back to New York left at 6am the next day. Despite booking a taxi the night before it never showed, so poor Stella had me banging on her door at 5am – Stella to the rescue again! She got me to the airport on time and so ended my last minute, unplanned, slightly hectic, not quite as expected, super fun Austin adventure!
Accommodation note: I stayed with Stella in Westwood Hills. Her home is lovely – I had a very comfortable double room and my own bathroom and use of the kitchen and everything. Stella couldn’t have done more to make me welcome. She has a huge backyard with hammock and its a lovely place to have a cup of tea and a chat. More info here.