Our first stop in Austin wasn’t quite in Austin. It was actually in Driftwood, Texas where the Salt Lick Barbecue has been serving up giant portions of smoked meats for the past 50 years.
In fact, to commemorate their 50th anniversary, they commissioned a giant Texas shaped woodcut piece from local artist and friend of the Eagleroo crew, Brian Phillips. So we ate a bunch of meat and marvelled at the piece for a bit before driving that last 30 minutes into Austin proper, where the next week would afford us a lot of good times with a lot of good friends.
The first friend we got to see was Dani, who had flown all the way from Melbourne (via Hawaii and Oregon) to spend the week in Austin with us. Slinky picked her up from the airport while I finished up some work at the local library. After work, I walked to the grocery store where they were supposedly shopping for our Thanksgiving feast. Following the trail of giggling noises, I found them ogling at the assortment of snack foods available in this country. I think Slinky has been a little let down that I haven’t always shared in her glee at the various strange foods on display as we’ve wound our way through the aisles of unfamiliar grocery stores. It was nice for her to have a fellow Aussie to commiserate with. For me, it was just nice to see my good friend after too many months. I did my best to steer them toward the checkout where the cashier seemed to have his day brightened by the duo. We took our bounty back to our AirBnB, checked in, and spent the evening catching up and sharing stories of the road.
The next day was the first Thanksgiving spent in the U.S. for two-thirds of our party. We spent the morning cooking and taking turns exploring our little corner of Austin on foot to work up an appetite. Our spread included both Turkey and Tofurky (Dani doesn’t eat meat), bourbon yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, and other beige and beige-adjacent delicacies. It was delicious and I felt very grateful indeed to spend the day with loved ones and a full belly.
Friday morning, Dani and Slinky drove the ‘roo to nearby San Antonio to stroll along the Riverwalk and tour the Alamo. I prepped them for the latter by showing them the relevant clip from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Hopefully, when the time came they pronounced “Adobe” correctly and did not inquire about the basement. In the evening, Dani and I went to the Paramount Theater to see Hayes Carll. We were blown away by his show and by the openers, Shelby Lynn and Alison Moorer, who even threw in a Nick Cave cover. The night seemed like the perfect Austin experience: great music in a beautiful historic venue. Feeling inspired we decided to make sure to play an open mic together while we were in the same city. Dani and I play together in The Cornersmiths back in Australia and I’d really been missing playing with her.
The next day, accompanied by my friend, and unofficial Austin ambassador, Natalie, we went to the Continental Club to watch Redd Volkaert perform. This has been a tradition whenever I find myself in Austin and I couldn’t wait to share it with Dani and Slinky. The band themselves would be impressive enough, but when the floor fills with two-step dancers twirling, shuffling and dipping like they were born to do it, it’s just amazing to watch. I tend to hang at the back and try to take it all in. Dani and Slinky, on the other hand, came to play. Within a few songs, Dani was chatting up a local and finding out who could show her the steps. Then she was out on the floor twirling, shuffling and dipping like she’d been doing it her whole life. And then Slinky was out there and I started to realize I might be the only person in the place that didn’t know how to two-step. Before we knew it, the band had been at it for two and a half hours. We would have gladly stuck around longer but we had a firepit to get to. On the way out, Slinky and Dani went to talk to Redd, who was on a well-earned break, and learned that he plays a big country music festival in Tamworth, Australia every year. I guess we’ll have to check it out when we’re back.
That night my friends Cynthia and Brian (who made the piece at Salt Lick) hosted us for a firepit session in their backyard. They have one of my favorite backyards. It’s situated between the house and Brian’s converted shipping container studio and every piece of furniture is colorful and vibrant. It doesn’t hurt matters that there are two awesome German Shepherds to hang out with. Our hosts spun a classic country playlist and kept us in beer, pizza, and stories all night. It had been a while since we’d sat around a firepit that wasn’t desperately needed for warmth. We tried to convince them that they need to come to Melbourne so we can repay their hospitality sometime. I hope it worked.
On Sunday, we all wondered into Austin to check out the town a bit more. We wound up at Hope Gallery, a constantly changing outdoor street art gallery. It was a beautiful day in Austin and it was good to be out and about. That night, another friend, Jesse, came over to the house armed with a 1930’s National guitar, a banjo, a cigar box tenor guitar, and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. All of these got a workout. Every time I play guitar with Jessie I wind up learning something that opens up a world of possibilities. He and Dani got along famously and really clicked playing Summertime and Dream a Little Dream together. We stayed up late and throwing songs around. I didn’t want that night to end.
On Monday, we found our open mic of choice at the Speakeasy. We were pleased to find out that the venue actually occupies a rooftop, which offered a bit more breeze than necessary but made us feel just a little more Beatle-like. You never know what you’re going to get with an open mic night. Thankfully this one really turned out to be really fun. There was an eclectic mix of styles, including soul, singer-songwriter, hip-hop, spoken word, experimental synth weirdness, a little bit of everything. We played 3 Cornersmiths songs that we know fairly well but hadn’t played together in front of people in a long time. We seemed to remember what we were doing pretty quickly and the audience was really supportive and into it. By the end of the night, we had made some new friends, heard some good tunes, and broken the fast of playing live.
We spent our final night in the capital of Texas eating pizza with our friends Natalie, Paul and Brian at Homeslice. They were doing a charity promotion with another local pizzeria that does Detroit-style deep dish pizza. Even after eating it, I’m not sure what the difference between it and Chicago-style deep dish is but I do know they are both delicious. The promotion must have been a success because there was a two-hour wait for a table. Thankfully we snagged a good waiting spot at the outside bar and the time flew by. After spending so much time with just the two of us, it was really nice to be among new and old friends shooting the breeze and sipping drinks. It was tough to say goodbye to everybody at the end of the night.
The next morning before leaving town, we had breakfast with Dani, who would embark on the marathon flight back to Melbourne later that evening. We roped her into an activity we have been doing since the beginning of the trip: capturing 4 or 5 bullet points in our big trip book about what happened each day. It’s really helpful when we go back to write these blog posts (sometimes it’s been a little while) but it’s also proven to be a good way to avoid constantly focusing on what’s next. We try to do it every couple of days but more often than not, wind up trying to recount the events of a week at a time. It’s actually harder than it sounds but having a third memory there helped. And it was a week I definitely didn’t mind strolling through the memories of one more time.