After the Memphis concert was over at Butler Park, I walked down to South Congress Avenue and ended up encountering a band called The City from Houston who was performing on the outdoor stage at Mrs. P’s Electric Cock. They played an exciting blend of neo-soul and jazz, and were fun to listen to, but my phone was running out of charge and there was no place to charge it there, so I began walking back toward the convention center.
TOMS began life as a shoe company, making a modified kind of Argentinian shoe for the North American market, and giving a pair of shoes to needy kids abroad for every pair purchased. This “one for one” business model proved popular, and in 2011, the company expanded to eyewear, making eye care and glasses available to the needy. Now, they have expanded again into coffee, with beans imported from Rwanda, Guatemala, Peru and Malawi, making clean, pure water available in developing countries for every pound of beans purchased. The TOMS Roasting Company shop on South Congress Avenue had been closed on Wednesday, but fortunately, on Thursday it was open, and although the line was long, it moved rapidly. Not all the menu items were available, but I was able to try a latte, which was delicious. As it was South By Southwest, a live band was playing on the back patio.
TOMS Store and Cafe
1401 South Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 350-2115 http://www.toms.com
My friend Malcolm, the owner of Memphis’ excellent Memphis Music record shop on Beale Street had introduced me to St. Paul and the Broken Bones back in February by showing me a YouTube video. Up until that point, I had not heard of the Birmingham-based band, which had recorded their album in Muscle Shoals, but I loved the soul-oriented style of the band, and their inclusion of live horns. When I saw that they were playing in Florence, Alabama, I planned to drive down for the performance, but a gig came up, and I was unable to go, and in the meanwhile, their debut album Half The City appeared on Spotify, and I found it very impressive indeed. So when I saw that they were performing at the South By San Jose event at the Hotel San Jose in Austin, I knew I had to be there. Fortunately I arrived as they were just setting up, and was able to get a spot directly in front of the stage. The South By San Jose event, known as SXSJ, is always a cool place to see bands anyway. The line-ups are generally great, the events are free and don’t require badges, and the outdoor location makes for great sound and plenty of room. Behind the crowd is always a collection of vendors selling all kinds of goods. As for the band, I was impressed with how tight their performance was on stage, and with St. Paul’s enthusiastic stage presence. The show was definitely a high point for my SXSW this year.
The beautiful lake that separates downtown Austin from the trendy SoCo district is called Lady Bird Lake. Formerly Town Lake, it was renamed to honor the former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who made keeping the lake and its shores clean a personal campaign for most of her life. The weather is generally warm and pretty during SXSW, and it is not uncommon to see people taking advantage of the lake’s opportunity for recreation.
When I left Rainey Street, I knew I had only a little bit of time to walk down to South Austin for the St. Paul and the Broken Bones show at the Hotel San Jose, but I figured I could make it if I walked quickly enough. On the way, I ran into a group of guys from Calico Jonez‘ camp. Jonez is a former Memphis rapper that like so many others decided to move to Atlanta to further his career.
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.
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.
I decided to eat my final SXSW dinner in a place I had long noticed but never eaten in, the Snack Bar directly beside the Austin Motel. What has always stood out to me about the Snack Bar is its 50’s space age retro elegance, as if the Rat Pack could be expected to walk in at any moment. The look befits the SoCo neighborhood, in which clubs, restaurants and motels often rely on a vintage look and feel. But the purpose of any restaurant is the food, and the grass-fed organic burger I had at the Snack Bar was very good indeed. The beef, bacon and cheese were all locally sourced, as local organics are the rule of thumb at the Snack Bar. Equally delicious were the freshly cut french fries. The Snack Bar is not necessarily quick (I had to wait about 45 minutes to be seated), nor is it inexpensive. But the food and ambiance are one-of-a-kind.
The South Congress area of South Austin seems to be at its most festive and busiest on the final Saturday of South By Southwest. Patios are jam-packed with diners, and outdoor stages are packed with fans, particularly the massive South By San Jose (SXSJ) stage that annually stands beside the San Jose Hotel. Each year, I end up spending at least part of the final Saturday on the South Austin side of the bridge.