by Nancy Bestor
There are two constants in my life – music and food. Both of these things were important in my house when I was growing up, and I was fortunate to find a soul mate who believes these two things are just as crucial to being happy and healthy as I do. So when looking for a long-weekend travel destination this spring, we chose a city where food and music are at the top of the list – Austin, Texas.
Bob’s sister and her husband joined us from Seattle, and picked us up at the airport upon our 10:00 pm arrival. From there it was straight to The Highball, a colorful cocktail bar, and in the blink of an eye we were listening to great music from Texas country singer and guitar player Dale Watson. Dale finished his set just after 11, but the night was young, and so were we. (I feel like an image should be inserted here of us driving in a convertible, with our hair flowing in the wind, but that only exists in my imagination.)
So it was on to The Continental Club, the “granddaddy” of Austin music clubs, open since 1955, to hear some Southern Culture on the Skids. Their rockabilly-meets-country-meets-surf sounds featured songs about fried chicken, double-wide trailers, sex, banana pudding, and more. And fortunately, we had stopped at Gordough’s Food Truck for massive donuts before the show, so our appetites were sated. I chose the Miss Shortcake, with cream cheese frosting and fresh strawberries. Bob sampled the Funky Monkey, with grilled bananas, cream cheese and brown sugar, while Philip went with the Fried Clucker, a donut with a fried chicken strip and honey butter on top. You’ve got to see, and eat, these donuts to believe them.
We rolled up to our airbnb home rental about 2am, tired, but happy. And the next day we did it all over again. We started with an early lunch at Valentina’s food truck, where we all had brisket tacos and smoked corn. Then we wandered South Congress Avenue, home of the above-mentioned Continental Club. It just so happened that this was the weekend of the Lonestar Roundup Classic Car Show, sponsored by The Kontinentals, an Austin car club, named after their honky tonk home base, the Continental Club. Although the show is officially at the Expo Center, hundreds of cars are both parked and motoring up and down the busy street of South Congress. Automobiles newer than 1963 are not allowed at the Roundup, and neither are imported vehicles. The cars were spectacular.
We shared 2 ½ pounds of succulent beef ribs in the late afternoon at Black’s Barbecue, then headed over to Slow Poke’s Brisket Shack, home of the Git Down, a hot rod, hot barbecue and hot music event, hosted by the Model Citizens Car Club of Austin. We ambled across a dirt field to get to this outdoor venue, where light bulbs were strung from trees and buildings, chickens wandered throughout the grounds and even more classic cars were on display. It felt like I had walked onto the television set of Friday Night Lights, and I kept looking for Tami Taylor, except it was real. We ate brisket tacos, brought our own beer, and listened to music from The Derailers, the Hickoids and Bobby Mack. But our night wasn’t over yet. (Can you believe it kids? We stayed out past midnight AGAIN!)
We soon found ourselves at another classic Austin music venue, Donn’s Depot, a bar and nightclub housed in an old Missouri-Pacific train depot. Repurposed rail cars serve as seating areas, and the women’s bathroom is a real caboose. Frank Cavitt, the Honky-Tonk Piano Man, was on the bill, and as Merle Haggard had died just a few days earlier, Frank and his band paid tribute with several of Merle’s songs, and I danced the two-step with stepped on the toes of a couple of young Texas boys. There was lots of great music played at Donn’s that night, and, like everywhere else we had been in Austin, people went out of their way to be friendly.
We couldn’t get enough of Dale Watson, so Saturday afternoon found us at yet another Dale Watson show. Dale and his band, the Lonestars, were playing the grand opening of a Cube Smart Storage facility. We (obviously) weren’t in the market for a storage unit, but they welcomed us anyway, and we drank margaritas and ate pecan pie while Dale and the boys put on a fabulous show. Then it was back to the Continental Club for a late afternoon show by Redd Volkaert, former guitar player for Merle Haggard. And guess what? His show was outstanding.
And the hits just kept on coming. That evening we drove about an hour out of town to Kendalia Halle, built in 1903, for a real Texas dance hall experience. Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition played western swing, and we watched dozens of couples, most quite a bit older than us, waltz and two-step as if they were floating above the floor. Bob was the only man in shorts, and when he and I got out on the dance floor, I couldn’t tell if they were looking at his bare legs or our feet because we had no idea what we were doing. The setting was again magical and movie-like. And yet, once again, it was real.
We had one more dance hall experience on Sunday morning, the Gospel Brunch at Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas. Built in 1878, the 6,000 square foot wooden-floor dance hall has a tin roof and side flaps for open air dancing. Once a month the Hall features a “New Orleans-style Gospel Brunch with a Texas Twist.” For $30, you can eat all you like of oven roasted turkey, seasoned roast beef, polish sausage, scrambled eggs with salsa verde, buttermilk biscuits, garlic mashed potatoes, fried apples and more. The brunch is led by country performer Bret Graham and also features the Gospel Silvertones, a rockin’ gospel group. Both the music and the food were excellent.
And that one sentence really sums up our trip. Austin, Texas—where the music and the food are excellent.