We first watched Austin local Suzanna Choffel perform with her band on a sunny afternoon at the sprawling alfresco café at Central Market. We were lucky to find a table — the place was packed with families and groups of friends enjoying some Texan wine while they watched this sassy young singer-guitarist perform.
Suzanna’s performance was captivating. She exuded an infectious energy and playful style and her indie-pop songs were funky, fresh, soulful, and fun — perfect for a warm weekend afternoon.
But it was Suzanna’s sweet, sexy voice that really had us. Music critics compare her to everyone from Nelly Furtado and Feist to Norah Jones and KT Tunstall. My Parisian journalist friend, Sandrine, who had flown down from Washington DC for the weekend to see us, immediately went and bought her CD Shudders & Rings in the break.
Continually named by critics as a rising star and performer to watch, Suzanna won the Best Indie Band prize at the Austin Music Awards SXSW 2009 and won 2nd Place in the AAA category of the International Songwriting Competition. We were keen to talk to her…
A couple of days later we met Suzanna and another local performer Dan Dyer, and Mahshad Vakili, Dan’s girlfriend-cum-manager, and also a singer, at the cool bar at the San Jose Hotel for a drink and a chat about the Austin music scene. (We’ll post that interview next.) When we asked the gang for Austin eating advice, they all had great suggestions, but it was Suzanna’s quintessential Austin souvenir idea (see below) that told me she was our Local Knowledge girl.
Q. So, what do you most love about your work?
A. Aside from simply loving singing, performing, writing and playing guitar, I love meeting new people in new places. Playing music and touring allows you to get out of your every-day world and scene for a bit which is so good. I like the unknown factor about my job too – every day is so different and I may be in a million different places. I know that would drive some people crazy, but it matches my personality. I love bouncing around!
Q. Why should people come to Austin?
A. Because it’s such a young, fresh, vibrant city with so much to offer anyone — we are basically a big playground for kids and adults with swimming holes, lakes and rivers, hike and bike trails, but also great restaurants, unique shopping, fun museums, and an incredible live music scene…there is never a boring night in this town. You could come here Monday to Wednesday (typically off nights in any other town) and not run out of things to do.
Q. 3 words to describe Austin?
A. Green, musical, young.
Q. 3 ways to describe the people of Austin?
A. Funky, laid-back, creative.
Q. Top recommendations for visitors?
A. Barton Springs Pool because where else do you find a natural, spring-fed, gigantic swimming hole surrounded by oak trees in a city?
South Congress Avenue because you can shop in a number of funky, local boutiques, get a good cup of jo, eat at either a top-notch restaurant or a food trailer, and take in some great live music at the always-hoppin’ Continental Club. (Plus the touristy, yet pretty cool, South Congress bridge hosts North America’s largest urban bat colony that is amazing to see at dusk when they all come out to feast on bugs).
East Austin because it’s kind of the newest (yet oldest) ‘bloom’ of Austin, with lots of new, yet old-fashioned, vintage bars (eg. The Good Knight, East Side Show Room), authentic Tex-Mex cafes, underground book stores, lots of art galleries and work spaces (mainly because of the old warehouses in this area), as well as green spaces and parks to explore. This part of town has a really vibrant energy right now.
Q. Best souvenir from Austin?
A. A Hi, how are you?’ t-shirt from Waterloo Records! These are very ‘Austin’, based on a mural made by artist and musician Daniel Johnston in the 1980s on the Drag (Guadalupe Street). It’s just a funky sketch of a frog with the words ‘Hi how are you?’ on it, but kind of an iconic image of Austin pop culture. A more expensive souvenir would be a great pair of boots from Allens or Heritage.
Q. Must-do eating experiences?
A. Breakfast tacos: an Austin tradition found just about everywhere, but my faves are from Nueva Onda, Tamale House, and Taco Deli. (Or if you just want a snack, chips and salsa are my fave!).
Food trailers: take your pick, but Austin is flourishing with them and a lot of them are pretty good, including everything from BBQ (Franklin is my fave) to Vietnamese sandwiches (Miso Hungry), Korean-Mexican fusion (Chi’Lantro, which is yum!), natural popsicles (Goodpop) and shaved ice (Hola Aloha).
Polvos: this is just a great Tex-Mex spot to get a good margarita and they have a self-serve salsa bar which I love, plus the most amazing fish fajitas you’ll ever have! It’s a local, festive hang that’s been around for a while and I never get tired of it.
Q. An essential thing to know before coming to Austin?
A. It’s hot as hell in the summer, but AC blasts everywhere, so pack a light sweater or jacket just for the AC! Also, East 6th Street is kind of a crazy college scene…it’s not really where the hip locals go for a fun night of music, but you’ll probably be told by the taxi drivers to go there. To each their own, but if you’re looking for a more authentic Austin experience, head to South Congress or Red River.
Q. Most important phrase to learn.
A. “Y’all” is probably the most common term in the local lingo. It’s just a nice way of including everyone as in “hey y’all”, etc. I like it because it isn’t gender-biased like the northern “you guys”.
Q. Any other advice?
A. Pack a swimsuit! It’s part of the Austin culture — a nice dip in a pool (or hot tub), anytime of the year! We are definitely a water-loving town.