'Keep Austin weird,' but learn lessons


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS ON U.S. 290 — We spend just a little time in Austin, but enough to know I want to go back.

We were prevented from experiencing more of the town — including the much-touted air guitar championships at the Alamo Drafthouse — by a series of unfortunate events.

There was the 93-year-old old man who bumped the van, then wailed like a banshee because he thought the cops would take away his license. And because our multimedia operation fried the van's electric system, we had to trade it for a puke-colored model only a mother would love.

But we saw a few highlights, including a stop at the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue at Town Lake. The lake is actually a reservoir on the Colorado River, located in downtown Austin and surrounded by a park with trails and playing fields.

There's also a music venue there that is home to the Austin City Limits Festival. My brother Zak bought me a DVD of the 2005 festival this Christmas. It includes a rocking performance by The Black Keys, a band from our hometown of Akron, Ohio, and a slate of other great acts.

We talked with a local woman about the festival as Brian Kratzer, our photographer, took pictures of the Stevie Ray statue. She said the festival occurs in the brutal September heat, so she generally avoids it. But she said the city has plenty of other great events, including the legendary South by Southwest music and film festival.

As we talked, a steady stream of joggers ran past. Ahead, they would be greeted by coolers of water placed there for anyone who wanted a drink. Brian said the park made him think about one of his biggest gripes about Gainesville: lack of public spaces.

In Gainesville, the choices are limited and sometimes less than desirable. The Downtown Plaza has more homeless people than joggers. Biven's Arm Park has a well-known problem with public sex.

Don't get me wrong: Gainesville has advantages over Austin. Getting around Austin is a nightmare, in no small part due to the Byzantine layout of roads. And I'd much rather be in Florida than Texas.

But there are definitely some things we could learn from Austin. The music scene there would be hard to replicate, but Gainesville could move in that direction. I think Matt Pollock, a UF grad and Austin resident who we met there, had it right when he said Austin musicians seem more willing to play their hearts out and not worry what people think.

The differences between Austin and Gainesville can be summed up with their mottos. Gainesville just adopted a new slogan, "Every path starts with passion." It's hard to tell what it even means, which kind of defeats the whole purpose.

Consider the unofficial motto of Austin: "Keep Austin weird." It pretty much says it all about the lively vibe of the town. I hope the motto is a promise, because I'm coming back for more.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached on the road by e-mail at nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com or cell phone at (352) 222-3953.

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