Bright Lights, Little City: Andrew Hilbert


by Andrew Hilbert

I'm a California boy. Sorry folks, there’s not much I can do about that. It's just where I happened to fall out. Before I moved to Texas, I thought it was nothing but desert and cow shit and I didn't think I'd be here too long. The first I'd ever even heard of Austin was via Live at Stubb's, Matisyahu's live album that made him a star for about five minutes. I moved to San Antonio first and was immediately taken aback by all the trees. It was nothing like every movie I'd ever seen about Texas.

SXSW was a major destination for me. I first started calling it ES EX ES DOUBLE YOU because I had never heard it uttered via the lips of a human being before. Then I read an article on a tech blog that proudly proclaimed only outsiders call it by its full name. Locals call it southby. After 8 years of living here, I'm closer to a local than I was before because I'm now pronouncing it pain in the ass.

You see, it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day about how much Austin's changing, and that's your right, but there's a ton of great stuff here that exists nowhere else in the world. I once saw a guy get arrested for DUI while he was on a horse.

When I was in California, I was restless and bored. I graduated from college just as the market crashed, and I had resigned to being a box boy at Costco forever. I was into reggae, like every good ol' college boy, and after a particularly hard session of drinking Costco-branded-Costco-sized tequila, I stumbled upon this Matisyahu CD. I said something like, "What the fuck is this?" and popped it into the CD player. Every song sounded the same.

"This guy was huge in Austin, dude," a friend said. "They have this music festival and he blew up."

I imagined a cowboy taking his horse to the trough outside a saloon while reggae boomed out of it.

Weed isn't even legal in Texas, how could it be cool for reggae?

Before I knew it, I was in Texas. It had nothing to do with Matisyahu.

I met my wife in Austin. Our first date was spent at Home Slice and walking up and down Congress. I tried to impress her with how cultured I was. I wore a button-up shirt, I wore brown jeans, I smoked cigarettes frequently, I talked about how much I liked In-N-Out. It's a miracle a second date happened. Our second date was at the Mohawk and was followed up by a late night session of climbing trees on the capitol grounds. Austin was feeling like home. Our third date was at the Alamo Ritz for Master Pancake Theater. It wasn't just a one-horse town. There was a lot to do and you could do a ton of stuff within the distance it took to throw a rock.

small radio.JPG

I made my center of cultural experience Book People, and when I left my job in San Antonio, I moved to Austin and applied. It's where I made all my friends, where I discovered hidden corners of Austin—; it's where I learned to become myself. As a writer, I know books don't pay the bills so I got another job as a barback at Radio Coffee & Beer. I thought I was going to work two jobs the rest of my life, but it became pretty clear that Radio was going to be my new home. My best friends are at Radio, the customers and the co-workers. We're allowed to be creative while working and we've all played a role in defining Radio as a creative hub for all types of artists. I've been there since day one and I'm still there and loving it.

I didn't come here with a condo in my eye. A series of mistakes got me here. Look, I still have some California tendencies. I'm a Lakers and Dodgers fan, but I'm coming around on Whataburger. But it isn't the sports teams or the corporate fast food that make a city or a state great. It's the art. It's the people. It's Matisyahu. And that's why Austin is the greatest city in the world.  

Bio: Andrew Hilbert is the author of Invasion of the Weirdos and Death Thing. He is the co-founder of Cockroach Conservatory. He is co-host of the podcasts Books & Beer, We Shot Mr. Burns, and the Cockroach Conservatory Spacecast. Keep up with him on Twitter at @AHILBERT3000 or at