Why I'm Here, pt 3: more music scene comparisons

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Rarely does anyone who’s lived in New Orleans want to move away. But then some have to. After eight years of hardcore participation in New Orleans, I am now here in Austin, jobhunting and deciding whether or not to move here. I’m keeping this personal journal of the experience to stimulate a discourse on the subjects of why we all live in New Orleans, what we risk by leaving (the way so many of us daily threaten to), and what we could do to make New Orleans the type of place that doesn’t force us to make such hella hard choices.

My first days here, I put off looking for a job in favor of soaking-in Austin’s culture -- no quick task with all the driving that necessitates. I know little of Austin except that it’s not a village, like I’m used to. I know I already hate all the driving. The villagers here are (surprisingly since it's Texas) as nice, chill, casual, friendly as New Orleanians, but goddamn is their village too big. Back home I ride my bike, now my 89 Honda is violently rattling at 75mph every single day, multiple times per day. You also can’t have more than two drinks when you go out at night, cause you'll almost always have a long drive home. Definitely something to consider before moving.

This city does throw its full support behind its music scene though, whether or not the majority of the music is work supporting. I’d only visited famous 6th Street once before, for SXSW, the Austin music convention that is gross and retarded like an indy-rock Bourbon Street. This week on 6th is FREE WEEK, wherein dozens of music clubs abut against each other simultaneously feature big handfuls of local bands, often on multiple stages within each club, and no one charges any cover. Though all the shows everywhere were relatively full, the streets were neither packed nor gross. It felt very local, not counting the college kids. It also genuinely felt as if the city was trying to give something to it’s musicians, help them along, rather than just trying to make money off of them, the way New Orleans seems to its artists. And walking around wondering at just the sheer volume of music clubs, I couldn’t help thinking about how, the first thing New Orleans’ law enforcement seemed to really accomplish after Katrina was shutting down all the new, unlicensed music venues that had sprung up in those lawless post-flood days.

Off of 6th, we ended up outside Emo’s where the General Manager, Bill, stood with his hood pulled over cold ears, letting new people into the club only when others wandered out. I pointed at the poster listing all the night’s many bands. “Any of em any good?”

He looked at me funny. “Of course,” he sniffed, like ‘don’t be dumb dude, we don’t book crap.’ I'm more used to my friends who run clubs everywhere in the country freely admitting, if asked, that they don’t like most of what they book.When someone came out, Bill let us in. Full crowds gathered around bands both up front and outside, with 100 people smoking on the big outdoor patio in between (lots of patio clubs here, since you can't bring your drink on the street), still Emo's felt uncramped. The mop-haired indy-rock band with the cute girl bassist on the outside stage had a good keyboard sound, but they lacked any edge, fire, or real originality. The guitarist almost never left the top of the guitar, strumming the same open chords he’d contrived in his room. But one thing I’ve noticed about Austin is that no matter what type of music an Austin band plays, they’re so tight and pro that it takes longer to discern whether or not they suck.

Regardless, happy to be there, I bobbed and vaguely danced -- until some Austin guy pointed at me, “Man you’re the only one having fun! Where are you from?” This actually happened twice in the same night, at different clubs. I was proud both times to tell them I live in New Orleans, and bummed to be considering moving away. Especially to a place where dancing at concerts stands out.

On our way out of Emo’s, some band with rockabilly hair but not rockabilly music were rockin in a real good way. Still we kept going. With so much going on everywhere it was hard to catch the bands' names, which is too bad because somewhere along the road I caught one song by a truly great band with long hair, distorted acoustic guitar, an angry monster drummer. Not sure why we left, and found ourselves at Club DeVille several blocks away. DeVille is an outdoor stage shadowed by a grassy, sandy cliff, like a sort of mini Red Rocks. In this dramatic setting another middling rock band strummed open cords. The singer wore a cowboy hat, and mentioned this fact aloud. They then played a synth-pop song that didn’t fit with their other tunes at all, and their desperation to make music their jobs. I rip on New Orleans bands for playing certain types of music just because they know it will make them money, but any musician who forgoes self-expression in order to have a job is treating music badly.

Every club we popped into was exceedingly nice inside, if soundtracked by these same not-very-rocking indy rockers. We drove a long way home at the end of a night that was very pleasant, though never sublime. It's not Austin’s fault though, just like New Orleans’ crabgrass of museum music isn’t that city’s fault; guns don’t kill people, people kill people.And with that, here is a video of me disloating my sister's shoulder at Emo's on New Year's Eve:

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