Pecan Street Festival v2.0

Old Pecan Street Festival Fall 2012After our over-heated experience at the Pecan Street Festival last time, we decided to try it again on a cooler day. But this time, our objective was different. Sure, we would check out the stands and booths, and the scheduled acts. And there were foods to taste — it wouldn’t an Austin event without the great food!

But what we were really there to see were the street musicians who use the Festival to display their talents to a larger audience than a typical evening on 6th Street provides. And we were not disappointed.

As we walked along, we saw singers and guitar players. People drumming on plastic pails and on wooden bars over gourds. We heard incredible a Capella groups with amazingly tight harmony, and we heard a young emo/punk group shouting out their pain.

There was jazz and rock, classic melodies and new creations. And what’s most amazing about it all, is that none of these acts were planned by the festival promoters.  They were not on the programs, and sadly, I wasn’t able to get the names of most of them (if anyone can fill in the blanks for the musicians in my photos, please do!)  But each of these acts, and the combination of all of them in one place, made the Old Pecan Street Festival something extra special.

Sure Austin has ACL (this weekend, as a matter of fact).  And then there’s SXSW. But without a single dollar for a ticket, or a fight for a parking space, a festival like this is one of the best ways to hear great Austin music, block after block.

Irish pub food and a punk band? Why not? It’s Austin!

Fado Irish Pub Austin TexasWe’re starting to explore some of the downtown restaurants (getting out of our North Austin world!), and the other night that meant a light dinner at Fado Irish Pub on 4th Street.

As we walked nearby, we heard the band…The Video Stars, a punk rock-clad group performing an excellent rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine”. Then we looked at the menu which promised traditional pub fare in their courtyard.

For me, the fact that they offered “boxty“, a tasty potato concoction I seldom see on menus, and the song the band was playing were enough. For Lance, the promise of a corned beef sandwich was enough to draw him in.

And we were not disappointed by any of it. The boxty I chose were crisp and hot, and were accompanied by a red pepper humus dip. Lance’s sandwich came stuffed high with corned beef, with a big pile of chips on the side (that’s fries, not potato chips.) We’ll have to return again to try a full dinner sometime soon…our light meal was a good introduction to their offerings!

The band played a variety of music, although the punk/KISS look was kind of funny when they launched into a Lady Gaga set! The courtyard was breezy, the crowd was a perfect mix of ages, and the service was excellent.

Although we don’t drink, we did see that Fado has an extensive selection of beers, ales, wines, whiskeys and single-malt Scotches, which makes it a good place to head for a few drinks, too.

Fado also has inside dining, although the music is outdoors only. The courtyard/patio is pet friendly, so our pup will probably join us the next time around.

Playground trumps crayons at Freddie’s Place

Freddie's Place in Austin on Ais4Austin.comRestaurants typically offer younger diners crayons or maybe a page or two of puzzles.  But Freddie’s has a better choice…a whole play structure within the restaurant’s outdoor dining area.

And when we went, the youngest patrons were taking full advantage it while their parents relaxed at nearby tables.  But the charm of Freddie’s Place doesn’t stop with the small fry.

Pets are welcome to dine with their people in the spacious outdoor area, and big bowls of water are provided for the canines as soon as diner’s are seated.  The backyard picnic feel of the space, complete with purple picnic tables and strings of big colorful lights made me feel at home and comfortable as soon as we arrived.  And the witty sayings on signs and waitstaff shirts (one read “Freddie’s: Home of good-looking beer and ice-cold waitresses”) make it fun to look around.  Live music adds the final Austin touch to the place. There’s even an open mic night on Wednesdays, in case you’re feeling like showing off your own talent.

And then there’s the food. Did I forget to mention the food?  Frito Pie with layers of beefy chili, cheese, jalapenos and more. Hand-cut fries.  And a veggie burger made in Freddie’s kitchen from hummus.  (It was delicious!)  The menu is as casual and comforting as the setting — no fancy fixings or complex dishes.  Freddie’s keeps it simple — and from the crowd enjoying dinner on the night we went, simple is just right.

Pecan Street Festival brings together music, art, and Austin weirdness

Pecan Street Festival 2012  on A is 4 Austin

I should have known better.  It was over 90 degrees and extreme heat and I do NOT get along well.  But away we went to the Spring Pecan Day Festival in downtown Austin.

I expected t roast and melt.  And to be honest, it was even hotter than I thought it would be.  And melt I did. Big time.

But despite the heat, this festival, held annually on 6th Street/Pecan Street (and companion to the Autumn Pecan Street Festival) was also more than I thought it would be.

First of all, it was big.  REALLY big.  It went on and on with block after block of artists’ booths, food, music and just-for-the-heck-of-it stuff for sale. And most of it was truly good.  We saw everything from hand puppets to wall-sized collages in the art booths.  There was even a petting zoo! And the food was far beyond the usual funnel cakes and corn dogs (although both of those were there, too.)  Topping my list for weirdest fair food was the alligator stand, while the homemade ice cold fresh lemonade takes the prize for “Most in Demand and Gratefully Purchased”.

Music venues all along the fair area were open for business with amazing sounds at every turn, too.  We took shelter in the Stage on 6th for a bit to get out of the sun, and were treated to fantastic classic country sounds…amazingly, even our dog and our daughter were welcome there (we’re still not quite used to the rules in Austin, so that was a surprise — in Miami, kids and pets are verbotten in bars

The highlight of the Festival for us was the discovery of a new (well, new to us) band called Les Rav.  Their music was a wonderful mix of Celtic, rock, New Age, chamber, progressive and Indy, with something special on top of all of that.  They are definitely worth a follow.

The Pecan Street Festival is a family friendly event and dogs are welcome (on leash).  If you head out to the Spring or Autumn events, I would recommend taking a good supply of water for you and your pets.  It gets hot, and bottled water is pricy.  Bring cash for food and drink — very few took cards and ATM fees were high.

Wildseed Farms brings wild beauty to home gardens

Wildseed Farm Texas

In the middle of wildflower season in Texas, it might be hard to think about planting and tending a garden.  After all, incredible blossoms are everywhere, from the center of 183 to the patch of dirt in front of the local strip mall.

But the fact is, most of the Technicolor flowers that are native to the Austin area are also a great choice for local gardens and landscapes, too.  That’s what I learned from our visit to Wildseed Farms, located near Fredricksburg.

But lest you think this is just a seed store, or even a nursery, I need to tell you about the unbelievable fields of flowers.  There were acres and acres of bright red, yellow and orange poppies.  Unfortunately, it seems that fields of poppies photograph about as well as they survive once cut — so you’ll have to see that amazing display for yourself.

There were also several smaller fields of larkspur — we picked enough of them to fill one large and several small vases at home for only $5.00.  And visitors can walk around through the growing gardens and see dozens of other wildflowers in bloom (and there are even clear tags identifying the flowers in each row…perfect for a new Texas resident like me who was worried about having to go into the store and ask for “those yellow flowers with the red bits near the center”.)

The shops at Wildseed Farms do have seeds…lots and lots and lots of them.  There are even wildflower mixes for other parts of the country, so visitors or people who want to send garden gifts can get the right kind for each region.

Add in the selection of garden decor, wind chimes, garden-themed gifts and beautiful cotton women’s clothing (yes, a surprise for me, too!) and you have a great place to stop on the way to Fredricksburg, or a relaxing destination all its own.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there was live music in an outdoor venue, with tables for enjoying the view, the sounds and something from the ice cream shop or snack bar.

Pets on leash are welcome here, even in the shops as long as they are well-behaved.

Ribs and Blues at Artz Rib House

Artz Rib House

Cool blues (and bluegrass), hot ribs and a down-home welcoming feeling that encourages conversation among tables — that’s what you’ll find at Artz Rib House in Austin.

This is not the place to go if you want a sophisticated ambiance…you won’t find any of that here.  But you will find big plates of home-style bar-b-que, tangy baked beans and a slice of white bread to sop up every drop of the sauce that dares to drip off your ribs.

If you have a vegetarian or two among your party, don’t worry.  Artz also offers a delicious grilled vegetable kabob and a tasty veggie burger amid their meatier menu offerings.

The night we visited, the Sieker Band, a local bluegrass group was playing. The small venue meant everyone had a clear view of the band — a big plus in my book. Check the website for schedules…the live music sometimes ends earlier than you might expect.