- Edwin Waller
Located along Red River Street between 6th and 12th streets, the Red River Cultural District is a collection of music venues, restaurants, local dive bars, and other hospitality businesses that are key to maintaining Austin’s reputation as the “live music capital of the world.”
Red River Street was established as part of Edwin Waller’s city plan in 1839. Since Red River was one of the first streets east of Congress that did not run uphill, the corridor developed a high quantity of north-south wagon circulation, and the adjacent lots became littered with wagon yards (later used for automotive storage). Over time, these garages shifted into furniture and junk shops that eventually morphed into bars that became incubators for local talent.
While the area had been cultivating a variety of talent and a unique sense of “outlaw swagger” since the 1950s, it was not until the 1990s that the Red River district was considered the heart of Austin’s live music scene. Early events that helped establish the district as a cultural hub included performances by jazz pianist and vocalist Ernie Mae Miller; the 13th Floor Elevators debuting their hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me”; the birth of psychedelic rock; and the construction of a half-pipe for skateboarders at the now-defunct Cavity Club.
In 2013, businesses along Red River banded together to lobby the City of Austin to grant them recognition as an official Cultural District, which helped to promote the area as a center for music, food, and entertainment. In 2020, the Texas Commission of the Arts followed suit, giving the district additional support to develop and preserve its unique role in the Austin community with enhancements including a series of murals that advertise the location’s rich artistic history. A variety of festivities throughout the year promote local musicians, artisans, and foodies.
Walking down Red River Street these days, you can stumble across a wide range of performances and genres—from local up-and-comers to well-known musicians. True to its history, the music scene here continues to push boundaries and promote inclusivity. Thanks to strong local support, the Red River Cultural District maintains its authenticity and eccentric charm. – Stephanie Guaraglia, AIA