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Welcome to the Show: The Best Small Venues in Austin

From punk to hip-hop, Austin has something for every type of music fan on any given night. Where the show takes place is almost as important as the performance itself. A venue’s ambiance can make or break a live music experience. The ORANGE Music Staff encourages all live music enthusiasts to find the venue that best resonates with them. Here are our top picks to get you started:

Down Emos

Emo’s

Bryan: Emo’s (2015 E Riverside Dr, Austin, TX 78741)
One pressing question always comes to mind when I consider the shows I’ve seen at Emo’s: “What the hell is my music taste?” Last October, I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Housecore Horror Film Festival — a weekend-long extravaganza of brutal metal bands and sinister horror movies hosted by former Pantera frontman Philip Anselmo. GWAR headlined Saturday night, and it took me three weeks to wash the fake blood out of my ears. Flash forward to February, and I was screaming alongside 1,500 tween girls to Panic! at the Disco. The remarkable thing about Emo’s is its ability to make so much out of so little. It’s essentially a giant box with concrete floors, barren walls, a sparsely inhabited bar and bathrooms fit for livestock rather than humans. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. About twice the size of most venues on Red River Street or 6th Street, Emo’s hosts bands that are either on the cusp of genuine stardom, coming down from their commercial peak or have fostered a devout cult audience over the last few decades. On one hand, bands that can pack the place are clearly making the right career moves. On the other hand, the standing-room only crowd means I can still rush the barricade and get within arm’s reach of my idols without breaking the bank. The next Emo’s show on my radar is the second annual HHFF. GWAR is headlining again, this time with a new female addition to the band. Her name is Vulvatron, and she apparently spews blood from her boobs. Game on.

Cheer Up Charlies

Cheer Up Charlies

Tess: Cheer Up Charlie’s (900 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701)
If there’s one problem with Cheer Up Charlie’s, it’s that most events are 21 plus. However, if you’re underage and lucky enough to find yourself at one of their rare 18 plus shows, be prepared to be blown away by how cool the outdoor stage is. The background of the stage looks like a wild rock formation, and meshes with the venue’s colorful light shows to create an unbeatable vibe. Fabric hangs from the top-front of the stage, and helps make for some trippy visuals. Cheer Up Charlie’s maintains an intimate feel at shows, while maximizing the tiny space to make it seem larger than it really is.

Empire Control Room

The Empire Control Room

Maria: Empire Control Room & Garage (606 E. 7th Street, Austin, TX, 78701)
To a passerby, the Empire Control Room & Garage might still look like just an auto shop. However, to the regular Austin concert mogul it’s so much more. Indeed, it used to be home to an auto shop of the same name, so the inside of the venue isn’t exactly fit for large crowds, but that’s also the best part. Perfect for intimate performances, the Empire is equipped with light projections, a bar and a couple of couches that make it more homey. To accommodate larger crowds, the garage doors open up to a vast backyard lot decorated with lights. Because the venue used to be an auto shop, there isn’t really a comfortable “backstage” area. Lucky for fans, this means that performers usually hang out in the common area to have a beer or relax after they finish a set, which thins the divide between audience and musician. As a result of this intimacy, the audience doesn’t just go to a show at the Empire — they are part of a show at the Empire.

Scoot Inn

The Scoot Inn

Devon: The Scoot Inn (1308 East 4th Street)
This dive should be a Texas Heritage Site. Being the oldest continuously running beer joint in central Texas, the Scoot Inn has seen some serious history since its beginnings in 1871. The Scoot Inn boasts that its walls have welcomed a world of Texan fun-lovers, from the “pioneers, Luddites, Flat-Heads, drunks, dullards, rough-necks, ranch hands, outlaws, bandits, and ladies of easy leisure” to the diverse Austinites of today. Located in downtown East Austin, it stays a safe distance from the “Dirty Sixth” crowd. The building’s atmosphere is humble in a charming, laid-back saloon kind of way. The curbside parking is a slight downside, but nothing is perfect. The indoor bar is nothing special, except for the endearing nostalgia of the Skee Ball wall. The best part of the venue is its outdoor area, which includes a spacious stage and plenty of room for dancing or mingling. The bands they book are pretty much guaranteed to be a good time. Some of my favorite events they’ve housed include Map Jam, countless SXSW day shows and Raw Paw’s Ditch the Fest Fest 4 & 5. If any venue in Austin can be both rustic and current, timeless and hipster, humble and accomplished all at once…Scoot Inn holds the title.

The Parish

The Parish

Jenna: The Parish (214 E. 6th Street)
The Parish is a quaint little venue located in the heart of Historic 6th street. There is a bar with a small stage that opens to the street, so passersby can see the entertainment, but if you follow the staircase upstairs, you’ll find the real venue. The cozy room invites the guests in with wood floors and a red brick wall decorated with framed tapestries and antique mirrors of all shapes and sizes. It also sports several chandeliers and wall sconces, which just further sets the mood for an evening of fine music. With the capacity to hold 450, it’s going to be an intimate show, even for the people standing in the back. Whether it’s Slash and Perry Farrell performing together for SXSW, or Walk the Moon playing to a crowd of diehard fans, The Parish has seen it all.

Mohawk

The Mohawk

Sam: The Mohawk (912 Red River St)
The Mohawk occupies a unique niche within the small venue ecosystem in Austin, and I love it for this reason. For starters, the venue has hosted a diverse range of artists, from indie wunderkind Mac Demarco to melodic death metallers The Black Dahlia Murder. This tremendous versatility is complemented by the venue’s “all are welcome” policy, which means all shows are all ages (though you’ll still emerge with two bold, oversized X’s on your hands if you’re a wee babe shy of drinking age). The Mohawk’s accessibility provides a welcome counter to the 21 plus shows and genre-specific venues in Austin. Above everything else, the Mohawk rules for the actual concert experience. Whether you prefer to see the whites of your performers eyes’ from the pit or grab a panoramic view from the multitude of first-come, first-serve balcony seats, you can rest assured you’ll snag some stellar Snapchats and Instagram pics with each visit (just don’t overdo it). Also, they always have the best mosh pits — if that is your thing.

The North Door

The North Door

Quinton: The North Door (502 Brushy St, Austin, TX 78702)
It’s a little strange that I would pick a spot that I’ve ventured to once as my No.1 venue in Austin. Maybe it was the circumstances. Regardless, SXSW 2012 landed me at the cozy North Door, ducking and shuffling through the narrow entrance and door curtains in anticipation of one of my favorite bands, Toro y Moi. Immediately, low-key lighting and reasonably priced refreshments let me know that this was the right place for me. Looking around I saw a second floor, a balcony of sorts, furnished with its own bar and antique-looking furniture. Everyone seemed excited and bubbly, and it was clear that the diverse crowd was ready to dance. Backed by a huge “North Door” logo, the simple stage has an elaborate light set-up and superior sound. It goes unmatched in terms of medium-sized venues that allow the audience multiple viewing spots, yet still enough room to comfortably dance and spill beer. Whether it was Toro y Moi’s elegantly beautiful dance grooves or the comfort of the North Door, that night was something special. Even now in recollection, all I feel is those intimate jam session vibes creeping into my room. Though I haven’t been back since, I take that as a sign.

Bass Concert Hall

Bass Concert Hall

Lauren: Bass Concert Hall (2350 Robert Dedman Dr, Austin, TX 78712)
Bass Concert Hall is an ideal venue for Austinites who enjoy a more relaxed concert-going experience.Though the stage is on the smaller side for a concert hall and the cheap seats can make you feel like you’re mile away, all of the seats are positioned so that there’s not a bad view in the house. On the plus side, the smaller stage gives performances, especially those from solo artists, a more intimate feel than larger halls. Aside from solo artists, the venue tends to host classical symphonies, Broadway shows and the occasional comedian. Last year’s highlights include singer-songwriter Conor Oberst and the musical production of Green Day’s “American Idiot.” The Student Ticket Fund at this venue is an added bonus for UT kids. Students can purchase tickets for select performances at just $10 each.

Austin Music Hall

Austin Music Hall

Adam: Austin Music Hall (208 Nueces St, Austin, TX 78701)
There are a number of factors to take into consideration when deciding what makes a venue a cool place to see a show. Size, sound, pricing, quality of shows and location are just a few. For me, the Austin Music Hall is on the cutting edge for all of these categories. Not only does it host some of the biggest musicians of the times, but it does so at affordable prices. As a broke college student, if I have to drop a lot of cash on a show, I spend most of the performance hoping that it will be worth the money I can’t actually afford to blow. I’ve never had that problem with this venue. Also, the space is big enough that you feel comfortable, yet don’t have to show up four hours early just to see the artist’s face. The sound is great, and it’s located in the heart of downtown. I might be biased because I witnessed the two kings of hip-hop, Lord Yeezus and HOV, tear up the venue side by side during SXSW14. Let’s be honest, you probably would be too.

Red-7

Red 7

Britny: Red 7 (611 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78701)
Basically, I love any club that will book rock bands, so the whole Red River District is my jam. But I really like Red 7. The fact that the majority of the venue is one big room gives me the feeling that anything could happen (from dancing to moshing). Still, the venue branches off into extra areas, including the front room that typically houses merch and the bar out back, which lets you always have somewhere to take a break from the madness. It’s the little details about Red 7 that I love the most. The marquee letters behind the indoor bar, the vanity lights around the flyer board and the wall of old boomboxes give this venue its cool and unique edge.

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