people gathered in front of stage outdoors

Open air concerts happen all year long in mild Austin. Photo © arevhamb/123rf.

Though the sizzling heat of summer tapers off during fall and since winters are mild, Austin festivals stay in full swing. Along with the requisite music festivals, you’ll find festivals celebrating film, books, and of course, the revels of Pride Week.

For a complete guide to absolutely everything going on in Austin throughout the year, check out www.austin360.com and click on the calendar link, or go to www.austintexas.org and click on the events link.

September

Imagine the symbol of Texas—the Lone Star—on a rainbow backdrop, or a giant Texas-shaped rainbow flag proudly carried as a standard of victory by men dressed up like Cher. At the Austin Pride Parade, gay pride is as big as Texas. Held annually since 1991, this is an important event that is all about tolerance, acceptance, and being proud of who you are. The parade is a family event replete with floats, music, and classic cars, but it can have moments that aren’t necessarily rated G.

The fall occurrence of the Pecan Street Arts Festival is held on 6th Street the last weekend of September. For more details see the complete entry in May section of Moon Austin, San Antonio & the Hill Country.

October

Spun out of the famous public television show, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is the biggest music fest of the year. For three days the festival features top acts, bands, performers, and musical legends in nearly all genres of music. In the past the festival has featured artists such as REM, Ben Harper, and Coldplay, and the list goes on. The scene: 200,000 people, portable potties, the smell of sunscreen, parking miles away, dust in every orifice, and heat exhaustion, all in beautiful Zilker Park. Tickets can be purchased for one of the three days (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday), or you can throw down more cash for a three-day pass. In the spring an early-bird ticket special is offered, but these sell out in a matter of hours. After that tickets can be bought at a premium online. There’s a long list of things that won’t pass security; check the website before you bring all kinds of stuff to survive the weekend.

Founded by former librarian and First Lady Laura Bush, the Texas Book Festival has become one of the biggest literary events in the Southwest. Book signings, awards ceremonies, celebrity-author book readings, and a black-tie Literary Gala including cocktails and dinner provide a great weekend that benefits the Texas Public Libraries. Tickets range $50- 75, and the Literary Gala is $350 per person.

Austin has been attracting quite a bit of attention from the film industry. The event that highlights Austin and celluloid is the Austin Film Festival. For eight days hundreds of film industry folk, celebrities, and silver-screen fans converge in downtown Austin’s many cinemas and hotels to view some 100 films. The festival also includes a screenwriter’s conference.

Local cyclist, cancer survivor, and all-around controversial figure Lance Armstrong hosts Ride for the Roses (512/236-8820) every October. This hugely popular event brings out crowds of cyclists, fans, celebrities, and spectators for a whole weekend of cycling-related events, all to raise money for cancer research.

Perhaps the most obscure event that goes on in these parts is the Texas Gourd Society Show and Sale. Talk about niche: This society is made up of artists that enjoy painting and decorating gourds. The show and sale also includes a competition. Whoever has the most gourd-geous gourd wins! Believe me, some of these gourds are pretty spectacular.

When writing up events for Austin’s calendar in October one can’t omit Halloween on 6th Street. Some 60,000 dressed-up freaks and ghouls take over downtown’s historic 6th Street. Overstimulated by sugar and whatever else, people party all night. The costumes are unbelievable. If you want to trick-or-treat but don’t want to put time into inventing a costume, rent something from Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds (1506 S. Congress Ave., 512/444-2002).

November

The funnest festival in Austin is Fun Fun Fun Fest. Or at least it’s pretty fun for all who are interested in indie rock, punk rock, hardcore, metal, and hip-hop/DJ. The festival, which started in 2006, is held in Austin’s Waterloo Park close to downtown. The promoters of this show have an uncanny knack for getting bands from the bygone era of rock underground to resurface and put on amazing shows. Past lineups have included Slayer, Jane’s Addiction, 7 Seconds, The Hold Steady, Descendents, High on Fire, Spoon, Explosions in the Sky, and Ice T. Even Weird Al Yankovic has done his thing, whatever that is. There are multiple stages for music and one for stand-up comedy. The event also includes BMX and skateboard half-pipes and even an amateur-wrestling ring.

A great way to sneak a peek into the lives of Austin artists is by touring artists’ studios during East Austin Studio Tour. Over a hundred artists, galleries, and studios participate in this East Austin event in mid-November each year. All media and styles are represented, from serene landscapes to bizarre abstract art. A map of the tour is available on the East Austin Studio Tour website.

December

Austin’s beloved holiday tradition, the Zilker Park Tree Lighting, draws thousands to Zilker Park to see the park decorated in lights and watch the lighting of the 165-foot Christmas tree. The Trail of Lights, which is a mile-long display of holiday and wintertime scenes, is an Austin bucket list experience. Most locals consider spinning under the tree and eating funnel cake the only way to usher in the Christmas spirit in Austin. The tree-lighting ceremony takes place on the first Sunday of December, and the Trail of Lights is open until the New Year.

The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar (512/447-1605, 10am-10pm daily) is a uniquely Austin holiday market where artists and artisans from Texas and the Southwest sell their works. This Austin original has been encouraging the public to buy from local artists since 1976. Besides all kinds of weird, wacky, original, and pop forms of art, the bazaar features great food and live music, and it all takes place at the Palmer Events Center. The bazaar operates the second half of December. Parking is available at the Palmer Events Center Garage, accessed off Riverside Drive.

January

The very best way to sample a wide range of Austin bands and musicians is by stumbling through all the Red River/6th Street venues during Austin Free Week. It is, as its name implies, a completely free week of live music. This started out as a way to cure the post-holiday music industry blues and has grown into a smorgasbord for music lovers. There are no cover or door charges at venues such as the Mohawk, Sidewinders, Beerland, Empire Control Room, and the Scoot Inn during the first week of January.

February

For over two decades, every February Carnival Brasileiro has brought Austin a party straight out of Brazil. Hailed as one of the city’s weirdest and wildest celebrations, Carnival Brasileiro features only Brazilian music played on Brazilian instruments and sung in Portuguese, all for a crowd of drinking gringos. The event takes place at Palmer Events Center. Tickets can be purchased at local outlets Lucy In Disguise (1506 S. Congress Ave.) and Waterloo Records (600 N. Lamar Blvd). Tickets are $40, or $45 at the door.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Austin, San Antonio & the Hill Country.