Over a decade ago, Margin Walker’s Graham Williams, then a booker for the downtown Emo’s location, conceptualized Free Week as a way to bring warm bodies into the club during one of the slowest weeks of the year. The philosophy is simple: throw open the doors, drop the cover charge and invite folks to come experience Austin music. The event has grown into a vibrant mini-festival, a free local music binge with events all over town geared to all sorts of music enthusiasts. After several years of expansion that made the better part of January a musical free-for-all, most Austin clubs have contracted back to one week in 2018.
Every year there are contentious conversations about whether the event devalues Austin music in the eyes of stingy local music fans who already tend to balk about reasonable cover charges. It’s debatable, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t love the way the event generates serious excitement about local music.
A few things to remember: Some Free Week bands are getting paid. Some play for free as a favor to venues that support them year round. All of them would like you to spend some of the money you save at the door at the merch table, or drop it into the tip jar. Also, part of the reason artists play Free Week is exposure, so expose the beejeebers out of any bands you see. Post photos and videos to your socials and tell all your friends. Go ahead and tag the clubs in those posts too.
Ambassador for the excitement of local music is a great look, and let’s all start 2018 by wearing it well.
SIX GRAND SLAM FREE WEEK BILLS
Monday, Jan 1: Peelander-Z, Dead Music Capital Band, Drakulas at Empire. From the Japanese action comic antics of the Peelander punks to DIY marching zombies, this unpretentious hair-of-the-dog throwdown indulges in the best of new school Austin weird.
Thursday, Jan. 4:
Whiskey Shivers, Sailor Poon, Booher at Empire. Rollicking rebel bluegrass? Check. Feminist art punk with songs about “Boobies”? Check. Emotionally literate rock ‘n’ roll? Yep. What else do you need, people?
Jackie Venson, Mobley, Mélat at Stubb’s. Three of Austin’s brightest rising stars on the same bill. Venson is Austin’s next great electric blues guitarist who recently did a high profile road stint with Gary Clark Jr. Mobley has a catalog loaded with catchy pop songs and an electrifying stage show and Mélat sings dreamy R&B for the lover in all of us.
Riverboat Gamblers, American Sharks, Eagle Claw at Barracuda. Oh, you like it rough? The Gamblers’ rowdy bash is a perennial Free Week fave.
Friday, Jan 5: Los Coast, Emily Wolfe, Otis the Destroyer at Mohawk. After a year spent building a reputation as one of the hottest live acts in Austin, rock ‘n’ soul outfit, Los Coast promises “a slew of album releases” in 2018. Emily Wolfe spent the year writing and plotting her debut full-length debut and in November, she teased us with “Holy Roller,” a blistering single with stormy melodies that swirl around muscular guitar riffs. Otis the Destroyer also performs. This is a solid opportunity to catch a few winners before they blow up.
Saturday, Jan. 6: Applied Pressure Orchestra at Empire. A one-off performance from the live band version of the excellent DJ/Electronic music collective that includes Hobo D, Kid Slyce and Boombaptist. The evening will also include a performance from Vapor Caves, the new project from Keeper’s Yadira Brown and Boombaptist, and a rare return to the turntables by DJ Tats, best known these days as a local ramen kingpin.
FIVE RISING AUSTIN ACTS TO CATCH
Annabelle Chairlegs. There is no Annabelle (as far as we know) but singer and guitarist Lindsey Mackin is one of Austin’s most captivating leads. The band spent a good portion of 2017 on the road, enchanting audiences around the country with their trippy garage rock and we suspect 2018 will be a big year for them. Playing: Jan. 2 at Mohawk; Jan. 6 at Hotel Vegas.
Blastfamous USA. The raucous rap-rock project fronted by Zeale, one of Austin’s fiercest rhymeslingers, unleashes a seething cauldron righteous rage. Playing: Jan 2 at Cheer Up Charlies; Jan. 5 at Empire.
Go Fever. Their self-titled album built around Aussie ex-pat Acey Monaro’s solid songwriting was one of 2017 strongest debuts. Playing: Jan 2 at Swan Dive; Jan. 6 at Valhalla.
Alesia Lani. Her warm and wonderful 2017 release “Resilient,” a rich platter of R&B, provided a much-needed salve to our city’s soul this year. Playing: Jan. 4 at Cheer Up Charlie’s
Darkbird. Go on with your “Bad Self” and indulge in some furious rock ‘n’ roll. Jan. 3 at Hotel Vegas; Jan 6 at Mohawk; Jan. 7 at Empire.
MORE FREE WEEK HIGHLIGHTS
Mayeux and Brossard, Jane Ellen Bryant at Stubb’s
Marmalakes, Get a Life at Barracuda
Migrant Kids, the Canvas People at Mohawk
Duncan Fellowes, Delmar Dennis at Hotel Vegas
Mode Dodeca at Cheer Up Charlie’s
The Cover Letter at the Swan Dive
Whiite Walls, Slomo Drags at Barracuda
Good Field, Blastfamous U.S. at Cheer Up Charlie’s
White Dog, Think No Think at the Volstead
The Wild Now, Tinnarose at Stubb’s
Jeff Plankenhorn, Peterson Brothers at Empire
Vampire, The Millbrook Estates at Mohawk
Pretty (Expletive) at Beerland
Sailor Poon, Big Bill at Hotel Vegas
Go Fever at the Swan Dive
Ringo Deathstarr, The Halfways at Empire
The Well, the Ghost Wolves at Barracuda
Tinnarose, Otis the Destroyer, Darkbird at Hotel Vegas
Smiile, Thor and Friends at Mohawk
The Zoltars at Spiderhouse
Jimmy Eat Wednesday at Barbarella
Stretch Panic at Beerland
Riverboat Gamblers, American Sharks at Barracuda
Wood & Wire, the Deer at Mohawk
Otis the Destroyer, Megafauna at Empire
Stoner Jam with Amplified Heat, more at Swan Dive
Leopold & His Fiction at the Belmont
Trouble in the Streets, Alesia Lani at Cheer Up Charlies
Borzoi, USA/Mexico at Beerland
Continental Drift, Deny Our Salvation at Elysium
The Lagoons, Groovethink at the Blackheart
Holy Wave, the Diamond Center at Cheer Up Charlie’s
Ringo Deathstarr, the Reputations at Hotel Vegas
Netherfriends, Corduroi at Empire
Cloudchord, Sphynx at Stubb’s
Trouble in the Streets, Blastfamous US at Empire
Marmalakes, Growl at Mohawk
Tinnarose, Abram Shook at Barracuda
Honey & Salt, Seafire 3 at the Sidewinder
Roxy Roca, the Crack Pipes at Hotel Vegas
Blxpltn, Major Grizz, Como Las Movies at Sahara Lounge
Timberos del Norte, Zoumountchi at Flamingo
99 Crimes EP release at Dirty Dog
The Watters, Memphis Strange at the Blackheart
Moving Panoramas, Lowin, Go Fever at Valhalla
Roadkill Ghost Choir, Calliope Musicals, Darkbird at Mohawk
Quiet Company, Dayshifters at Barracuda
A. Sinclair, Megafauna at Mohawk
Knifight, Light Wheel at Stubb’s
Annabelle Chairlegs, Deep Time at Hotel Vegas
Leche, High at Beerland
Andy, Starfruit at Cheer Up Charlie’s
Knife in the Water, Croy and the Boys at Hotel Vegas
Melat, Shy Beast at Empire
Lincoln Durham, Altamesa at the Belmont
Primo, Reagan Jones at Elysium
Crypt Trip, Transit Method at Sidewinder
The Big News, Los Kurados at Flamingo
The Canvas People & the Matters at the Blackheart
The Zoltars, the Borzoi at Hotel Vegas
Tomar & the FCs, Honey Made at Stubb’s
Zeale & the Nght Hcklrs at Empire
Smiile, Batty Jr. at Cheer Up Charlies
Wonderbitch, Darkbird at Empire