Bardwatching: A Guide for Spotting Austin Musicians

Last time we left you with plenty of ideas for your next vacation, but that’s assuming you want to take a break from the Live Music Capital. The influx of summertime concerts invites all sorts of people, including (you guessed it) musicians. As a result, Austin has become (let’s face it, it always has been) a lush environment for musicians of all breeds. Whether you’re looking to start a new collaborative project, or just sick of being handed free demos, these simple tricks will help you spot Austin musicians in the wild. So grab your binoculars (or Google Glass, whatever) and get ready to check off some rare (and not-so-rare) specimens!


Blue Jay (Cyanochitta bluestata)

Blue Jay Article

     As one of most common and proudest specimens in Austin, the Blue Jay type can be seen interspersed throughout the city, day or night. In their natural habitat, Blue Jays resort to inventive Stevie Ray Vaughan covers for their mating calls, drawn-out guitar solos and all. Dominant Blue Jays manifest as middle-aged men blasting totally original riffs in blues clubs while subordinate Jays (not Trachtenberg) rely on Double Trouble licks to provide for sustenance (they’re really not that different). A Blue Jay’s diet consists of wells and Lone Star tallboys, acquired with drink tickets taken from the nearest nest. Major identifying marks are unique Texas tattoos and even more unique guitar straps. Chances are, you’ve probably been served food by a Blue Jay before (their hands may be clean, but there’s no way to tell if the beards are sanitary…)

Grackle (Quiscalus tacoscula)

Grackle Article

     Grackles are ubiquitous in Austin, and are easiest to spot downtown after sundown. Unless you live with a Grackle (thanks for paying the rent!) you won’t spot them in public until the evening because of their nocturnal lifestyle. When Grackles do emerge they can be identified by their pajamas or general disheveled appearance in public at inappropriately late times in the day (be on the lookout for tiger shirts and raccoon tattoos). To accommodate their unconventional sleep schedule, Grackles seek out feeding grounds that continue to serve breakfast tacos (some named after local musicians) into the late afternoon. Party bands are often comprised of nothing but Grackles, who stick together through long periods of steady drinking (with the right crowd, any day can be Sunday Funday). This species is heavily dependent on their more financially stable significant others for transportation, carrying equipment, and paying for the aforementioned breakfast tacos. Grackles are at the forefront of the mass migration to the East side, especially with the recent news that central nesting holes like Red 7 and Holy Mountain may soon close their doors.

Pigeon (Columba franzia domestica)

Pigeon Article

     Possibly the most familiar specimen to check off your list, Pigeons often leave their musical contributions right there on the street for everyone to appreciate. If you see someone perched at Hotel Vegas, (sometimes sitting alone with a tiny notepad for hours on end) you can often tell that they’re not only in a band but that they’re participating in artistic expression. Possessing little other than an acoustic guitar or a banjo, Pigeons have to scavenge for resources, so expect homemade merchandise like a folded sheet of paper to serve as a jewel case for their free CD. Pigeons are seemingly impervious to climate change and will wear winter clothes throughout the summer, especially if they roost near the Treasure City or Buffalo Exchange nesting holes. Some highly motivated Pigeons can be found serenading pedestrians on the Drag, while others stretch their barefoot, tattooed talons inside East side bars.

Rooster (Gallus quasillegallus)

Rooster Article

     If you live east of 35 then you may hear Roosters crow on a daily basis, although it’s always considerably before sunrise. These proud, puffy-chested specimens want to strut their stuff after bizarre, effects-heavy performances and will unabashedly squawk your ear off about how they just slayed a “crowd” of people at the local farmers market. Descriptions of their confusing (and often contradictory) musical styles  often require a trip to the dictionary. (Powerviolence? Illbient??) But rest assured, the self-proclaimed “cock of the walk” will do their best to convince you that they’re taking over the nation one show at a time. Oh, and don’t worry about asking for a sticker or button; a Rooster will naturally festoon these fripperies on people even as they run for the nearest exit. They don’t have CDs yet (“We will once we blow up!”) but they do have plenty of patches for sale (⅔ of a Rooster’s income and a good portion of nesting materials comes from these patches).

Duck (Anas califorhynchos)

Duck Article

     Ducks are members of radio-friendly bands that come to festivals, occupy stages near large bodies of water, and disperse once the weekend wraps up. You generally won’t find a duck until a flock has already taken over Auditorium Shores or Zilker Park. Ducks generally deter other musician species, who would prefer to have these green spaces to themselves for silent reflection (or just to sweat out all the beer from day drinking). Occasionally paddlings (AKA “braces” or “teams”) of Ducks sometimes mingle in the downtown ecosystem, though they are more commonly cooped up in high-end aviaries like the Hyatt or the Hilton in an attempt to preserve their coats (and – let’s be honest – their reputation outside of Texas). OK, you might actually spot some specimens doing Austin Duck Adventures (though most likely with the close supervision of their Manager Goose).

Peacock (Pavo pistatus)

Peacock Article

     If you’ve spent a few years in Austin then you’ve probably seen some Peacocks, and not just the ones at Mayfield Park. Members of Austinite bands with a certain stature (like Spork and That Cephalopod Experiment) are free to wander around their Live Music Capital sanctuary and spread their plumage, though their feathers are far more enticing for music ornithologists outside of Austin. When local Peacocks band together they may get booked on touring venues only, meaning they make a somewhat sustainable living but spend little time congregating with less attractive specimens. As a result, the celebrity charm of Peacocks has waned amongst other Austin specimens, some of which envy their relatively colorful living, while others simply can’t stand the attention detracted from themselves when a muster (or “ostentation”) of Peacocks flocks into town.

Golden-Cheeked Warbler (Setophaging williesopharia)

GCWA Article

     No, it’s not the name of a dubstep producer. Never seen a Golden-Cheeked Warbler? There may only be couple in town but believe us, they’re out there. This rare specimen manifests itself in the form of folks like Jimmie Vaughn and Willie Nelson, who in addition to developing the Central Texas musical biome decades ago, continue to treat Austin to semi-regular appearances. The rarity of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler also stems from the fact that they actually own housing and can actually survive on their lack of day job (commonly known as “being a musician”.)

Flamingo (Robertis plantis)

Flamingo Article

     The golden-haired rock god is the rarest of sights in this musical wildlife preserve. The highly-coveted Flamingo is hardly here and when he is, he’s gone the moment he makes eye contact with you. Need we say more?

With the exception of the pesky Turkey Vulture (Cathartes auryakiddinme), who swoops in after SXSW, ACL, and FFF to scavenge venues left in the ruins of music festivals and play (or prey) in front of less-suspecting concertgoers, our list of observable specimens is complete. If you’re in Austin, then they’re all around you and their bills are alive with the sound of music! Get out there and get crackin (quackin)!

– Jack Anderson

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