It is possible to find free parking during SXSW if you don’t mind a fair amount of walking, so I parked over on the Eastside, north of 11th Street, and walked down the hill beside the Texas State Cemetery. When I got to 7th Street, I was in the mood for a latte, so I stopped at Vintage Heart Coffee before continuing my walk further down to East 6th Street. There, beside La Perla Bar, I noticed that the Rolling Record Store from Jack White’s Third Man Records had set up on the food trailer lot where the Sailor Jerry’s showcase was going on. I hung out there for a minute, and then walked further down to the Eastern, where a hip-hop showcase was supposed to be taking place.
It was fairly late in the day when I finally woke up on Wednesday morning, and I had had breakfast before going to bed. So I decided to forego the usually bacon and eggs and try some Texas-style barbecue, which generally means beef. Everyone had said that Franklin Bar-B-Q was the best, but I also knew that Franklin was an all-day proposition, and as badly as I wanted to try some beef brisket, I also wanted to do other things during the day as well, not spend it all waiting in line. So I had seen a place not all that far from my hotel called Rudy’s Bar-B-Que and Country Store, so I stopped there and decided to try their offerings. I didn’t know that they are considered one of the best barbecue places in Austin, but I can see why. Numerous times elsewhere I have ordered brisket and didn’t like what I got, but I loved the beef brisket I got at Rudy’s. I chose the lean brisket as I’m not a big fan of beef fat, and it was delicious, with a well-seasoned, smokey flavor that made the sauce almost superfluous. But the sauce was sweet and smokey as well, and made a nice addition. The inside is part dining hall and part country store, with long wooden tables the run the length of the room. Prices are not cheap, but neither are they outrageous, and the barbecue is really good. For those wanting to experience Austin barbecue without the four hours waiting in line, Rudy’s is a good option.
I had left my car in East Austin, so after the Kool & Together show, I had a fairly long walk to my car, which was at the Carver Community Center. By now, I was a dead tired, but it was the satisfied kind of tired, so when I had driven out toward my hotel in Cedar Park, I stopped at the 24-hour Kerbey Lane Cafe out on Highway 183 for a midnight breakfast. While I was there, ferocious winds came up, and the weather became not merely cool but downright chilly.
One of the cooler things about South By Southwest is the way that old and obscure bands are brought back into relevance, either by documentary films that are screened, or showcases that feature them. Victoria, Texas-based Kool & Together was just such a band, a group of Black musicians in a small Texas town who spent seven years recording a rather odd mix of soul, funk and psychedelic rock in the early 1970’s. When nothing really took off, they broke up. That would have been the end of the story, but in recent years record collectors got involved, as did the hip boutique label Light in the Attic Records, and the result was not just awakened interest in the old recordings, but a burst of new activity from the band itself. Although I had seen them play behind Fort Worth gospel mainstays The Relatives, I had never seen them perform their own show, so I was excited this year to get the opportunity to catch them on the rooftop at 512. As it turned out, the outdoor rooftop was the perfect venue for a band like Kool & Together, and although there was a fairly large group of people upstairs, the place didn’t seem at all uncomfortable. The band’s style is based around funk and soul, although elements of hard rock are included in a way that sets Kool & Together apart from other funk bands, and the audience seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
After I left Travis Heights, I drove over to East Austin and parked my car across the street from the Carver Community Center. As I was walking down the hill, I came first to Trailer Space Records, the cool vinyl and used CD shop that is also a music venue. During SXSW, it can get too crowded to come inside, but I was able to do some browsing before I continued walking down past the cemetery to the Hotel Vegas. While there, i checked the SXSW schedule on my phone and saw that the 1970’s funk/soul band Kool & Together was playing at the 512 Rooftop on Sixth Street, so I decided to walk over that way and see if I could catch their show.
I had left my car parked on a residential street in Travis Heights in South Austin, so after dinner, I walked back down South Congress Avenue toward the Continental Club. I saw where the Toms Sunglasses Company had opened a coffee bar, but unfortunately, they were not yet open for business, and were having a preview party which was invitation only. So I settled for a cupcake at the nearby Hey Cupcake trailer, before walking back to my car and driving over to East Austin.
Back on the downtown side of Town Lake, there were a lot of things going on, particularly a lot of events associated with the Interactive part of the South By Southwest conference. Unfortunately, the Samsung exhibit, which I had hoped to get a look at, was closed for a special private party. I walked around, considering several different places for dinner, and finally settled on one I encountered on Congress Avenue called Annie’s Cafe, which turned out to be part coffee bar and part restaurant. I opted for a bacon cheeseburger, and while my order took awhile because of how crowded everything was, the burger was really good, and the surroundings pleasant. Annie’s menu was somewhat limited, but I did notice that they feature a complete breakfast menu in the mornings.
The funky neighborhood of SoCo in South Austin is one of the nerve centers of South By Southwest each year. Once a blighted area, redevelopment began in the 1980’s, and today the area is a bohemian mix of restored motels, trendy boutiques and great restaurants and food trucks. One of the bigger attractions of the area during SXSW is the unofficial South By San Jose (SXSJ) event at the San Jose Hotel, a 5-day event of free music and vendors in the boutique hotel’s courtyard.
Also in South Austin is a record store called Friends of Sound, which can be hard to find despite its South Congress Avenue address, as it opens onto the alley behind. Unlike Waterloo or End of an Ear, Friends of Sound sells nothing new, and no formats other than vinyl. The emphasis is on soul and funk, especially 45’s, and some of the best and rarest ones often come through the store, particularly ones with a Texas connection. Prices are not low, but the selection of records that aren’t seen anywhere else is significant.