AUSTIN, TX - LIVE MUSIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD   - APRIL 2008

 

            I read in a guidebook that Austin, Texas claims to be the Live Music Capitol of the World.  So I decided to check it out during my Spring Break in 2008 from teaching psychology at Whittier College in a suburb of Los Angeles.  During the day in Austin[O1]  I went to museums, historical sites, parks, and music festivals.  Every evening I listened to live music, and five nights out of six I danced, at clubs on Sixth Street.  I tried to keep my sleep and meal schedule on LA time, so that when I went to bed at 3 AM Austin time it was only 1 AM LA time.   Here are some of the things that I learned and experienced.

 

THE LONE STAR STATE

            The Spanish came to Texas in 1528 when they were looking for gold.  They sent settlers to colonize the land, missionaries to convert the Native Americans, and soldiers to defend them.  Although they found no gold, they stayed to prevent the French from extending claims beyond New Orleans.  After the French gave up claims to the Mississippi Valley, the Spanish closed the missions in the 1790s.  In 1810 Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and Stephen Austin became an agent of Mexico to recruit settlers. 

            Most of the new settlers came from Southern states of the US, and soon outnumbered the Mexican Tejanos, so the Mexican government banned further US immigration in 1830.  In the period of turmoil after Mexican independence, Texans felt they had little representation in Mexican government.  When Santa Ana nullified the Mexican Constitution and became a dictator, Texans began to rebel.  After several skirmishes, Santa Ana sent troops to quell the disturbances in 1835. 

            At the Alamo, about 200 rebels who refused to surrender were killed, and another 300 who had surrendered were killed at Goliad.  Sam Houston rallied rebels with the cry “Remember the Alamo” and defeated Santa Ana’s larger forces at San Jacinto.  Texas declared itself a separate nation, with a lone star on its flag, but Mexico refused to acknowledge this and made several incursions.  To defend the territory, San Houston sought to have Texas become a state of the US.  At first the US Congress refused because the immigrants from Southern States owned slaves in Texas, and there was concern about the balance between Northern states without slavery and Southern States with slavery.  But when Polk became President of the US in 1844 he favored admitting Texas, and Texas became a state of the US in 1845.

            Cotton became an important crop, called “White Gold,” and sales to England and France were used to buy weapons for the Confederate States during the Civil War.  Oil, called “Black Gold,” was discovered in 1901.  With wide spaces available, Texas became home for military bases and defense industries.  In 1941 an oil pipeline was built to avoid oil tanker ships being torpedoed by German Submarines during World War II.  During the 1960s the Houston Space Center organized space flights resulting in the first landing on the moon in 1969.

 

ARRIVAL IN AUSTIN

            I flew to Austin on Monday afternoon March 31, 2008. I rented a car, and checked into a motel.  I drove downtown to get oriented while it was still daylight, noting the location of the clubs along Sixth Street, then went to the University of Texas north of downtown to find out about cultural events on campus.  I found a group of Latino students celebrating Cesar Chavez Day with live music and folklorico dancers near a statue of Cesar Chavez that had just been unveiled.  I called my nephew whose wife is a student at the University, and he and I had BBQ dinner at Stubbs, a place famous for live music but which didn’t have music that night since it was Monday. 

            I spent the rest of the evening on 6th Street, an area about half a mile long, with several clubs in every block, along with a few pizza parlors.  I walked up and down the street, listening to the kind of music being played, and decided to listen to blues bands at Nunos.  After two hours, I looked for a club where people were dancing.  The crowds were light since it was Monday, but I had fun dancing at Treasure Island.

 

LEARNING TEXAS HISTORY

            After sleeping in Tuesday morning, I discovered that I had forgotten to pack any socks.  I have a checklist to help me remember what to pack, and had checked off socks thinking I had packed them with my underwear and handkerchiefs.  I had to go to three stores before I found size 13-15; most stores sell only size 6-12. 

            I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Texas State History Museum, which had excellent exhibits on three floors.  Afterward I had dinner with my nephew and his wife at their house, then my nephew took me to the Elephant Room which is famous for live jazz.  I went to bed early, instead of going dancing, so that I would be rested for driving to San Antonio the next day.

            Wednesday I drove eighty miles to San Antonio, and explored the Alamo.  It was originally a mission, then became a military post when the Spanish closed the missions.  It was called the Alamo because the soldiers came from the town of Alamo in Mexico; the word Alamo means poplar tree in Spanish.  After the massacre, the place fell into disrepair, and some of the buildings were torn down and others were used as a warehouse.  The remaining buildings were about to be torn down by developers when Clara Driscoll convinced the state to preserve them as a sacred site.

            Since parking is difficult to find and expensive downtown, I left the car downtown and took a bus to the Witte Museum.  It had an excellent exhibit on the Ecology of Texas.  There are seven regions with different geography, animals, and plants.  East Texas has pine trees and swamps.  West Texas has deserts and mountains.  The Panhandle has plains.  There are rolling hills on the Central Prairies.  The Gulf Coast has marshes, the Edwards Plateau Hill Country is bordered by a steep slope, and South Texas has thorny cactuses.   There also was an excellent archeological exhibit on Ancient Texans who lived in West Texas along the Pecos River thousands of years ago.  It described the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers, with displays of tools, hunting equipment, pottery, housing, musical instruments, ceremonies, tattooing, and rock art.

            After taking the bus back, I had an Alamo Salad with cactus leaves at the Guadalajara Grill in La Villita, then took a boat tour of the Riverwalk Area, which had restaurants and bars along winding canals.  I walked through the Hemisphere Park, former site of a world’s fair, to the Tower of the Americas for great views of the city.

            That evening I drove back to Austin, had a sandwich at a club, then listened to blues bands at Club 311.  I was feeling sleepy, but knew that dancing would wake me up.  I found great dance music at club Spill and danced there for a couple of hours. The club owner wanted to meet me since I had danced the whole time I was there. I then chatted with people outside after the club closed.

 

THE LEGACY OF LBJ

            After sleeping in Thursday morning, I went to the Lyndon Baynes Johnson Library and Museum on the UT campus.  To provide a context for his life, it described US history during his lifetime.  When he was born in 1908, radio was uniting the country even more than the continental railway had done.  The assembly line made automobiles affordable and transformed industry.  America was isolationist, but joined World War I in 1917 when a German submarine torpedoed a British cruise ship with 128 Americans aboard.  The 1920s were a period of social upheaval, followed by Depression in the 1930s.  During those hard times LBJ spent a year teaching in a school whose students were mostly poor Mexican Americans, and his seeing the effects of poverty had lasting effects on his later government policies.  He became a congressional aide, and President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him as the Texas state director of the National Youth Administration, which put youth to work on public projects.  He was elected to congress in 1937, then served in the Navy during World War II. 

            In 1948 he was elected to the Senate, and became Senate majority leader in 1955, where he was known for pressuring others to support legislation.  John F. Kennedy asked him to be his Vice President in the 1960 election, and when Kennedy was shot in 1963, LBJ became president.  During his administration, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Open Housing Act of 1968 made racial discrimination illegal.  Other laws fought poverty by creating food stamps, Medicare, Job Corps, Head Start for preschoolers, and student loans for college students. Additional legislation supported clean air and water, consumer protection, highway safety, Public Radio and Television, and Federal Aid to the arts, humanities, and museums.  LBJ also pursued Kennedy's challenge of putting a man on the moon, which was achieved in 1969 after LBJ left office.

            In spite of many important legislative achievements, LBJ’s popularity plummeted during the Vietnam War.  President Kennedy had sent military advisors to train the South Vietnamese to fight the North Vietnamese, but after reports of attacks on US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, LBJ ordered the bombing of enemy targets.  As the war escalated, and more American soldiers died, there were massive anti-war demonstrations, especially by college students subject to the draft.  In 1968, LBJ decided not to run for President again.  He became a rancher and wrote his memoirs until he died in 1973.

 

ART AND BROTHERHOOD

            My favorite guidebook, Let’s Go, said that there was a sculpture garden at Laguna Gloria, a branch of the Austin Museum of Art.  I drove there and found an Italian-style villa overlooking the water, which had been the home of Clara Driscoll who rescued the Alamo from destruction.  At the main branch of the museum downtown, there was a temporary exhibit of modern art, including a fascinating sculpture of a bonfire made of painted pieces of wood representing pixels in a digital photo that was created by Shawn Smith.  At the Mexic-Arte Museum there was a poignant exhibit of retablos, amateur paintings on tin sheets expressing thanks to saints for “miracles” such as recovery from illnesses and accidents.  Especially moving was one which gave thanks for surviving crossing the Rio Grande when two companions drowned.

            My undergraduate fraternity has a chapter at the University of Texas at Austin, so I dropped by the chapter house to see how they were doing.  I met several members and pledges. They were working on decorations for a dance and had been arranging funding to add another building to house more members.

            I drove to Sixth Street and ate tacos at Daddy's restaurant, listened to blues at Friends pub, and heard jazz at another club.  I then danced at club Slip again and saw some of the people whom I had seen there the night before.

            Friday morning I went to the Blanton Art Museum on the UT campus. It had a few Greek and Roman statues and some nice European paintings.  My nephew then took me to some parks.  On the hill in Covert Park there was a view of the Austin skyline to the west and the river below to the east.  At Mayfield-Gutsch House and Garden there were flowers in bloom.  And at the Zilker Botanical Garden there was luscious greenery and an old log cabin school house.  We had a nice meal at the Hula Hut restaurant overlooking the river.

            Friday evening the police had blocked off Sixth Street from traffic. Thousands of college students were in town for a four-state track meet at UT.  I danced at clubs Live, Chuggin' Monkey, and Spill.  When the clubs closed, the street was packed with people who were talking and in no hurry to leave. 

 

TEXAS AND LOUISIANA MUSIC FESTS

            On Saturday there was the annual 40 Acres Fest on the UT campus, in which bands were playing on a stage and many campus organizations had tables.  My fraternity brothers there were collecting money for charity.  Students from Pakistan were selling Pakistani food which I had for lunch.  African American students recruited passersby to play Soul Jeopardy, answering questions about famous African Americans.  Army recruiters had two climbing walls.  Other groups were promoting various causes. 

            As I wandered around the tables I heard music farther away, and found that there was a Louisiana Swamp Thing and Music Festival across the street from the campus.  There I had Crawfish Etouffee, a soup with crawfish and rice, and listened to Zydeco music bands.

            I had great Columbian food with my nephew and his wife at Casa Columbia, then listened to blues again at Nunos, and danced a long time at Club Live.  There were thousands of students again on Sixth Street, so the clubs were packed.  Fortunately I had found a parking place six blocks north and so avoided the traffic congestion around the closed off street.

            Sunday morning my nephew, his wife, and I had a nice brunch at Hyde Park cafe, then I drove to the airport for my flight back to Los Angeles.  I arrived back in Whittier tired from a week of museums and clubbing, but the trip was fun. I had met a number of people and gained a new appreciation of the state of Texas.


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