Destination San Marcos, TEXAS, after leaving Nola… slightly bereft, that place! I am heading for the pocket of Texas that is the only left leaning area in the place. San Marcos is at the confluence of 5 different geological areas, the arid plains (that we all think texas is), the Rocky mountains southern edge, hill country texas, natural springs, and a huge flault line, and sits squarely between Austin (Texas’ music capital) and San Antonio (famous for The Alamo, more on that later) and is the home town of my mate Nick (who stayed with me when his band toured to Australia.
Texas has dealt up a lot of surprises, as the 2D cardboard TV/Movie cut out I had of it has gradually been fleshed out into an living, breathing 3D world. For starters it’s not all desert, cactuses and cowboy hats (although there are a lot of cowboy hats). The east that I drove through from New Orleans is absolutely green, massive pine trees, swamps and high green grass as far as the eye can see. The further you go west it slowly gets drier and scrubbier and more like the stereo-typical texas, but it took hours of driving to find that… There is a lot of massive pickup trucks everywhere, and I mean huge, 4 rear tyres type massive.
I have to skirt north around Houston as all the highways are completely flooded from Hurricane Harvey, and Nick msgs me to say there are fuel shortages in the area. I break the trip up and stay in Shreveport, in a late night dodgey motel, two stars, with the most hillarious included breakfast, but hit the road and make it to San Marcos late in the arvo, 11hr drive, just a easy one over 1 1/2days for an Aussie. Meet up with Nick and head out to a food truck area for dinner. And check out a couple of local venues and bars including The Showdown, a great local hang. Above the bar hang about 300 stickered, plastic stein mugs, each one belongs to a local, and the refills are cheap.
While Nick thrashes his mate at Foozball, it’s good to see graffiti philosophers are just as insightful in the USA as in Aus. Nick also plays in a unicycle football league, which I find hilarious, it’s quite huge in the area. We catch some music and Marte Tea. Luckily Sunday Nick is playing with his partner in crime Georgia Parker (band) at an brunch gig at The Pig Pen in San Antonio and I can tag along! They have some guest, Eddie Dickerson on fiddle, and Judith Beckedorfe (from Germany) on guitar and Mandolin. Very cool day gig, at brunch/lunch all you can eat buffet style bar. The backdrop for the stage is a huge American flag, you’d expect nothing less in TEXAS! The band plays through some western swing numbers, country and some standards.
After the gig, we travel into the centre of old town to the legendary Alamo, the last stand of Davey Crockett and James Bowie (of the Bowie knife fame) and they attempt to play the song “Across the Alley From the Alamo”. Unfortunatley they don’t take to kindly to musicians in the Alamo, and we are subsequently repelled like the Mexican Army in 1836 (100 texans defended the Alamo for 13days against 1500 Mexicans, until they were finally overrun), and literally had to play the song across the alley from the Alamo to the cheers of many tourists and onlookers, busker style.
Monday have Tex Mex brunch with Nick & Georgia at Rogelio’s, check out a bit of San Marcos and later head into Austin (which is 30mins north) to check out The Peterson Bros @ The Continental near all the little food trucks on South Congress Ave, a hot spot for trendies and music. They are young dudes with a monday residency at a small/medium sized but credible music venue. Guitarist and bassplayer brothers, with drums and percussion (and some sequenced stuff).
It’s mostly bluesy, funky standards, famous groove tunes, and they are all highly skilled, but as good as the show is, it strikes me as more of a “show” than a true representation of them personally. It’s still amazing, see the video for a funky percussion breakdown which I loved. If this is monday night, Austin I think you are going blow my socks off.
We head over to east Austin to East 7th St & Comal St to the White Horse Honkytonk bar and catch some genuine western swing music, fit with dancers doing 2 step western swing. The place oozes Texan charm, large dive bar with great corner stage and big dance floor. The dancefloor is absolutely packed on the weekends.
It is just a taste and we cruise around the corner to Stay Gold, a little lounge bar with a quirky duo playing. The toilet philosopher has returned and an even more poignant, Nihillist message #NoLivesMatter. The duo is exceptionally crazy, but talented with weird songs about aliens, pot and 1930s-esque innuendo.
Nick finds a old venue he want to check, neighbourhood bar in the Burbs, which is now the Sahara club, and there is a Swing Band playing. I agree wholeheartedly, and find they are a great band, and get a few swing dances in with the locals.
We check another venue that Nick want to see on the way home, the Highball Club, which is just closing but is a swanky mid-sized venue under apartments.
Tues I have a bit of a cruise around San Marcos, and check out the local scene, the Mega strip mall up the road (about 92000square metres of 350 shops) absolutely the pinnacle of Big Texas and ‘Murica. But of course the place is 2/3rds deserted and seems like the biggest waste of space… who goes here? All the major major swank brands, cheap outlet versions all squashed into one place… sort of seems like the dichotomous democracy at its best.
The other thing that San Marcos is really famous for is its river, a river tubing. The junction geologically and the natural spring fed river lends itself to the clearest river water I have ever seen. The last thing you’d expect in dusty Texas is such amazing rivers, but this whole area of the state has heaps of great rivers to swim in, which I did! perfect near the end of a hot day! and made with built rapids with smooth water slides and plenty of easy access steps and hang places.
I head back up to Austin with Georgia and Nick for her mid week gig @ The Whitehorse, but just before that hang for a solo dinner @ The Buzz Mill in San Marcos where they have Tuesdays Tuegrass (Bluegrass live bands) right in the beer garden. The resident band at the moment has Curtis playing slide dobro (who is Georgia’s brother). I feel like I am in the movie Brother Where Art Thou? but it’s not, it’s live music right here in front of me, YeeHOO!
Later catch The Georgia Parker Band @ the Whitehorse, plenty of dancers and great vibes going down. And like Nola, Austin dishes up several bands in one night, long sets and several great acts.
I must say beer is weird in the USA, it’s not that great (there I said it)… ha ha there are plenty of fine Beers, but let’s just say it’s no Germany or Czech Republic. I have a great breakfast Quesadilla, if there is one thing that Texas does well is Tex Mex food! the Mexican influence is brilliant! even the fast foody versions made by Mexicans are really good, and one of my local pick up taco joints is Bobcat Quickie in the Exxon gas station, but they have a full grill kitchen that makes amazing food any time of day or night. I also have a great conversation with Jim from the Steampunk lighting shop. After a great chat he invites me to a steampunk mixer that is coming up, and I get a small custom made oldschool key to add to my steampunk bass guitar.
Thurs end up at dinner with Georgia’s parents at a restaurant, have a great social night and meet some of the extended family, they are a hoot, and almost preface the night with “…we are bad people!” ha ha. Afterwards hang out with Jill (family friend and singer), Georgia and Nick at a neighbourhood bar called Zelick’s which is a Gas Station that has been converted into a great bar! Margarita’s with Jalepeno in them… spicy!
Saw my first Amercian squirrel in the park burying nuts for the winter, whilst eating my soft shelled Tilapia (fish taco) and a potato/choriozo/avocado taco custom, washed down with at Mint & Honey Moonshine Sweet Tea. Apparently cars don’t need doors in San Marcos, and who could blame them with this weather.
Friday is punk night, and surprisingly there is a full on punk night in San Marcos which is rare these days. We stop by Tantra on the way for a cheap jug of beer (each ha ha) and one of Nick’s friends is spinning hip hop vinyl there, super cool. Nick and I catch a bit of the first punk bands at Kiva, and they are pretty standard SoCal style punk, we head out check some other places around town, & back to catch the final band “Piñata Protest” who I thoroughly recommend. They are a bit more old school, and have a strong Mexican flavour. The lead singer also plays accordion! which is fantastic with punk! Crazy night, get in the mosh-pit, but it’s a really supportive pit, and you get picked up if you get knocked over ha ha! I end up on the stage at one point, I don’t know how, and have one set of sneakers destroyed, and wake up with black stuff all over my legs.
Next day head out to New Braunfels where Georgia & Nick play a duo market gig, New Braunfels is a germanic town, so has a great farmers market ethos, and a huge Beirgarten Hall to go with it. Krauses’ has about 50 beers on tap! plays live music with a great outdoor beer garden style stage and has markets and lots of kid/family friendly activities.
I did intend on going moving on up to Austin this day, but end up hanging and going to another gig with that Georgia is playing upright bass with Steel Betty band also in New Braunfels. After lunch check Duckworth’s Violin Shop, where Bryan Duckworth has been making and repairing violins, cellos and double basses for over 30 years. See a few other night spots in town with some of Nick’s local friends, but then eventually head home to San Marcos, via some more tacos...
Nick’s San Marcos area has been a treat and Nick was a fantastic contact in the local music scene and showed me one hell of a time, but now it’s time to head on to Austin proper, and organise to stay with Rich Russell who also toured Aus with Nick. Time to catch some more music in Austin. Another week drifts by and hurricane Irma has destroyed a lot of the Caribbean and now Cuba… so I may have to modify my end of trip plans, will see. Some New Orleans friends are calling me back so I may end up back there ! ha ha :) Thanks San Marcos you were an absolute HOOT!