With Austin being such a hip town, it has become ground zero for the vinyl renaissance, with plenty of vinyl record shops in several different neighborhoods. South Austin’s End of an Ear is definitely one of the better shops, with a specialized inventory that emphasizes indie rock, jazz, soul, funk and reggae. Vinyl is the main thing here, although there are plenty of compact discs as well, with a decided bias toward independent labels. A small selection of music books and DVD’s rounds out the offerings. Live music gigs in the shop are not uncommon either, at least during South By Southwest.
End Of An Ear
2209 South First Street
Austin, TX 78704
After I left Waterloo Records, I headed across the lake to South Austin, and as it was the hottest afternoon yet, when I saw Sandy’s Frozen Custard, I stopped there for a custard, which was very good and refreshing. I learned that Sandy’s was one of the first fast-food restaurants in Austin, having been opened in 1946 on the location where it still stands, founded by a family who had moved to Austin from the Midwest.
As I have said on previous occasions, during South By Southwest (SXSW) eveyone ends up at 24 Diner sooner or later. It’s strategically located for one thing, directly next to arguably Austin’s best record shop, Waterloo Records. For another, it never closes, the prices are reasonable and the food very good indeed. The 24 Diner is sort of a diner, and has American comfort food, as one would expect a diner to, but it presents its menu with a chef-inspired New America twist, and also has a wine list and craft beers. A visit to 24 Diner for breakfast is perhaps the best way to start a day at South By Southwest. Afterwards, stroll next door to Waterloo Records for an hour or more of record-hunting pleasure. New CD’s, used CD’s, vinyl, DVD’s, books, Waterloo has them all, with great selection even in the hard-to-find genres like avant-garde jazz. Nobody should leave Austin without at least one visit.
The Downtown NOLA Party was held at the Lucky Lounge, which I seem to remember being Antone’s at one time, and as soon as I walked in, I ran into members of The Stooges Brass Band, one of my favorite New Orleans groups. The place was somewhat crowded, but not uncomfortably so, and the Stooges had been hired to provide the music which they did, with a more indoor version of their group featuring a set drummer and keyboard player rather than the street style they typically display outdoors. Still it was upbeat and fun, and was apparently being sponsored as an opportunity to lure tech businesses to downtown New Orleans. Toward the end of the evening, an unexpected guest appeared, the legendary Bushwick Bill from the Geto Boys. He joined the Stooges on stage for a freestyle before the end of the evening.
Memphis rapper Snipes has always tried to connect Memphis’ soul past and its rap present in a way that few rap artists other than Al Kapone have done locally. His shows were characterized by live musicians at a time when few known rap acts other than The Roots were doing that on a regular basis, and his label Overwater Entertainment had a roster that included singers as well as rappers. Setting him apart even more from many of his fellow Memphis rap artists was the often upbeat and inspirational nature of many of his songs. All of these trends are very much in evidence on The Classic Soul Project, a 6-song EP that is releasing today on Bandcamp. The six tracks, produced by Kingpin Da Composer, are all based around samples of soul songs that have an old and deep root in Memphis, such as the obvious single for the upcoming warm weather months “Summer Breeze”, based around the Isley Brother’s classic take of the Seals and Croft hit from the 1970’s. “Keep Steppin” is based around Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” and “The Approach” features a snippet from Willie Hutch as well as a rap verse from Memphis trombonist/band leader Suavo J. Finally, the closing “We’re Gonna Make It” is a positive and uplifting anthem that wouldn’t be out of place on gospel radio. As for the overall sound of the project, the combination of classic soul sounds and Memphis-style rap creates an atmosphere reminiscent of classic Eightball & MJG. The Classic Soul Project can be downloaded for a donation here.
As I do every year, I spent the late afternoon and early evening strolling around the downtown area, Sixth Street and East Austin. The crowds are usually somewhat slimmer during the Interactive part of the festival, but there were still a lot of people on 6th. A & E Network had erected a complete replica of the Bates Motel near the Convention Center, and next door Samsung had erected a huge venue which unfortunately had already closed for the day. I finally made my way over to East Austin to enjoy a dinner at Via 313 Detroit-Style Pizza, which is just about the best pizza in Austin. Down on 5th, I came to the former Progress Coffee location, which has become Wright Brothers Brew & Brew, featuring both gourmet coffee and craft beers. While I was enjoying a breve there, I noticed that there was something called the Downtown NOLA Party at a venue called Lucky’s on West 5th. It was a bit of a walk, but I decided to head over there, as anything New Orleans always grabs my attention.
One of the main differences at this year’s South By Southwest in downtown Austin was something that Memphis people have loved for year, Gus’s Fried Chicken. The venerable Memphis restaurant opened its Austin location earlier this year in a spot that had been a Mongolian barbecue restaurant, but which had been vacant for the last several South By Southwest events. The line for the Memphis-style fried chicken was out the door and down the block.
Young Clifford Antone had left his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas in 1968 to attend the University of Texas at Austin, but his college career was cut short by a marijuana arrest. What could have been the beginning of a downward spiral was anything but for Antone, who in 1975 founded a night club that would prove to be one of the greatest blues night clubs in the world. Antone’s moved several times over its long career in Austin, but its impact was significant in the city, helping to establish the reputation Austin enjoys today as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” By 1987, the night club had inspired a record label called Antone’s, and a retail record shop of the same name on Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas campus. The empire that seemed impregnable began to fall apart after Clifford Antone’s death, however. The record label failed after acquiring the assets of another bankrupt Austin label called Watermelon Records. A bankruptcy auction left the Antone’s masters in the hands of New West Records, where at least some of them are still available. The club became more of an indie rock entity, and finally moved out of downtown into East Austin before closing. Today all that remains of the Antone’s name and legacy is the retail record store near the campus. Heavily skewed to vinyl and the blues, it is a must-visit spot for blues lovers, and prices are reasonable. Even the used compact discs are full of unexpected items, especially in the Texas section.
Antone’s Record Shop
2928 Guadalupe Street
Austin, TX 78705
Going the I-10 route through Houston as I did meant that I didn’t get into Austin until 4 in the morning on Monday, so it was nearly noon when I woke up on the first day of my South By Southwest week. After a breakfast at Jim’s, I headed over to one of my favorite Austin neighborhoods to do some record and book shopping. The North Loop neighborhood is a small stretch of funky boutiques and shops with really cool things like vinyl records, vintage clothing and books. Monkeywrench Books is a cool, left-wing bookstore with a lot of books that aren’t available elsewhere, like the really cool book I found, Michael P. Jeffries’ Thug Life: Race, Gender and the Meaning of Hip-Hop. Down the street is Breakaway Records, arguably Austin’s best vinyl store, with an emphasis on 45-RPM vinyl singles, and fairly low prices. Breakaway also sells stereo equipment and accessories. In the same shopping center is Epoch Coffee, a great place to relax and chill after an hour of strenuous vinyl shopping. I’m not even sure what is in an Iced Mojo, but it is truly amazing.
The North Loop neighborhood is located along North Loop Boulevard between Lamar and Airport Boulevard in North Austin.
Recent years have not been kind to the retail music situation in Baton Rouge, so I was thrilled to learn of a new vinyl record shop called Lagniappe Records. It was fairly late on a Sunday evening when I got to Baton Rouge, and the store would have normally been closed, but someone answered the phone when I called, and agreed to let me in to browse and purchase records despite the lateness of the hour. Lagniappe is located in a charming house in an old neighborhood of Baton Rouge near downtown called Beauregard Town. The bulk of the music is on LP, mostly used and rare, but some new. There is a smaller selection of 45-RPM singles, and an even smaller selection of 78-RPM singles. Such CD’s as there are are mostly indie rock and local or regional bands. Lagniappe is definitely worth a visit when in Baton Rouge.
986 France Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802