How did Austin become the “Live Music Capital of the World?”

The history might not be what you think it is.

The crowd at a concert at the Moody Amphitheater

Whether you’re at the Moody Amphitheater, Moody Center, or Moody Theater, you’re in for a show.

Photo by @teamscreamy

Between nationally esteemed music festivals, nightly star-studded lineups, and now the CMT Music Awards, Austin certainly seems to be embodying its moniker as the Live Music Capital of the World.

We’ll defend Austin’s music scene any day, but we were curious: how did the Capital City earn that title, anyway?

Depending on who you ask, Austin has been known as the Live Music Capital of the World for about four decades, with the city officially adopting the nickname in 1991.

Common lore says the title came to be when research found Austin had the most live music venues per capita in the US. While we’re not saying that statistic is false (although it would certainly be hard to prove), it might not be the whole truth.

As it turns out, the slogan may have been cooked up by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in the mid-80s, for an advertisement that ran in Billboard magazine. Other reports say it was developed by the city council to bring tourism to the city.

This might not look good for our live music egos, but here’s our argument for why we deserve the title anyway:

  • For one, Austin actually does have a lot of music venues, with more than 250 hosting shows across the city.
  • But it’s not just the quantity of venues: it’s the quality. From big venues such as the Moody Center to intimate spaces like the Historic Scoot Inn, there’s no bad spot to see a concert in ATX.
  • Concerts take place across the city every single night, amounting to thousands of live shows each year. Don’t believe us? Just check our events calendar.
  • The Capital City hosts nearly 40 music festivals each year, including those with national recognition — ACL and SXSW alone draw in ~850,000 visitors yearly.

You might argue a city like Nashville is the Live Music Capital (it does have a $5.5 billion music industry, whereas Austin’s industry is closer to $1.8 billion). But we’re Austinites through and through, and we know the truth: history, local artists, and stellar spaces make Austin’s claim on live music unlike any other.

More from ATXtoday