Byline: By KEVIN LYNCH
TEXAS once strived to be separate from the rest of America, and that old Lone Star attitude still exists in its state capital, Austin.
Laid-back and liberal leaning, it marks a real contrast to the rest of the 28th state.
You wonder what George W Bush made of it all during his time at the Governor's Mansion on Colorado Street, prior to his big move to the White House.
The spirit of the city is best summed up by the "Keep Austin Weird" stickers you see everywhere on car bumpers and shop windows.
But while it may pride itself on its eccentricity, it's the city's music scene that really gives Austinites something to shout about.
From the original outlaw country star Willie Nelson to blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, through to newer acts such as Beyonce, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Norah Jones, the list of acts that have used the city as a springboard to greater recognition is long and impressive.
Thousands flock to Zilker Park in September for The Austin City Limits Festival - a three-day event which often has a line-up to rival Glastonbury. And the mid-March South By SouthWest music industry love-in is a great showcase for rising new talent from around the world.
The heart of Austin's music scene can be found on 6th Street, between South Congress Avenue and IH-35, where you'll discover an abundance of live venues to suit most tastes.
Eager to put Austin's self-proclaimed status as "Live Music Capital Of The World" to the test, on our first night we visited the Continental Club, a 50s-style roadhouse bar famed for its intimate gigs.
The main turn was Dale Watson, a tattooed country rocker whose no-nonsense honky-tonk soon had the small, friendly crowd - a mix of Stetson-sporting cowboys and Texas University students - swinging.
Gritty yet welcoming, it was an ideal introduction on how to get down and dirty, Austin-style.
After one too many jars of ice-cold Shiner Bock beer had rendered our legs incapable of any further hoedown action, we headed outside, admired the classic cars parked outside, then slumped into a cab that whisked us back to our hotel.
Undeterred by the inevitable hangover, the next night we made for another celebrated 6th Street venue boasting good beer and great music - The Saxon Pub.
It often hosts gigs by unexpected special guests. Our visit was one such night, with Welsh chanteuse Judith Owen accompanied on bass by her husband Harry Shearer - Derek Smalls in rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap and voice of Mr Burns and Ned Flanders in The Simpsons.
In search of Dale Watson CDs to soundtrack our trip, the next day we popped into Waterloo Records, a massive independent store that would have any self-respecting music fan salivating.
Located at Sixth and Lamar, Waterloo has held in-store gigs from the likes of Nirvana and Patti Smith. It's the type of shop where you'll pop in for one CD and end up going home with a shelf full.
Probably its best endorsement is that when Sheryl Crow, Sonic Youth and Moby are in town, you'll find them stocking up on new sounds here before playing their show.
According to our guide, no visit to Austin is complete without a trip to Threadgills Restaurant on West Riverside Drive. …