Austin Essentials: Music venues set beat for lively city

FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2014 photo, a butterfly rests on a flower at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. Visitors to the center named for the late wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson can stroll along paths featuring colorful blooms abuzz with butterflies, relax while swinging under towering oaks and let their children play in a new family garden. Founded in 1982 as a research facility, the center opened to the public as a botanical garden in 1995. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2014 photo, a butterfly rests on a flower at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. Visitors to the center named for the late wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson can stroll along paths featuring colorful blooms abuzz with butterflies, relax while swinging under towering oaks and let their children play in a new family garden. Founded in 1982 as a research facility, the center opened to the public as a botanical garden in 1995. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin is the capital of Texas, but it brands itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” And for good reason: On any given night, 200 venues across the city host live performances. The city is also known for South by Southwest, its annual festival of indie arts, media and tech culture.

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WHAT’S NEW

Austin’s ever-changing musical scene is a melting pot of global styles. Clubs and other venues host rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop, punk and Latino performances. Events for this year include a gospel concert series, celebrations of Asian-American and Pacific Islander food and heritage, and Brazilian Samba culture to name a few. For Austin’s marathon and half-marathon, scheduled for Feb. 14, 40 local bands will play outdoors around the city as runners stream through neighborhoods.

Austin City Limits Music Festival, now held over two weekends, features 130 bands playing on eight stages, Sept. 30-Oct. 2 and Oct. 7-9.

Also new: 2,000 more upscale hotel rooms in five hotels, bringing the total to 33,000 rooms across the city.

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CLASSIC ATTRACTIONS

South by Southwest, or SXSW, a showcase for new talent that has almost become synonymous with Austin, features original music, independent films and technical innovation, March 11-20.

The Texas State Capitol is worth a visit, with its mammoth dome, hundreds of rooms and windows, and many paintings and sculptures (including a portrait of Davy Crockett). Wash the experience down at The Cloak Room, an unobtrusive, dimly lit bar near the Capitol where legislators mingle with lobbyists. The cooler should be well-stocked with Lone Star, which labels itself “the National Beer of Texas.”

The Bullock Texas State History Museum tells the story of Texas since France and Spain claimed the region centuries ago. Artifacts include the 17th century French expedition ship, La Belle, which was recovered more than 300 years after it sank in a storm. You could easily spend the day at the Bullock, so consider dining in the museum’s Story of Texas Cafe. But save some time for the Blanton Museum of Art, right across the street.

You’re at the edge of the University of Texas campus, which dominates a good chunk of downtown and brings zest to the city. Look up and you’ll see the 30-floor administration building, also the former UT library. Tours of the school’s clock tower offer a spectacular vista of the city and its hill country environs. (The tower is also where, in 1966, a gunman killed over a dozen people and wounded more than 30.) Also on campus, the Lyndon B. Johnson Library walks visitors through the turbulent and historically significant years of LBJ’s presidency.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a unit of the University of Texas located on a satellite campus, offers trails, gardens, an arboretum and more.

Ready to cool off? Try Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. This three-acre gem (where Robert Redford learned to swim) is fed by underground springs and has an average temperature of 68-70 degrees.

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TIPS

Austin is divided into six entertainment districts: Downtown, East, Rainey Street, Red River, Sixth Street and South Congress.

The city is bicycle-friendly, with bike lanes on many main routes. Drivers tend to be conscious of bikers, and riding opportunities extend to open-road course, parks with dedicated biking areas and city trails like the 7.8-mile (12.5-kilometer) Barton Creek Greenbelt.

CapMetro bus service serves many stops along the MetroRail rail passenger line. Downtown, Capitol Pedicab drivers work for tips.

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is convenient to downtown (20 minutes barring heavy traffic) and has nonstop flights to and from scores of destinations. Deals can be found. Recent round-trip tickets for two from Boston, direct, cost $631.

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HANGING OUT

A million bats can’t be wrong. The largest urban colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in North America hangs out under the Ann Richards Bridge on Congress Avenue between April and October, and at dusk the bats billow out as they commence their nightly feeding. This spectacle can be viewed from the bridge itself, from a park below (both free), or from a riverboat on Lady Bird Lake below, which can also include a tour of some of the city’s other highlights.

Bars with personality include the Mean-Eyed Cat, a former chainsaw repair shop that’s now known for Johnny Cash memorabilia. Like countless other Austin bars on West Fifth Street, it boasts a big selection of local and craft beers. Other places to eat and drink include Posse East, (walking distance to the UT football stadium, good sandwiches), Hole in the Wall (hot music, draft beer, real Texas atmosphere) and Spider House (eclectic spot to watch grad students work and drink). Coffee bars are everywhere. If you’re hankering to huff on a hookah, you’re in the right town for that too.

Barbecue is a must. Just outside of Austin, The Salt Lick in Driftwood is famous for beef brisket, sausage and pork ribs. It’s well worth the ride and potential wait time for a table.

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