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5 Acts to Catch During Free Week

Don’t sleep on Austin’s favorite under-the-radar mini music festival

Tiarra Girls (photo by Ismael Quintanilla III)

Even with a honeyed siren song of over 50 young musical acts, Free Week, taking place the first week of January, is Austin’s most under-the-radar music festival. But give it time. An underdog in the city known for SXSW and ACL, the Free Week barn burner ignited in 2003. The creative minds behind Emo’s lit the fuse to warm the bitter chill of a post-holiday attendance slump and the fire spread. Free Week’s heat map now unites venues across downtown’s Red River entertainment district and beyond. A handful of free comedy shows also offer fantastic lineups alongside the musical arm, and food vendors offer discounted nosh for a still-evolving cultural event across a dozen venues – all within walking distance. 

THE BROS FRESH show during a previous year’s Free Week (photo by Renee Dominguez)

Here are five acts we’re excited to see this year: 

Caroline Hale

We were blown away by the quiet strength in the 2023 debut album, BFF, from young singer-songwriter Caroline Hale. The San Antonio-born multi-instrumentalist is quick to offer thanks to her songwriting mentor, Martin Strayer, and to Gordy Quist from Austin’s The Band of Heathens for guidance and help recording the piece, an abbreviation for Best Friend’s Funeral. The folky album unites songs Hale’s nurtured since her early teen years, effortlessly presented with deep feeling and memorable lyrics. 

Playing: January 5, 2024, 9 p.m. at Empire Garage

(photo courtesy of Caroline Hale’s Facebook)

Easy Compadre!

Juan Alfredo Rios Rodriguez from The Bright Light Social Hour and Como Las Movies joins Hector Tednoir and Oscar Botello from Sister Fuzz in this fantastic mashup of live electronic styles. The Easy Compadre! trio melds synthwave, electro, and pop, into cumbias, bachata, and other moving Latin rhythms. Monterrey-born and Austin-based, the band sings about love and politics. Their “Cyberpunk border Tetralog” comprising “No mas Jaulas”, “Mamulique”, “El American Dream” and “Warriors,” is a howl for justice and a dance toward somatic healing. Their Kylie Minogue cover is good, but we can’t get the catchy “Besos de Menta” out of our heads. 

Playing: January 6, 2024, 9:30 p.m. at Flamingo Cantina

(photo courtesy of Easy Compadre’s Facebook)

S.L. Houser

No neophyte to the Austin music scene, Sara L. Houser nonetheless struck out under her own name for the release of her delicious 2023 EP on Spaceflight Records, Hibiscus. Formerly a touring musician joining Zella Day and Matthew Logan Vasquez, as well as lead of Austin trio Löwin, SL Houser has also collaborated with Spoon, Golden Dawn Arkestra, and Walker Lukens. On the endlessly listenable Hibiscus, Houser lingers and coos hazily as her band drives and dives into a stirring vulnerability. 

Playing: January 5, 2024, 9 p.m. at Stubb’s

Sara L. Houser (photo by Brynn Osborn)


Promqueen pop arrives in English and Vietnamese from the proudly queer, second generation Vietnamese American. Inspired partly by Doja Cat and Gwen Stefani, the AAPI creator constructed her 2023 full-length debut, szn one, with provocative inflection, or “Xi Xon,” a balance of “salty & sweet” rap flows, breezy, top-down attitude, and sparkling production from the uninhibited young star. 

Playing: January 5, 2024, 10 p.m. at Stubb’s

promqueen (photo by 3_56 am productions)

Stella and the Very Messed

After reading about the parenthood-induced hiatus of this bracingly vibrant band, we wondered if we could detect a hint of Disney princess musical vibes undergirding a few songs from Stella and the Very Messed. Then the lyrics slapped us in the face and we shimmied on. Thanking Austin luminaries like Walker Lukens, this band of members united from a heaping handful of other local efforts is a head-turning, exuberant indie pop-rock outfit worth braving the cold for. 

Playing: January 6, 2024, 10:30 p.m. at the 13th Floor

(photo from Stella and the Very Messed’s website)

Map Out Your Free Week Schedule

On January 5 & 6, performances will take place across the Red River Cultural District’s 10+ live music venues, comedy clubs, parks, and event spaces. Visit to view the full line-up by venue.