Forget American Idol or any Battle of the Bands: The most nail-biting contest we followed this year was our Readers' Choice poll for best local music scene in the U.S., when Austin nosed out Athens, Ga., by a mere eight votes. Such razor-thin results merit closer inspection, so we enlisted the help of two experts to set the record straight. Here, Nick Marino, the Georgia-based managing editor at Paste magazine, takes on writer and longtime Austinite Ian Dille to discuss, argue, and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whose music scene rocks hardest.
ATHENS, GA.: 1,077 votes
Ridiculously eclectic. You've got Of Montreal's psychedelic bliss, Widespread Panic's jam-band boogie, Reptar's percussive pop, and Drive-By Truckers' Southern-fried rock.
Catch up-and-coming acts at the 40 Watt Club (40watt.com), or settle in for a show, steak, and local Terrapin Golden Ale at The Melting Point (meltingpointathens.com).
Ever heard of R.E.M.? How about The B-52s? Beyond those pioneers, there are some 400 resident bands in Athens, a town of just 115,000.
Unlike certain Texas towns that import their talent for festivals, Athens thinks locally with AthFest, a five-day extravaganza featuring about 200 area bands. Six more annual fests spotlight pop, folk, and more.
On the Air
WUOG (90.5 FM), a University of Georgia student station, is so independent that any artist with a Billboard Top 100 album is banned.
Tasty $3.75 burgers draw patrons around the clock at The Grill, a 24-hour staple just outside the University of Georgia's famous arches (thegrillathensga.com).
The plantation-style Foundry Park Inn & Spa is steps from downtown, yet feels like the Old South. Just don't bet on weekend vacancies during Bulldog-crazed football season (foundryparkinn.com, from $125).
AUSTIN, TEX.: 1,085 votes
A little bit (alt) country and a little bit (indie) rock and roll. The scene here is often compared with Nashville's—only Austin never sold out!
With 200-plus venues, you have options. The classic: The Continental Club, where hipsters two-step next to old-timers (continentalclub.com).
Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all got their starts in Austin. These days, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin call it home, too.
Bands have plenty of good reason to return, every step of their careers: Double-platinum headliners play Austin City Limits, rising stars take on South by Southwest, and new names hock demo tapes at Fun Fun Fun Fest.
On the Air
The ever-quirky KUT (90.5 FM) wins all sorts of fans, including Aaron Behrens, front man for local fave Ghostland Observatory: "KUT's nonconformist attitude is what makes it great."
Star Seeds Cafe is an all-night diner favored by musicians and predawn partiers alike. As a reminder you're in Texas, breakfast tacos, migas, and queso are well represented on the menu (starseedscafe.com).
The Hotel San José loans out iPods and CDs, and is walking distance from some of Austin's top venues (sanjosehotel.com, from $95 with shared bath).