One Night in Austin: Music up and down Congress Avenue
With the Trail of Lights opening in Zilker Park, the Capitol's Christmas tree lighting and the finale of Threadgill's World Headquarters, Saturday was one of the most jam-packed-active evenings in Austin in recent memory. We took special note of a musical smorgasboard happening all along Congress Avenue, the main street of Texas, for the latest video installment of our "One Night in Austin" series.
6 p.m.: Holiday Sing-Along at the Texas Capitol. A perfect seasonal starting-point, as KUTX's John Aielli and Elizabeth McQueen led a crowd of thousands in an hourlong run through more than two dozen classics, from "O Come All Ye Faithful" to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to "Feliz Navidad" and beyond. Just as the singing concluded on the Capitol steps, the giant tree at the south end of the grounds along 11th Street was lit up with dazzling colors.
7 p.m.: Shy Beast at the Holiday Stroll. Stretching south for a few blocks from the Capitol, this family-friendly event included food, craft vendors, live music and more. We caught a little bit of Shy Beast, an up-and-coming Austin pop band that released an auspicious new EP a couple of weeks ago.
7:30 p.m.: Jon Dee Graham, Jesse Sublett and Larry Seaman at Yard Dog. We headed south, across the bridge, to SoCo's coolest art spot for the opening of an exhibit by three great Austin songwriters who also create visual works. They kicked off "Birds, Bears and Bones" with a rousing, unamplified, totally fun mini-set of tunes for a packed house that spilled out onto the sidewalk and included many major Austin music movers and shakers.
8:15 p.m.: Amy Helm at Paramount Theatre. The headliner at the grand old Congress hub on this night was the Wood Brothers, but we arrived early to hear Helm, daughter of late, legendary Band drummer Levon Helm and a former member of the Americana band Ollabelle. Focusing on songs from her new solo album "This Too Shall Light," Helm was fabulous, earning a standing ovation at the end of a set that mixed originals, covers, a rockin' classic from her father's pre-Band run with Levon & the Hawks and a stunning a cappella rendition of the hymn "Gloryland."
8:50 p.m.: Polyphonic Spree at the Holiday Stroll. Still going strong out in the middle of Congress Avenue itself, the Holiday Stroll hit high gear as we stepped out of the Paramount and into a performance by this Dallas act known for pushing both music and showmanship to extremes. With the Paramount's marquee sign twinkling a block behind them, the Spree, featuring around 20 musicians led by frontman Tim DeLaughter, found the true spirit of Christmas with costumes that incorporated Charlie Brown's classic zig-zag shirt pattern.
9:30 p.m.: Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore at Continental Club. We weaved Alvin & Gilmore's last Austin appearance, at Antone's, into our "One Night in Austin" itinerary back in June. That show was so good, we had to come back for more. And hey! This time they were at the Continental, sliding right into our Congress Avenue theme. Not sure there's anything cooler than these two Americana legends dueting on Gilmore's classic "Dallas," but watch the video above and you can be the judge of that.
Just a block west of Congress, Saturday's most momentous musical celebration brought Shinyribs, Fastball, Cotton Mather and a half-dozen others to Threadgill's World Headquarters for one final day and night of music in the beer garden. But that's another story: Check it out right here.