Free Week has officially arrived in Austin, and with it comes an overwhelming list of shows, events and parties to choose from over the next 14 days (I guess “free two weeks” just doesn’t have the same ring to it?). More than a dozen music venues across the city now participate, offering a budget-friendly, show-hopping extravaganza spanning Red River and the ever-developing East Side. But with so much free music all over town, how do you choose?
Whether you’re a local live music veteran or a relative newcomer to the scene, I’ve compiled a list of the ten best things this magical, musical city has to offer, completely free of charge, over the next two weeks. Special care was taken to include a little something for everyone – whether you just want to douse yourself in Jack Daniel’s party punch, get sweaty with glow sticks at the city’s craziest dance party, sing along with nostalgic reverie to the hits of your youth, or just watch real people play real music really, really well, there is sure to be something on this list for you.
Best Kickoff Party
Pooneh’s Birthday Bash @ Barracuda
Tuesday, January 3rd
This entire night is a recipe for success. Do 512 is a tour de force when it comes to throwing epic parties with sick drink specials and super dope bands, and this particular evening celebrates local music photographer Pooneh Ghana with a rockin’ party over at Barracuda. Expect to see a wide variety of musical genres throughout the night, and throw back a few glasses of the Jack Daniel’s-laced Pooneh’s Party Punch while you’re there. As an added bonus, make sure and capture a lasting memory of you and your friends punch-faced and fancy-free in the event’s hosted photobooth.
Best Throwback Punk Rock Party
Threes Away @ The Sidewinder
Tuesday, January 3rd
If the evolving see-and-be-seen-scene isn’t your bag, head over to The Sidewinder and catch a (relatively) early set featuring ex-members of Austin punk staple Born to Lose, in addition to a slew of other musicians who have re-grouped to keep the scene they built nearly two decades ago alive. This is the show to go to if you’re feeling too old to party but still love to sing loudly, or simply want to show your support for a big group of the musicians that helped make Red River so great in the first place. Added bonus: they have some of my favorite merch in the city.
Jimmy Eat Wednesday Tribute Night @ Swan Dive
Wednesday, January 4th
This tribute night is a no-brainer. Come out to Swan Dive ready to sing along to all your favorite old songs from Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182, Built to Spill and more. There will be sets inside and on the patio all night long, so regardless of weather, this show will go on. Given how many heroes we said goodbye to in 2016, a night of glorious, youthful, nostalgia-laden guilty pleasure is much needed.
Best Roots Revival
Whiskey Shivers @ Mohawk
Wednesday, January 4th
The initial goal of Whiskey Shivers was to “shake the dust off roots music” – and shaking is exactly what you will be doing at this set. This is another one of those bands that provides more than just music at their shows; you leave feeling like you yourself were actually a part of it. They play untraditional roots music on traditional instruments (an upright bass, fiddle, banjo, guitar, and even a washboard), and as any local worth their weight in cover charges can attest, a free Whiskey Shivers show is by far the deal of the week. Go. Dance. Be Merry – very merry.
Best Show of the Week
Matthew Logan Vasquez @ Hotel Vegas
Thursday, January 5th
Let me preface this by saying that I may be just a tad bit biased – between his recent slew of solo sets and his time with the incomparable Delta Spirit, I have seen Matthew Logan Vasquez play nearly a hundred times over the last decade. But here’s the thing – no matter how many times I show up, he always makes me glad I did. It’s like pure, sparkling, rainbow-colored happiness for your ears – the man is a true Texas treasure, and whether you’re a superfan like myself or a first-timer, you won’t regret venturing out for this one.
The Digital Wild @ Empire Control Room & Garage
Friday, January 6th
Penny Loafer PR and Heard Entertainment are throwing a massive bash at Empire Control Room & Garage on Friday night, complete with eleven different bands playing across two stages. If you haven’t yet been there, the space itself is just a great place to spend a weekend night downtown, and the lineup offers a little something for everyone. This is one of those “no fail” venues that I take my out-of-town friends to when the want to see something “Austin-y”.
Best Local Showcase
Walker Lukens @ Mohawk
Saturday, January 7th
I made the giant, soul-crushing mistake of missing Walker Lukens at ACL this year. Despite my complete and total dedication to spectacular sonic wonderment, I too am susceptible to the “I can catch them later” attitude that comes with living in a city as rife with talent as Austin is. It was a mistake I won’t make again – his set, while occurring just before noon in the bright, early, sunshiney hours of a hungover day, was one of the fest’s best. I expect no less from this show, so learn from my mistakes, and don’t put it off til later. At the rate he’s going, you may never be able to see him play for free again.
Best Place to Giggle All Night Long
Chris Cubas & Friends @ Barracuda
Sunday, January 8th
Chris Cubas is a national treasure on a shockingly local scale. He points out unfortunate and obvious truths with a deadpan delivery, and is sure to have a host of like-minded friends at his side to help keep it real all night long. I can almost guarantee you will leave this show with your sides still hurting from laughing. What’s the old saying? “Laughter is the best medicine” – so do yourself and your health a favor and come treat Saturday night’s hangover with a healthy dose of Cubas.
Best Dance Party
Fashionweek @ Cheer UP Charlie’s
Thursday, January 12th
Cheer Up Charlies hosts a lot of the best – it provides possibly the best ambience and atmosphere of any venue downtown, some of the best street fashion and people watching in Austin, and easily wins for best vegan food in the area with Arlo’s conveniently situated outside their patio. For Free Week their most interesting contribution is a lineup of “Neu Wave. Dark Disco. Underground Dance.” It’s going to be sweaty and neon and glittery and weird and here in Austin, we like it that way.
Best Way to End Your Week
Riverboat Gamblers @ Barracuda
Friday, January 13th
By the time this Friday gets here I’ll be wore out, ears ringing, shoes tattered, and embracing the end like it was already SXSW – and nonetheless, I am beyond stoked to close out the madness with one of my favorite local treasures. After more than ten years together, the Riverboat Gamblers still consistently play some of the most high-energy shows I’ve had the pleasure to attend, while simultaneously putting out some of the most melodic rock records I own. As an added bonus, their singer is prone to climbing – equipment, scaffolding, stages, rocks, the crowd – pretty much anything he can wrap his hands around. Bring your camera to this one, something epic always goes down.