Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Free Week marches on with more venues

Patrick Caldwell
Cruiserweight (Tuesday at Red 7 outside)

Six years ago, when then-Emo's booker Graham Williams surveyed the first half of January, he saw something of a dead zone as noteworthy live shows receded to a trickle and high-profile tours were few and far between. Red River slept and bar business at Emo's slowed to a crawl. To put it simply, things looked grim.

'It's just a really bad time financially for a venue,' Williams says. 'No bands are touring and there's very few shows going on. But at the same time there's a ton of people in town with nothing to do, especially all of those UT students who are still on break. So it seemed silly that we weren't doing something special.'

That germ of an idea led Williams to kick-start Emo's Free Week — one week of free shows, where the cover charge was waived (increased beer sales meant the bar could afford to eat the cover charge) and bands performed for free (knowing they'd play to larger-than-average crowds and enjoy larger-than-average merchandise sales). After a thrown-together initial year, Free Week quickly became a hallowed local institution, a Christmas-in-January event with an uncanny ability to predict some of the upcoming year's biggest success stories. The Sword, At All Cost, the Riverboat Gamblers and the Black Angels all played Free Week and ended their respective years as headline-level bands, acts who could pull in a Free Week-sized crowd even at 10 dollars a head.

Williams eventually left Emo's, which kept the tradition trucking along in his absence. Now co-owner of music booking agency Transmission Entertainment, he expanded Free Week last year to Transmission's venues — the Mohawk, Club De Ville and Red 7. This year, Stubb's, the Parish, Beerland and the Beauty Bar also are participating in some capacity, making Free Week a music festival in everything but name, a massive good-times free-for-all that animates Red River Street so thoroughly you could almost mistake it for March. That expansion, Williams says, is all because of a successful 2009 that left neighboring clubs with little option besides joining in.

'I think a lot of people outside of it were thinking it'd be stretched too thin with the extra clubs, and there wouldn't be enough good bands and it wouldn't be as dense. But that wasn't the case at all,' Williams says. 'It was like South by Southwest. It was crazy. People were everywhere, and it was a big success, and we just kind of threw it together. So I think this year, with even more planning, It'll be more of a destination.'

Even with eight participating venues, this year's Free Week lineup is stacked with some of the finest local talent on offer, ranging from punchy pop to messy garage rock to blistering punk to enthusiastic soul. For the bands, the pro bono work of Free Week offers one big advantage — the chance to, for one night, ascend to the upper echelons of audience size.

'Bands that normally play to 100 people are going to play to 500 people, so a lot of the medium-sized bands who do okay do amazing at Free Week,' says Williams. 'They get to play on a huge stage in front of a lot of people. It's almost like everyone steps up a notch in their popularity.'

Recommended shows

Choosing one bill per night on Free Week is roughly akin to selecting your favorite child, but we've combed through the schedule and selected one can't-miss lineup per night. But don't take our word for it — chief among Free Week's many charms is its buffet-style approach to delivering music. Take some time to bounce around from venue to venue throughout the evening and catch some acts whose names you've never heard before. You can thank us in the morning. All shows are free, unless you're under 21, in which case there's a $5 cover.

Friday

Pack of Wolves at Red 7 outside. Beloved local metal stalwart At All Cost may be gone, but its spirit — and vocalist Trey Ramirez — lives on in Pack of Wolves, a furious quartet with a prowling, demanding sound and one of 2009's best local metal albums, the primal guitar lick-heavy 'Betrayer.' They're joined by a who's who of take-no-prisoners Austin metal stars. There's few better ways to cure a New Year's hangover — and kick off a sure to be exhausting week of club-going — than a sweaty, thrash-heavy metal bill .

With Mammoth Grinder, Iron Age, Hatred Surge, Naw Dude. 9:30 p.m.

Also playing:

Azatat, Boomset, Cali Zack & n/a, Kill City, Mutual Trust, Crew 54 at Red 7 inside. 9 p.m.

Smoke & Feathers, Cartright, The Astronaut Suit, Paleo, Smoke & Feathers at Emo's outside. 9 p.m.

Ugly Beats, Amplified Heat, Shapes Have Fangs, The Hi-Tones at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Mike and the Moonpies, Leo Rondeau at the Mohawk outside. 9 p.m.

The Original Mexican Bob, Crooks at the Mohawk inside. 11:30 p.m.

Prince Klassen at the Beauty Bar. 9 p.m.

Saturday

Harlem at Emo's outside. Of all Free Week's nights, Saturday most heavily recalls South by Southwest — and, perhaps, 'Sophie's Choice' — with stellar lineups at every participating venue. Should you catch studly, mustachioed guitar heroes Lions? Rocking Riverboat Gamblers spin-off Ghost Knife? Underrated, hyper-kinetic garage rockers Dikes of Holland? Catchy proto-punk from the Pillow Queens? It's a tough call, but one safe bet is recent Matador Records signees and infectious, endearing garage pop band Harlem, the hopelessly addictive — they did release an album called 'Free Drugs,' after all — trio that's primed to have a very big 2010.

With Woven Bones, The Stuffies, Fungi Girls. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

The Young, Pillow Queens, Cruddy, MVSCLZ at Red 7 outside. 9 p.m.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Dikes of Holland, Air Traffic Controllers at Red 7 inside. 9 p.m.

Ghost Knife, the Ape-(expletive), Manikin, Serious Tracers, the Vitamins at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Lions, Vinhomudeh, Eagle Claw at Mohawk outside. 9 p.m.

In Dudero (Nirvana tribute band with members of the Sword and Those Peabodys), PJ and the Bear, the December Boys at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

Black Bone Child, White Rhino, the Slideshow Tragedy at Stubb's inside. 9 p.m.

The Happen-Ins, the Tunnels, Blase Faire at the Club De Ville. 8 p.m.

Flametrick Subs at Beerland. 10 p.m.

Sunday

Quiet Company at Emo's outside. Of the dozens of bands playing Free Week, Quiet Company might be the one you could most safely take your parents to — and that's not meant as a slight. The quartet play joyous, optimistic, hopelessly sweeping Beatles-influenced pop with soaring sing-along choruses and radio-friendly hooks aplenty. After a holiday weekend of partying and ringing in the new year, you couldn't ask for a much better nightcap than Quiet Company's friendly, bouncy, wholly devoid-of-angst pop.

With the Boxing Lesson, Corto Maltese, Many Birthdays. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

Scarlet O 'Hara, the Requested, Fire From the Gods, I See a Ghost at Red 7 (early show 5:30 p.m.)

Tornahdo, We the Grenada, the Autons, Zorch, RealBook FakeBook, Zwounds at Red 7. 9 p.m.

Michael Kingcaid (What Made Milwaukee Famous), Frank Smith, Prayer Ffor Animals, Crooks, Western Ghost House at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Beautiful Supermachines, Ichi Ni San Shi, Strong Silent Type, Simple Circuit at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

Sally Crewe at Club De Ville. 8 p.m.

100 Flowers at Beauty Bar. 9 p.m.

Monday

The Carrots at Emo's outside. Paying homage to long-ago musical movements without coming across as derivative is a tricky balancing act, but '60s girl group-inspired the Carrots have managed to walk that tightrope for four years. Among Austin's most charming bands, they've built a reputation on catchy, lovelorn nuggets of pop perfection that recall the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las. Factor in a live show that hits all the right aesthetic notes — with do-it-yourself fashion that's heavy on the stripes and polka dots — and you can expect ample good vibes.

JC & Co. (members of Voxtrot), Cowabunga Babes, Bear Claw, Literature. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

Head Panic, Blood Royale, Night Siege, Shredheads, Dead Reckoning at Red 7. 9 p.m.

Children in Heat (Misfits Tribute!), Dolls From the Crypt, Flash Boys, Hoodrats, Scrabble Robot at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Baron Grod at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

Major Major Major, the Night at Beauty Bar. 9 p.m.

Tuesday

Cruiserweight at Red 7 outside. What is it that makes Cruiserweight one of Austin's most lovable bands by far? Maybe it's the family band dynamic — three of Cruiserweight's four members are siblings. Maybe it's the sugary pop-punk sound. Maybe it's front woman Stella Maxwell's perpetually giddy energy. Or maybe it's just that they've been around so long, played so many venues and won so many Austin Music Awards that it's hard to imagine a time when we didn't have Cruiserweight to cheer us up. Whatever the reason, Cruiserweight's one of those local standbys that gigs so often and so consistently well that it's easy to take them for granted. Free Week offers a good excuse to see the band in their element — namely, playing to a riotous, non-paying punk rock crowd.

With Lemuria, O'Pioneers!!!, The Anchor, High Watt Crucifixers. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

The El Paso Heist, the Comissure, Orchestra of Antlers, Milk Thistly at Red 7 inside. 9 p.m.

Mutating Meltdown, Diagonals, Low Red Center, Elvis, Coma in Algiers at Emo's outside. 9 p.m.

Pataphysics, No Mas Bodas, the Gospel Truth, Horse + Donkey at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Obsolete Machines, String, Ovenbirds at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

Super Light Bike, Planet Rye Co., the Criminal Kind at Beauty Bar. 9 p.m.

Wednesday

Brothers and Sisters at Emo's outside. You could probably sneak a Brothers and Sisters song onto the playlist of your average classic rock station without listeners suspecting anything was amiss. Lily and Will Courtney — the band's being honest with that Brothers and Sisters name — craft the kind of sunny, '70s-evoking rock 'n' roll that'd slot in nicely with a block of songs by the Band, Buffalo Springfield and Fleetwood Mac. Throw in a dash of pedal steel for just a touch of that Americana and country sound, and you have a concoction very different from the usual Emo's fare but every bit as enjoyable.

With the Laughing, Ovenbirds, Oh No Oh My. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

La Snacks, Midgetmen, the Gary, Frantic Clam, Opposite Day at Red 7. 9 p.m.

New Disaster, Born to Lose, the Bulemics, 13th Victim at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Scorpion Child, the Roller, Smoke and Feathers, (Expletive) Carwash at Mohawk inside. 9 p.m.

Honky, Vinhomudeh, Mobley at Club De Ville. 8 p.m.

Obsolete Machines, In Situ Sound, Digital Antique, Art Vs. Industry at Beerland. 10 p.m.

Wine and Revolution, Hollywood Gossip, Politics, DJ Mel at the Parish. 8 p.m.

Stereo is a Lie, Strange Attractors, She Sir, New Roman Times at Beauty Bar. 9 p.m.

Jan. 7

Brazos at Mohawk outside. Poetic folk rocker Martin Crane's middle name might as well have been 'promise' — his band Brazos' 2007 EPs 'Feeding Frenzy' and 'A City Just As Tall' were lyrical, complex delights that suggested Crane had boundless potential. It took a couple of long years for that potential to come to fruition, as Brazos' lineup fluctuated. But with 2009's 'Phosphorescent Blues' Brazos reaffirmed its status as one of Austin's best young bands, with 10 tracks of evocative, elegaic acoustic folk rock anchored by Crane's paper-thin vocals. They've grown just as much as a live band, with a stellar lineup consisting of Crane, bassist Paul Price and drummer Andy Beaudoin.

With TV Torso and the Great Nostalgic. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

Hacienda, Shapes Have Fangs, Strange Attractors, Cowabunga Babes, Flowers at Red 7 outside. 9 p.m.

Get Action DJs at Red 7 inside. 9 p.m.

Jungle Rockers, the Skeletons, Nick Curran and the Lowlifes, the Sandworms, Heart and Soul Soundsystem at Emo's outside. 9 p.m.

Moth Fight, Yellow Fever, Red Leaves, Haunting Oboe Music and the Eastern Sea at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

Ume, Transmography, Daniel Francis Doyle, Many Birthdays at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

The White Hotel, White Dress, Jessi Torrisi at Stubb's inside. 9 p.m.

Smoke and Feathers, Prayer for Animals, Masonic at Club De Ville. 8 p.m.

Black Panda, John Schooley's One Man Band, the Fleshlights, the Zoltars at Beerland. 10 p.m.

Sounds Under Radio, Suzanna Choffel, Zookeeper, Wiretree, DJ Markus at the Parish. 8 p.m.

Skream + Benga at Beauty Bar. 9 p.m.

Jan. 8

Ume at Emo's inside. Ume guitarist and singer Lauren Larson is a sight to behold live, all sweat, swirling long blonde hair and lightning-fast fingerwork, an otherwordly presence who can shred with the best of them. Debut EP 'Sunshower' is as good a rock record as anything to come out of Austin this year, but the trio's catchy melodies and snarling guitar are all the more impressive live, where their Sonic Youth-inspired post-punk can really bloom.

With Speak, the Authors, White White Lights, The Always Already. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

Lower Class Brats, Krum Bums, Sober Daze, Black Irish at Red 7 outside. 9 p.m.

DJ Sambo at Red 7 inside. 9 p.m.

The Crack Pipes, the Golden Boys, the Royal Butchers, Follow That Bird! at Emo's outside. 9 p.m.

Cartright, Headdress, Tunnels, Christian Bland and the Revelators at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

The Laughing, Low Line Caller, MoTel Aviv at Mohawk outside. 9 p.m.

Jesse Woods at Stubb's inside. 9 p.m.

Corto Maltese, She Sir, Candi and the Strangers at Club De Ville. 8 p.m.

L.A.X., Auto Body, Freshmillions (with members of the Sword), Gobi, DJ Thibault at the Parish. 8 p.m.

Prince Klassen at the Beauty Bar. 8 p.m.

Saturday Jan. 9

Leatherbag at Stubb's inside. Randy Reynolds is one of the most promising, striking young songwriters in a city defined by them, a keen listener melding killer guitar pop hooks with subtle and thoughtful lyrics. His band, Leatherbag, mixes Reynolds' voice with a rollicking sound to produce a unique brand of indie rock that's equal parts smart and sexy. Reynolds' folk-Americana style always had promise, but the fresh injection of the more palatable, harder-rock sensibility evident on Leatherbag's latest recordings has boosted him from young talent to watch to one of Austin's best acts going.

With the Pons, Danny Malone. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

Missions, Death Is Not A Joyride, No Mas Bodas, the Clouds are Ghosts at Mohawk inside. 10 p.m.

Big Mess, Watching the Moon, We'll Go Machete, Paper Shapes at Red 7 outside. 9 p.m.

(Expletive) Carwash, Eagle Claw, White Rhino, Markov, Thieves at Red 7 inside. 9 p.m.

Attack Formation, Broken Gold, Tia Carrera, Zorch at Emo's outside. 9 p.m.

The Hex Dispensers, the Sinks, the Altars, Shanghai River at Emo's inside. 9 p.m.

T-Bird and the Breaks, the Carrots, the Ugly Beats, the Hi-Tones at Mohawk outside. 8 p.m.

Burning Hotels, Watch Out for Rockets, Haunting Oboe Music at Club De Ville. 8 p.m.

Bang Bang Theodores, Wine and Revolution, Coma in Algiers at Beerland. 10 p.m.

The Bright Light Social Hour, the Frontier Brothers, MoTel Aviv, Derty Bird at the Parish. 8 p.m.

Car Stereo (Wars), All My Friends, Moth Fight, the Laughing at Beauty Bar. 8 p.m.

Sunday Jan. 10

A Giant Dog at Emo's outside. If the Austin music scene of 2009 could be summed up by any genre, it'd probably be garage rock. With Red River as its epicenter, Austin's garage rock scene — from the Golden Boys to Harlem on up to White Denim — might be its most thriving. A Giant Dog, with their lo-fi psychedelia and raw melodies, are one more for the pile. But they have a unique charm, thanks in no small part to the wail of lead vocalist Sabrina Ellis, who howls with an intensity that's equal parts Grace Slick and Jemina Pearl.

With Bad Sports, Cause for Applause, Elvis. 9 p.m.

Also playing:

Set Aflame, Bonnie Blue, Let the Dead at Red 7. 5:30 p.m.

Exeter, Woolgather, In Situ Sound, the Devil Rides at Red 7. 6 p.m.

Red X Red M, Woodgrain, Eagle Claw, ODEZCO, Expensive (Expletive) at Emo's inside. 10 p.m.

Dennis Ludiker Trio, the Copper Pots at the Parish. 8 p.m.

String at Beauty Bar. 8 p.m.