Greg Ackerman - 365 Things to Do in Austin, TX

Greg Ackerman

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Popular regional camping and music festival Utopia Fest announced their new location and lineup today with a new partner in the name, Down in the Oaks Entertainment and a great lineup featuring headliners Patty Griffin, Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9) and Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real.  A legendary songstress, an underrated electronic/jam act and the son of the most famous performer in Texas playing roots-rock the way it’s meant to be played. The variety of acts selected to headline never fails. There is something for every music fan.  The rest of the acts listed are no slouches either. Urban music legend, Grandmaster Flash fills the hip-hop void while John Medeski’s (Medeski, Martin and Wood) Mad Skillet make their first appearance at the festival.  Folk singer Valerie June returns as does Keller Williams, Hard Proof, The Deer, Calliope Musicals and Kalu James and the Electric Joint. See the entire list of performers in the show poster above. The festival takes place November 2-4. 

Down in the Oaks Entertainment is operated by Patrick Harrision and his brother whose family has owned the 100-acre private ranch since 1936. The little-known entertainment organization is now part of the name of the ten year-old fest keeping with original festival model. Utopia Festival Down in the Oaks is now the official moniker of the limited attendance festival that began at founder Travis Sutherland’s family ‘stead, Four Sisters Ranch near Utopia, Texas. After parting ways with former festival partners, the Brown brothers (Onion Creek Productions), Sutherland worked with Harrison last year while the new partnership made plans to expand the festival to the new site (possibly with easier access). Unfortunately, the former site had only one public entrance into the venue making for long lines to enter and park. Inclement weather often muddied up (pun intended) that process further.

The new location is a private ranch in Burnet, Texas which means fans need not fear the same great community vibe will evaporate at the new location. Fan experience is paramount to Sutherland.  That much is clear. What is also clear is they have a lot of space… more than another, well-known Austin festival that takes place in October and often competed directly with Utopia for fans.  Burnet is north of Marble Falls near Lake Buchanan. The location is less than half the distance from Austin as Utopia. Festival organizers rightfully anticipate increased ticket sales with the closer proximity to their core audience. 

Sutherland promises the renamed festival will remain a limited attendance event where everyone is a VIP. This aspect of the Utopia Fest is what has made the event so appealing to local music fans. Anyone can wander up close to the stage to see bands up close. The communal camping atmosphere also makes it feel special.  Admittedly, the festival gravitates toward jam band and Americana music but has done a great job of mixing up past lineups with acts like GZA (Wu-Tang Clan), Brownout and Of Montreal complimenting more Utopian (see what we did there?) acts like Lettuce and Leftover Salmon. 

Tonight you can join the excitement by heading to Radio Coffee + Beer for, A Very Special Bluegrass Night Hang with the usual rotating cast of players. Tickets for Utopia Fest Down in the Oaks can be purchased here. We recommend grabbing tickets early as the festival sells out every year. 

Santa Fe-based immersive art collective Meow Wolf left quite an impression yesterday at their Fractallage party when the organization made their first foray (outside their origin film release this week) into South by Southwest (SXSW). The group spent most of the night Monday evening transforming Empire Control Room and Garage into a Meow Wolf satellite installation complete with visual art, immersive activities (tube dating by Tinder for example) both inside and outside the venue while a roster of exceptional DJs entertained the crowd and set the mood for a surreal (and completely satisfying) experience.  

We entered the venue through the Seventh Street side gate to find a bevy of tapestries and colorful banners artfully arranged over the exposed to the air space outside the Garage where Gold Room was performing. The chill-wave sounds being produced perfectly set the mood as fans slowly bopped along to the infectious beats while warm sunlight streamed into the garage and onto the languid audience milling about Empire’s backyard. 

 

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The backyard was an entirely different story albeit, fit nicely alongside the performance space adjacent to the decorated patio that featured Tinder Tube Dating (yeah, we don’t know either) using “Experience Tubes.” The exercise pokes fun at how we connect on social media versus real life. Light blue carpeting had been laid over the ground with colorful pillows and foam-stuffed couches to create a kind of chill-out area from space is the only way we can describe it. EVERYONE was smoking pot out there. 

 

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Inside, an indoor exhibit had been set up. A man in a captain’s uniform stood near three oversized buttons inside the foyer to the Control Room. He explained (while in character) that the buttons controlled the lighted serpent affixed to the ceiling. Folks were invited to press the buttons to change the lighting sequence and music being piped into the room. Actors in costume milled about portraying sentient beings from another planet trying to suss out people and their actions while visiting the mysterious Earthlings. Costumes included LED lights that responded to the music being played. A giant, fantastic lighted “barnacle” held up the far wall of the Control room and held flowers in which touching the metal wire stamens activated the glowing lights in the display. High tables and seats along the wall allowed visitors to sit and absorb the peaceful environment Meow Wolf created. 

 

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We sat outside earlier chatting with staff who talked about working with the organization and their aggressive growth plans (which includes Austin.) Danny, a gentleman who works with sound and audio for Meow Wolf stated he’d been working for the New Mexico trendsetters since 2014 and felt blessed to be a part of something so cool. He was exceedingly kind as was each staffer who arrived in Austin with the collective as if a directive had been handed down that said Meow Wolf employees can only project happiness upon the world. Perhaps that is the credo of Meow Wolf? To project happiness. We know the perma-grin plastered on our faces while we were at Meow Wolf’s Fratallage installation was about as real as you get. Meow Wolf is pure joy. 

If you haven’t been to the Austin Chronicle’s Austin Music Awards (AMAs) yet, 2018 might be the perfect year to break that streak. Organizers elected to move the date before South by Southwest (SXSW) instead of during the insanity of the festival when the local awards ceremony is usually held. Instead of battling traffic to get to ACL Live at the Moody Theater, fans can purchase tickets in advance to see guest performers Lucinda Williams, The Black Angels, John Hiatt, Alejandro Escovedo and a host of other national and local acts plus unannounced special guests. In previous years attendees have gotten to see surprise performances by Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant and Chrissie Hynde among others. The long-format awards show is a great opportunity for local music fans to get a taste of the best Austin musicians in arguably the best sounding room in town. 

The awards are voted on by the public via an online form. This year, the voting process was changed to two rounds of voting instead of one, which determined the finalists.  Another call was put out to the public was  to vote again to determine the winners. This appears to be a better method of determining the best artists in each category. The Austin Music Awards previously announced the Townes Van Zandt Songwriting Award will be presented to singer-songwriter Joe Ely (who has been a special guest performer before) and the Margaret Moser Women in Music Award will be presented to Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse Hotels and the Trans-Pecos Festival at her El Cosmico resort in Marfa by Grammy winner Williams.

Musical Director, Charlie Sexton will head up a crack house band with Michael Ramos, John Michael Schoepf and Conrad Choucroun. Rick McNulty and Laurie Gallardo of KUTX will return to host ceremonies.  Proceeds from The Austin Music Awards will benefit the SIMS Foundation which provides health care to qualifying Austin music industry professionals. 

Advance tickets ($35) are available at the ACL Live website. Mezzanine and other VIP ticketing options start at $250.   Those prices might seem like a bargain after the special guest is revealed. Perhaps it’ll be heir apparent to SRV, Gary Clark Jr? You’ll have to grab a ticket to find out. 

 

 

Music journalists appreciate artists who consistently challenge themselves to create something that defies norms which is one reason St. Vincent, nee Annie Clark has ingratiated herself to rock critics who have frankly, been starved for innovative music from acts that intellectually stimulates the listener beyond interesting aural textures. That may sound a bit heady but St. Vincent’s performances tend to have an elevating effect on music fans of all stripes. Her work speaks for itself in its originality. It’s exceptional art. This is an artist who considers all aspect of performance carefully and the results show. Thursday’s night one of a two-night stand at ACL Live highlighted those qualities in Clark’s work and then some. 

Already accepted as a guitar goddess, St. Vincent set out with her latest release, to conquer the pop world with a concept that feels genuine and real in its presentation which is hard to do in that context. Her stage production shared a similar monochrome aesthetic to Solange’s recent tour yet, she pulled it off with more style and flair than anyone else. And she did it as a solo act, without benefit of a backing band behind her to lend more variety into the show. It was stunning how well she managed the feat, opening with a brilliantly simple black curtain that was open a crack, spotlights on the performer, then progressively opened as Clark worked her way from left to right, arranging the setlist into two parts. The first set was comprised of select cuts from her discography in chronological order, underlining the visual effect of moving laterally across the stage with each new song, moving both figuratively and literally across the timeline of her career. 

The context of the show, futuristic pop-rock demanded a room with the sound quality of ACL Live. St. Vincent maxed out that potential kicking off the set with “Marry Me,” the title track off her 2007 debut. The ballad highlighted Clark’s vocal range and provided a soft launch pad for an exquisite, two-hour art-rock masterpiece. Cheers of recognition came with “Cheerleader”, then “Strange Mercy.” The latter track being the piece that grabbed our attention at St. Vincent’s NPR Showcase performance at SXSW several years ago. It was as this point in the performance, the plain black curtain was completely pulled back to reveal a gigantic, multi-colored mural of a stylized representation of a woman’s face as if the artist had been commanded to create in 8-bit graphics It was apparent Clark is a force. The “Masseduction Tour” underlined that point in heavy black marker. 

Not one to banter with her audiences much, Clark waited until completing the fourth song in her set before acknowledging the crowd, “There’s no place I’d rather be than right here in Texas!” reminding fans her roots are in the state, hailing from Dallas. The singer was once of member of orchestral rock collective, The Polyphonic Spree before setting out on her own trailblazing path. As the first set ended and St. Vincent left the stage for a a brief change-over and costume change, we had time to consider the fact that all the older songs got a “pop treatment”  for this tour, rendering them anew and relevant to the material presented on Masseduction which was played from start to finish second set. Yet another brilliant element of the production. 

Later in show, Clark made a humorous and half-hearted attempt at improvising a little song about Austin, invoking Barton Springs Pool among other notable spots in town. The moment felt authentic, unplanned and frankly it was just plain cute how she interacted with the audience. It is clear Austin holds a special place in St. Vincent’s heart. The feeling is mutual. Clark indeed holds a special place in the hearts of Austin music fans as evidenced by the posts on social media leading into, during and after the astounding solo performance St. Vincent turned in. Keeping an audience interested for 120 minutes is no easy feat with a full band, but Clark handled the task alone with artful grace, gently, then more forcefully pulling music fans along on a carefully composed art-rock odyssey. 

St. Vincent left the audience with “Smoking Section” deliberately forgoing an encore for a polished finish. We left the theater satiated, mouth agape at the singular talent that is St. Vincent, realizing her album title had achieved its aim in seducing not only us, but an entire theatre of music fans. There were plenty of folks at the Moody Thursday who’d never seen St. Vincent perform before. We guarantee they’re rabid fans now. Add pop goddess to St. Vincent’s resume.  

Last Saturday, local music concert series, Microsessions featured four Austin artists performing short, 20-minute sets for fans who got to sample each artist, then choose one they’d like to see more of at the conclusion of the event. The format is dubbed “Speed dating for live music” and promises five sets over two hours, often from new and upcoming local acts. Microsessions has primarily used Music Lab for their venue-space but have been exploring other options around Austin. 

 Austin artists Wiretree, Christina Cavazos, Grace Pettis and River Has Many Voices performed for a sold-out audience in small-format rooms with groups of around 30 people watching. Group guides led folks to their designated stages, offering complimentary drinks and information about Microsessions and the invited acts. It was evident, Microsessions founder Paul Schomer carefully curated the lineup Saturday. Each act complimented the other while offering original material in an intimate setting. House concerts were the model for Schomer and scale was the issue. Schomer downplayed his brainchild, emphasizing the simplicity of his project.  But most good ideas are, in fact simple, aren’t they? 

“It’s not really rocket science, but I’ve learned that you can’t just slap it together. Musicians really like it for the intimacy, the undivided attention, and audiences seem to like getting told what to do! Bands get to swap fans, which isn’t common. It’s a good way to try out new material, too,” says Schomer about his series which he’s honed over the past couple years. 

A former NPR journalist, the Microsessions founder has found a tidy formula. We started the evening with the gentle River Has Many Voices playing acoustic guitar to his lyrics. Otherwise known as Matthew Payne, the singer gave a subtle performance to a rapt audience. Like many Texas songwriter’s he pledges his alligiance to the Church of Townes Van Zandt but who can blame him? Steve Earle (another Van Zandt disciple) will practically fist fight someone over his love of the revered troubadour. 

We followed that performance with Wiretree‘s full-band set-up which was a great change of pace. A fair amount of music industry friends are fans of this act. Helmed by former solo artist, Josh Peroni, Wiretree’s indie rock/songwriter mashup has a similar ethos to groups like Caveman or closer to home, Okkerville River. We hate to use that word again, but after 11 years of performing Peroni and Wiretree are, indeed underrated. 

Christina Cavazos followed in a cozy outdoor setting. The singer-songwriter just finished high school and capped her secondary education years by winning a admittance to the prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Music which accepted only 80 applicants this year. The reason is she’s good. Really good. And she’s really young. While some under-18 artists can appear a novelty, there’s none of that with Cavazos. She’s simply the gifted, young performer with a beautiful head of hair. It even says so in her Twitter bio. 

Grace Pettis was our photographer’s favorite act of the night. This red-headed young lady has been a buzz act around Texas lately. Her website crows about the Dallas-Morning News’ glowing review, while our own shutterbug, had to restrain herself from sending dozens of shots of her pick of the night. We think she’s pretty amazing too. Check some of her songs for yourself. 

The next Microsessions Austin is February 23 at Imagine Art with Sara Houser, Cari Q, David Hamburger and Ley Line. Tickets and information can be found at the Microsessions website

When most music fans talk about the Austin scene, South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits Music Festival are what comes up usually. But there’s another, smaller music festival that has been taking place for over ten years in Austin, Free Week. Launched by Graham Williams (Margin Walker Presents) at the old Emo’s on Sixth and Red River, the event has mushroomed to most of the Red River venues Williams’ booking company works with and then some. The event runs through Sunday, Jan 7. 

Aside from Mohawk, Barracuda, Stubb’s, Cheer Up Charlie’s, Elysium,  The Sidewinder, Beerland, Swan Dive and Empire Control Room and Garage (all located on Red River or Seventh Street) The Sahara Lounge, Hotel Vegas, Volstead, Spiderhouse Ballroom, The Belmont, The Blackheart and more venues are also participating.  You really have no excuse to miss Free Week even if school nights are out, there’s a ton of shows to see Friday and Saturday. Free Week is here. 

There are more quality shows booked than we have room to recommend to you. For a more complete list of Free Week shows we like check out our author’s Do512 page. Incidentally, Do512 put together a fantastic all-female fronted band roster on Saturday. Details are below. On to our top picks listed by day beginning with tonight’s performances. 

Jan 3

Tonight’s lineup by The Loyalty Firm and Pull String Events at Barracuda is a doozy. Hard rockers, The Well, Residual Kid and The Ghost Wolves join our favorite post rock outfit my education, The Human Circuit, Built By Snow, Chill Russell, Cartright and Honey and Salt. Acts will appear on both the indoor and outdoor stages. 

Doors are at 7 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. The good news is temperatures are getting warmer today but you might feel the chill tonight so dress warm and if that doesn’t help, try the hot toddies at the outside bar. They kept us warm Monday night when we caught Semihelix to kick off Free Week. 

Room: INSIDE
830pm-9:10pm The Human Circuit
930pm-10:10pm Built By Snow
10:30pm-11:10pm Residual Kid
1130pm-12:20pm my education
1240am-1:40am The Ghost Wolves

Room: OUTSIDE
8pm-840pm Chill Russell
9pm-940pm Cartright
10pm-1040pm Honey and Salt
11pm-12am The Well

Other shows: 
Red River Cultural District and Heard Presents Ringo Deathstarr, The Halfways, Coattails, Teevee at Empire Control Room and Garage 7:30p

Tinnarose, Otis the Destroyer, Darkbird, Good Field, Hard Riffs at Hotel Vegas 9 p.m.

Jan 4

There are a raft of great lineups Thursday. It was difficult to choose a single show to feature but  Red River Cultural District and Heard Presents lineup is pretty hard to beat. The Garage roster alone with Whiskey Shivers, Sailor Poon, Booher, Poly Action would be worth braving the cold for yet, Otis the Destroyer, Megafauna, Leevees, Holy Knives, Hard Riffs and Rival Waves will all be inside the Control Room with a lot of loud guitars and energy.

Both Otis and Megafauna are perfect for fans of old school, hard charging guitar rock. Whiskey Shivers put on one of the best live shows in town. You can’t beat their energy. Sailor Poon’s Saturnalia Festival set was enough fun that we want more as soon as possible. If you make it early enough you’ll be wowed by Ray Garza’s Poly Action who kick off the festivities at 8 p.m. 

Garage

8 p.m. Poly Action
9 p.m. Booher
10 p.m. Sailor Poon
11 p.m. Whiskey Shivers

Control Room

9:15 p.m. Rival Waves

10:15 pm. Hard Riffs
11:15 p.m. Megafauna
12:15 p.m. Otis the Destroyer

1:15 a.m. Holy Knives

Other shows: 

The Void Martial Arts presents Riverboat Gamblers, American Sharks, Eagle Claw, Billy King and the Bad Bad Bad at Barracuda 8 p.m.

RRCD and C3 Presents Jackie Venson, Mobley, Melat at Stubb’s Inside 8 p.m. 

Jan 5

 

Sahara Lounge is entering the Free Week fray with a damn fine lineup Friday at 7 p.m. presented by High Brew Coffee and The Cosmic Clash. Headliner, BLXPTN might be one of Austin’s more underrated bands. The former duo of drummer and vocalist TaSzlin Muerte and guitarist, singer, and synth player Jonathan Horstmann added drummer Jeremy Kivett to the lineup recently, adding heft to an already formidable band that plays an amalgam of punk and electronic industrial with a politically-charged commentary. 

We caught Como Las Movies for the first time at Mosaic Sound Collective. They have a Latin-based sound that incorporates various styles. Similar to Money Chicha (some songs feature Cumbia) but a different arrangement with a four-piece band that gels together cohesively. Some songs sound like a film soundtrack hence the moniker. 

The rest of the lineup is just as solid with Major Grizz, Sometimes a Legend, Dead Recipe, Sun June and The Midnight Drive. There will be a limited supply of free High Brew Coffee available. Food truck Pakal will offer healthy Mexican specialties. Bonus: plenty of free parking.

Dead Recipe 7:15p

Sun June 8:15p

BLXPLTN 9:45pm

Como Las Movies 10:45p

Major Grizz 11:45p-12:30p

Sometimes a Legend 12:45a

The Midnight Drive 1:35a

Other shows: 

RRCD and Side One Track One presents Los Coast, Emily Wolfe, Otis the Destroyer, Palo Duro, Marmalakes, Growl, Lola Tried at Mohawk 8p

Holy Wave, Diamond Center, Hidden Ritual, Leather Girls, Teevee at Cheer Up Charlie’s 10p 

Jan 6

Do512 put together a stellar all-female fronted band lineup at Valhalla (Red River bet. Seventh and Eighth St.) Saturday. Our shoegaze/psych rock favorites Moving Panoramas will be joined by Lowin, Go Fever and Vonne. Speaking from experience, you’ll really enjoy this show if you make it out. 

Leslie Sisson of Moving Panoramas is a true talent as her appearance at the Texas State History Museum with Invincible Czars and an 80-person choir behind her demonstrated. The version of her song, Harmony that was presented left even Sisson in tears. 

Lowin and Go Fever represent more great rock created by women. Sara Hauser of Lowin has long been a part of the local scene. She’s making great new music. We caught Go Fever’s Acey Monaro solo at the Project ATX 6 Gala. The Australian rocker is really fun to watch with her entire band too. We’re looking forward to this one. 

Other shows:

Quiet Company, Day Shifters, Super Thief, BLXPLTN at Barracuda 8p

RRCD and Penny Loafer PR presents Calliope Musicals, Darkbird, Whiite Walls, Megafauna, Meanswell, A Sinclair, etc at Mohawk 8p. 

When Trump was elected President last November, media members suggested that the coming political storm would generate a mountain of art reflecting the emotional response of the nation to the train wreck that is the Trump Administration. While there has generally been an increase in art that is critical of the current Western political environment, most of the albums in this list of top records made in Austin are simply great recordings for any music fan and don’t necessarily provide social or political commentary. We believe this year’s list of best new music of 2017 has set the bar high for new releases in 2018 from Austin acts. 

Our list may not be the most well-rounded in terms of genres represented but it reflects new, local records we’ve listened to and enjoyed most in 2017. Before we get into it, we would like to remind readers that purchasing local music from independent sellers is always a good idea. If you’re considering purchasing an album, buy directly from the artist if possible. We’ll link to artist pages where you can buy direct if the option is available. Where there is not that option, heading to your local, independently owned record store is a good bet or order from those stores online. Some of our favorite shops include: End of An Ear, Waterloo Records, Breakaway Records, Friends of Sound Records and Exploded Records at Juiceland

Our list is in order of release date. Asking us to order these talented acts from best to last is near impossible. We love all these records and artists. 

In January, top ATX Afrobeat tastemakers, Hard Proof dropped the full-length “Stinger” on Modern Outsider, a local independent label. What that means is if you purchase this record, a bunch of Austinites get paid. It also means you get one of the best Afrobeat-fusion records of the year. Not just in Austin but nationwide. Produced by The Bubble studio owner and producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith (Built to Spill, Meat Puppets, the Toadies, Otis the Destroyer and a ton more local bands), the record is a great listen from front to back. 

It was difficult to choose, but title track, Stinger,  Incendiary and A.R.A,S. stand out on a record that is consistently a great listen. By that we mean not only is the entire record good, but it’s a pleasure to listen to multiple times a week. From the crack horn section of Jason Frey, Derek Phelps and Joe Woullard to the precise beats by drummer Stephen Bidwell and percussionists Tony Congas and Tommy Spanpinato to Joe Sokolik’s driving bass lines and the guitar work of John Branch, Gerrado Larios (now a member of Spoon) and Aaron Sleator these guys are all among the best working musicians in town. With Smith guiding the production ship, the result is an album that could just as well be considered for a Grammy with the proper exposure. 

February brought Austin neo-pyschrock pioneers, The Black Angels‘  first new record in four years to the masses. Entitled “Death Song,” from their Velvet Underground track namesake, “The Black Angels’ Death Song,” this album might be the sole member of this list that addresses the gloom and anxiousness the American public is feeling about the current political and economic status. That feat is remarkable considering the group penned and recorded most of the tracks during the Presidential elections last year. 

Shortly after the album dropped we caught their second Austin City Limits TV taping. The setlist included many of the tracks from the new record. It quickly became apparent The Black Angels made their darkest record to date. It’s also one of their best releases to date. From opening tune, “Currency” which tackles consumerism and despair to  the driving ferocity of “Commanche Moon’s” indictment of native genocide the album presents a bleak commentary. 

Tracks “Medicine” and “Life Song” come closest to appealing to a broader audience. The former nearly a pop song while the latter evokes a psychedelic space fantasy of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” This is definitely a must-own record for any psych-rock music fan. 

 

There is no working Austin rock band more successful than Spoon. Over 20 years of making relevant, exquisitely written indie-rock songs with the core of Jim Eno and Britt Daniel have produced a body of work that has gotten the highest average Metacritic score of any group in that time span. An impressive feat for a band that has seen it’s roster evolve over the years yet manage to hold onto their musical identity while exploring other genres to incorporate into the raspy vocals and insistent drum beat of Spoon’s founders. 

The release of Hot Thoughts in February and the ensuing world-tour complete with multiple late-night television show and festival appearances has reaffirmed the group’s dominance into the late 2010s. Singles “Can I Sit Next to You” and “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” are instantly recognizable as classic Spoon compositions that somehow delve into what feels like newer musical territory. The former is a crowd-pleaser live while DITTYIT evokes 80s arena ballads while avoiding the cheesy factor that often accompanies such songs. 

The new album and subsequent tour has been an affirmation of Spoon’s continued success. The return to their original indie label, Matador, the renewed energy and superior songwriting have served the band well. The Spoon engine is clicking on all cylinders.  Everyone should own this record. 

Austin glam-pop act Sweet Spirit has enjoyed rapidly rising notoriety not just locally but nationally after three years of constant touring. The April sophomore release of St. Mojo produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin on Nine Mile Records further elevated the group’s status as single, “The Power” enjoyed frequent radio play locally and on listener-supported and college radio nationally. The full force of vocalist Sabrina Ellis’ impact is felt on the record bolstered by catchy riffs penned by Andrew Cashen and backed by a large collection of fine players. 

The bombastic “The Mighty” is another favorite on this record along with garage-rocker “Pamela” and doo-wop ode, “Pretty Baby” which features Cashen taking a turn on lead vocals. 

If Sweet Spirit aren’t a national sensation within a few years, we’re doing something wrong here in the Live Music Capitol, that much is certain. 

If there is a single band we admire most for their work-ethic and commitment to their craft it’s The Octopus Project. The four-piece, electro-pop, indie-rock hybrid consistently puts out great material and April’s Memory Mirror is no exception to that rule. The group’s DIY approach has led to collaborations with former University of Texas film school classmates that won a Sundance Film Festival award for best score, toured the world and even appeared on KLRU documentary show, Arts in Context in the past couple years. Despite forming over 10 years ago, members of the band continue to create all aspects materials including album art, visuals, graphics, lighting and even packing and shipping their vinyl and merchandise. The band really does it all. 

The new record continues the band’s exploration into popular electronic sounds and textures with video-game inspired track, “Brounce” and the proggy, “Gone Wrong.” 

The Octopus Project recently produced a multi-sensory experience featuring 9-channel surround sound, immersive multi-screen visuals, rumble seats, indoor weather effects to promote the new album and complete their supporting tour at the Texas State History Museum to much critical acclaim. 

If you aren’t already swayed, give that album listen and join the cult of The Octopus Project like the rest of us. 


If there’s a dark horse in this list it’s Kay Odyssey‘s What’s A Woman To Do produced by Nada Surf’s Louie Lino. That said, this dreamy, shoegazey, psych-rocker album by an all-girl lineup led by songwriter and front woman Kristina Boswell is a force. We’re huge fans of this quartet of supremely talented women. From Liz Burrito’s stellar guitar work which she modestly describes as “just following what Kristina’s doing.” to Vajaja Vallejo’s furious drums to Boswell’s awkward hipster there’s a whole lot to like about this band and their Spring release. 

Recently the band released a new video to compliment the fantastic, surreal “Mountains In My Step” song, garnering a lot of attention to the clip which features some nudity and oddly compelling visuals that aren’t as sexually suggestive as one might imagine. The echoey guitars and vocal delays draws in the listener. 

The title track is equally appealing, beginning with Boswell’s lone lyrics, launching into shimmery guitars and a steady beat stretching out into a languid pace. We love this record and this band. 

If you want to rock out, there’s none better to help you along than Otis the Destroyer in our opinion. In September the quartet dropped Frenchie Smith-produced,  Keep Bashing after teasing the record with successive single releases, “Van Rosita,” “Cheetah” and “Monster Eater.” 

What we love about founder Taylor Wilkins’ band is the same element that attracted us to his previous incarnation, The Couch. The band just flat out rocks with an intensity and foundation in quality songwriting. Other standout tracks include the furious “Animal” and title track, “Keep Bashing.” 

If you haven’t caught Otis yet, take a listen to this record then plan on getting out to howl at the moon with these guys. They’re that fun to watch. 

 

The vocal gymnastics of Walker Lukens just slightly supersedes the performer’s predilection for humor and theatrics. Perhaps the most surprising Austin release in terms of national reaction, Lukens’ has made a record, Tell It To the Judge that has attracted the attention of NPR, ABC News and Rolling Stone among other esteemed publications. 

Billboard Magazine called the new album genre-busting and perhaps that is the most apt description. Lukens flatly refuses to be categorized into a single bucket, eschewing traditional songwriting forms in favor of vocal effects, distortions and an experimental approach to his music. 

Produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno, the record delves into ambient electronica just as easily as folk, rock and even elements of rap. The singer’s refusal to be pigeon-holed into a definitive style is a big part of his appeal. 

Track “Where is Thunder Road” demonstrates Eno’s influence on the recording while emphasizing synthesizers and a pop influence on “Don’t Wanna Be Lonely (Don’t Wanna Leave You Alone).” 

Black Pistol Fire‘s Deadbeat Graffiti nearly slipped by unnoticed with a late September release date but the hard-charging duo’s fifth record is a dozy. Setting a reckless tone right out of the gate with fuzzy guitar rocker, “Lost Cause” then leading into the incendiary “Last Ride” singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen demonstrate why The Black Keys and Dan Auerbach have nothing on these Candadian-turned Texans. 

We caught the band headlining the Derby in the City Event back in May and the guys were ready to rock the new tunes long before the new material made it’s way into the public view. The only question now is how long can this talented pair continue to fly just below the radar of popular culture? Their work has made its way into countless video games and television shows. It’s only a matter of time. 

Last week singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins made her first US tour stop in Austin at Antone’s Nightclub. The reinvented legendary blues club was the ideal spot for the chanteuse to umm… reinvent herself as a neo-soul singer in support of her Mowtown-esque new record, Goodnight Rhonda Lee. The first time you hear Atkins sing you know her voice is special. We thought so the first time we caught the singer sporting a moody indie-rock vibe and working out of Brooklyn (she’s from New Jersey). But seeing the woman sing in a format that features her voice was truly special. Folks walking by on Fifth Street heard her singing and impulsively purchased tickets. Yeah, her pipes are truly golden. 

After an impressive two-man performance by The Midnight Stroll, a sober and genial Atkins and her Nashville-based band took the stage and presented songs from all four of her albums. She rolled out new single co-written with Chris Isaac, A Little Crazy early in the set showing off her Patsy Cline chops. The song features her velvety voice like it should. Another stand-out tune was a cover of Bowie’s Heroes. We’ve seen the song played by a number of artists since the legendary rocker’s death but none surpass the emotion lent to it by Atkins. 

The old-school, early 60s vibe of title track to the new record felt like a crowd-pleaser too. A glance around the room revealed a fairly age-diverse crowd of music fans all with big smiles as she worked through the tune with a great band.

We spoke to her guitarist Stephen who mentioned the band had just gotten back to the States after a whirlwind European tour. He said he was happy to be in Austin as he’s from Texas but now works out of Nashville as producer and touring musician. He was excited about the upcoming American leg of the tour despite jet lag and fatigue. It’s that much fun to tour with Atkins according to the affable musician. 

The road ahead looks rosy for Nicole Atkins. The one-time drinker has tamed her demons, gotten married, moved to Nashville and put out a fantastic new record that allows the listener to better hear the amazing talent that lay in her voice. The indie rock recordings she’s made are better than good, she wouldn’t have such a devoted fan base without putting out quality material, but the new direction has given her a fresh stage presence and vitality while Atkins shed’s her bad girl Rhonda Lee persona for a more stabile, happier future. 

Atkins continues her tour in San Francisco, followed by dates in Portland and Seattle.  The nearly non-stop schedule ends in South Carolina next April. 

Tonight is the kickoff party for Saturnalia Festival in Austin. Naturally we were just as curious as you as to what Saturnalia means but the lineup comprised of mostly national and local psych-rock, alternative and world music standouts is worth checking out. We think it’s a cannot miss scenario for local music fans. Austin acts Golden Dawn Arkestra, The Octopus Project, Hard Proof, Christian Bland (The Black Angels), Money Chicha, Annabelle Chairlegs,  Bushwick Bill (The Geto Boys) and Ringo Deathstarr will join out-of-town performers Allah-Las, Crocodiles, Cosmonauts, American Sharks and Sam France (Foxygen) at four locations in Austin. View the entire lineup on the festival site or poster. 

The Electric Church and Hotel Vegas will host pre-parties tonight and December 1 (tomorrow). The actual festival will take place Saturday and Sunday at Webberville Road Baptist Church and the adjacent Sahara Lounge. By the way, Saturnalia is a traditional Roman holiday that celebrates the coming Winter while honoring Saturn. We don’t really need an excuse to enjoy a lineup this good but we’re happy organizers have put in the effort to book the event during a time of year when there’s typically not much going on in the local live music scene. 

The Sahara Lounge and The Electric Church folks have partnered on this event to bring fans this out-of-box, small-format festival lineup oozing with talent. It doesn’t fix the fact that SOS Festival was cancelled last minute but it certainly helps ease the pain. What’s more, the festival has hired light show masters Bob Mustachio (The Black Angels), Esther Wave, Fever Dream, Astral Violet and Weird Destiny to accompany the talent at four locations in Austin over the entire four days of festival performances. 

Food vendors include Eastside Kings, Southside Flying Pizza, Juiceland, Wunder Pilz, Archie Dove BBQ, Pakal, Neon Rainbow and Laced With Romance. There are plenty of trailer and sit-down retaurant options near all four venue sites as well. Check Eater Austin’s East Austin page for dining recommendations. 

Tickets to Saturnalia Festival are still available. The VIP option includes access to a climate-controlled Saturnalia Lounge. Fans have the option to purchase an a four-day or daily wristband. Tickets to individual shows can be purchased “a la carte” directly from venues in advance or at the door.  Grab tickets here


FULL SCHEDULE

Thursday, Nov 30th – The Electric Church


1-Continental Drift

12-Christian Bland and The Revelators
11-The Nymphs
10-Trance Farmers

Friday, Dec 1st – Hotel Vegas

Outside:
7- Peyote Coyote
8- Teevee
9- Ringo Deathstarr
10- Octopus Project 

Inside:
7:30-Count Vaseline
8:30-Lola Tried
9:30-Al Lover
10:30-Hollow Trees
11:30-Think No Think
12:30- Bushwick BIll

DJ SLIMY STEVE

Saturday, December 2nd – Sahara Lounge & Webberville Road Baptist Church

Outside: 
2:30 – Croy and the Boys
3:30 – The Halfways
4:30 – Big Bill 
5:30 – The Sun Machine
6:30 – American Sharks
7:30 – Cosmonauts
8:30- Golden Dawn Arkestra

Inside:

2- The Hermits

3-Rattlesnake Milk
4-Flower Graves
5-Greenbeard
6- Lochness Mobsters
7- Vockah Redu
8- Mafaro Marimba
8:20- Kupira Marimba
9:15- Crucial Prophet
10:15- Money Chicha
12 – Zoumountchi

Sunday, December 3rd – Sahara Lounge & Webberville Road Church

Inside:
2- Lasertusk
3- True Indigo
4- Fogg
5- Billy King and the bad bad bad
6- Whit
7- Glaze

8 – Acid Carousel
9 – The Millbrook Estates
10- Sam France (of Foxygen)
11-Hard Proof

12- Palm Daze
1- Amplified Heat

Outside:
2:30 – Crypt Trip
3:30 – Pearl Earl
4:30 – Sailor Poon
5:30 – Crocodiles
6:30 – Annabelle Chairlegs 
7:30 – Morgan Delt

8:30- Allah-Las

New Jersey songstress, Nicole Atkins returns to Austin Thursday at Antone’s Nightclub in support of her new record, Good Night Rhonda Lee that takes a sharp turn away from her indie-pop sound to a traditional soul recording complete with Fort Worth’s Niles City Sound Team who turned Leon Bridges into an overnight sensation. The Midnight Stroll (Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory) and Thayer Serrano open the show. 

Atkins’ new approach to her music spotlights the singer’s golden pipes which lay somewhat obscured by the indie-rock slant of her last album, 2014’s Slow Phaser. After being married, moving to Nashville (from NYC) and getting sober, Atkins found the material she was writing was deeply personal and introspective. She found the ideal vehicle for those compositions in Soul and R&B. The genres magnify her considerable vocal talent. It doesn’t hurt to have friends like Chris Isaak to lend a hand collaborating on the lead track, A Little Crazy after encouraging her to change her musical style, 

“Atkins, you have a very special thing in your voice that a lot of people can’t or don’t do. You need to stop shying away from that thing and let people hear it.” -Chris Isaak

                                                       

Listeners will identify the song as an instant classic, highlighted by vulnerable lyrics and Atkins’ apologetic tone for revealing the raw emotions swirling around her transition to a sober lifestyle, marriage and a new home. Frankly we’re eagerly anticipating how well the song translates to the Antone’s stage. The legendary Blues emporium is a the ideal spot to introduce a Soul record that takes the listener back to the Motown pop of the 1960s. 

Atkins is doing it right. She hired the hottest soul producers (and musicians) in the country to back her in Joshua Block, Austin Jenkins and Chris Vivion. We suspect her newfound personal clarity will take an already seasoned and entertaining performer with an established, devoted fanbase and transform the singer into the kind of performer that gains new fans who marvel at the intimacy and emotional impact of her shows. Listening to Goodnight Rhonda Lee reveals her potential for greatness. Those may seem like heady words but if you watched Atkins’ Roadies clip above you’ll find it difficult to refute that bold claim. The album title is both a farewell to the singer’s older, self-destructive incarnation and an introduction to her new approach to making music.  

Tickets are still available from the Antone’s website. Grab them before they’re sold-out. This show is one you’re going to be glad you attended.