Beyond SXSW: Partying Outside the Lines in Austin

If you're digging out summer clothes to take to Austin, Texas, this week, chances are you're packing a coveted SXSW badge as well.

So while much of your time will be spent at film premieres or possibly the Interactive Conference – and definitely at hundreds of live band performances when the music portion of the South by Southwest Festival kicks off March 12 – you've got to eat, at the very least.

Whether it's mixed fajitas or barbecued brisket, an improv comedy show or barefoot dancing, Janis Joplin's old haunt or Daniel Johnston's – you'd be remiss if you didn't see more of Austin than the interior of its music clubs.

Live Music Capital of the World

How did Austin come by this epithet? See for yourself at these local landmarks.



Auditorium Shores: Located on the south bank of Lady Bird Lake (formerly – and still often – known as Town Lake), this open space has hosted the likes of Willie Nelson and Austin's ReggaeFest, as well as an ever-present Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Texas-bred virtuoso is an icon to some, a god to others. Either way, his bronze statue is fitting, standing proud on Auditorium Shores, just west of the S. First Street bridge.

Threadgill's: Before Janis Joplin played Woodstock, or even recorded her first album, she could be seen blurring the lines between rock and country at this local comfort food eatery, just south of Lady Bird Lake. The pictures and memorabilia lining the walls bear witness, and after lunch here you'll forever associate "Bobby McGee" with "chicken-fried steak."

The "Hi, How Are You" Mural: Once painted by indie sensation Daniel Johnston, this famous frog mural was also the cover of his (highly underground) first album. Despite its lack of landmark status, the mural has survived several controversial attempts to demolish it and can still be seen along the Drag, the strip along Guadalupe bordering the University of Texas campus. The 2005 documentary "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" and a stint of his artwork at the Whitney Biennial in New York the following year have brought Johnston – and his mural – further into the mainstream.

Eats and Drinks

The home of the best barbecue in Austin is open to argument, and should you form and voice an opinion, it won't take long to prove the point. Battle cries are usually sounded about the following lineup:



The County Line: Choose between two locations – on The Hill (Bee Caves Road, just past Loop 360) or The Lake (FM 2222, just before 360) – and both are scenic. www.countyline.com

Stubb's: (801 Red River at 8th St.) Located right downtown, Stubb's doubles as a usual haunt for live music and CD release parties and is a SXSW venue. www.stubbsaustin.com

The Salt Lick: (18001 FM 1926) This one's a hike – a relatively short drive south of town to Driftwood, Texas. But for serious barbecue lovers and big groups (the ranch-esque dining scene can accommodate virtually any size party), it's worth the trek. www.saltlickbbq.com

Rudy's: (2451 Capital of Texas Hwy S.) From its small beginnings as a gas station, Rudy's is now one of Texas' most loved barbecue joints. www.rudys.com

Smoked meat isn't Austin's only culinary hallmark. Also vying for public favor are a slew of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants – yes, there is a difference. Where Tex-Mex uses southwestern flavors like cumin and tends to deep-fry everything right down to the tortilla chips, interior Mexican cuisine uses more fruits and vegetables – fresh tomatoes, just-cut cilantro and lots of red and green chiles.

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