Where should any self-respecting music buff spend an evening in San Antonio? You might not think a place called Sam’s Burger Joint would be part of the shortlist of possibilities, but you’d be wrong. Yes, it serves up some mighty delicious burgers – in Sam’s-branded buns no less – but it’s the live music which has put it on the map. Rock, blues, country and rockabilly bands take to the stage here, so it’s a must if you like all things Americana.
Then there’s the Aztec Theatre, whose flamboyant architecture and decor makes it a famed San Antonio landmark. Think colourful columns, sculptures and murals evoking Mayan and Aztec cultures. The surroundings may be eye-catching, but it’s the music that will have all your attention, with up-and-coming bands sharing the “what’s on” calendar with big-name stars. Another San Antonio option is 502 Bar, a proper dive bar boasting a big selection of craft beers and superb acoustics. Which comes in handy for both live bands and karaoke nights.
A 3-hour drive eastwards will bring you to the sprawling city of Houston. Here, the likes of Flaming Lips, Pet Shop Boys and Morrissey have all graced the “lawn” at White Oak Music Hall. This vast complex, which encompasses different performance areas, plays host to rock, hip-hop and country acts right throughout the year. Its lawn is the biggest and most star-studded area, but you can also catch local bands in the smaller part of the complex.
House of Blues is another great spot for a night out, packing in up to 1,000 people for its various gigs. Things can get messy when the people start jumping, but that’s all part of the excitement, while the on-site restaurant provides a perfect pit-stop with its offerings of sticky ribs and fried chicken. Or, head over to Warehouse Live, which once actually served as a warehouse more than a century ago. It’s now a top venue which has hosted the likes of Adele, Blondie and Bruno Mars.
After a big night in Houston, day 3 will see you travel back westwards to the proudly eccentric and bohemian city of Austin. As you might expect, it has its share of irreverent, edgy venues, and one of the best is Beerland. The place where punks, artists, metalheads and all-round music-fiends come to let their hair down, it hosts wild and raucous gigs and lives by it its motto, “Beer, music, liquor”. If underground music is your thing, this is the place to be.
Another quintessentially Austin place to visit is the Carousel Lounge. It first opened in the 60s, and still evokes that surreal and psychedelic decade with its own actual carousel behind the bar, along with a pink elephant on the music stage. It’s a live venue like no other, and worth the trip from downtown Austin. The city has more mainstream places too, including the Paramount Theatre. This started out as a vaudeville house in 1915, and Houdini himself once performed here. These days, it’s the musicians who pull in the crowds, so check out the calendar for the best gigs.
Waco sits around an hour and a half north of Austin. While it’s not as prominent a cultural centre as the likes of Austin and Dallas, it certainly holds its own on the music scene thanks to venues like the Backyard. This isn’t just a place to catch tunes – it also features an atmospheric outdoor area featuring fire pits, water features, a massive outdoor screen and plenty of space to kick back and enjoy the hearty food. An eclectic line-up of acts plays here, while you can show off your own vocal skills during the famous karaoke nights.
The charmingly-named Melody Ranch is another big draw for musos – in fact, it’s been hosting acts for almost half a century. It has a big advantage over other venues in the form of its vast dance floor, where you can bop and jump till the early hours. For a less wild night in Waco, you could opt instead for the Waco Hippodrome Theatre, where you can catch soulful folk and country singers doing their thing.
Carry on northwards from Waco and you’ll get to the last stop on your music itinerary: the great city of Dallas. But where to spend an evening on the town? There’s the Bomb Factory for one thing. The name refers to the fact it once served as a literal bomb factory during World War 2, but now it’s the crowd liable to explode when big acts like Nine Inch Nails and Sonic Youth take to the stage.
A bona fide icon among Dallas venues is Trees. Everyone from Radiohead to Pearl Jam to Arcade Fire have graced the boards here, and back during the height of grunge it witnessed a now-notorious appearance by Nirvana, which saw Kurt Cobain get into a bloody fight with a bouncer. Many locals will swear they were there that night, but take that with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, the American Airlines Center is where the biggest A-listers in the world come to play, with the likes of Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Justin Timberlake and Harry Styles all lined up for 2018.
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