Halloween on 6th Street in Austin: the sounds and lights


If New Orleans’ Bourbon Street has a little sister, it is, at least sometimes, 6th Street in Austin. Both streets are main attractions, teeming with boisterous activity. Both streets are usually embraced by tourists and, perhaps just as usually, eschewed by locals. And both streets are worth walking, no matter who you are or where you are from, on certain days of the year, namely, costumed days. Austinites can’t shine a light to New Orleans on Mardi Gras, but Halloween? Just maybe. From what I have seen, the people in the batty city of Austin take Halloween seriously. After receiving an underwhelming reaction to my Westboro Baptist Church Member (I do not condone their actions, I find their actions frightening and despicable, and thereby suitable for Halloween) Halloween costume last year on Austin’s 6th Street, I decided to give the 6th Street walk a go again last night–I was a dead Olympic swimmer this time.

One of the immediate connections I made to Bourbon Street when I first walked the obligatory walk down Austin’s 6th Street last Halloween was that both streets are party streets. Bars and clubs line each of these streets, nearly all of these bars and clubs exist with their doors open, with their internal music becoming externally audible. The rhythms and melodies escaping from these doors come together in the air over 6th Street, forming the sonic equivalent of a strobe light. And the beams from actual strobe lights fly freely from the windows and doors, creating an army of strobe lights–an army that conjures up images of a Potter vs. Voldemort wand dueling in my mind.

%Gallery-138100%But the sounds on 6th Street aren’t limited to the continual onslaught of music, nor are the lights on 6th Street limited to the bouncing beams of strobe light. If you can transport yourself enough to imagine the sounds of 6th Street on Halloween night, here they are for the imagining:

  • The music, yes, the music, we discussed this already. Thumping beats, the kind you feel in your chest as they plummet out of their respective speakers. Hanging hooks, the kind you can’t kick out of your mind’s jukebox, no matter how hard you try. The mixing of several of these, resulting in a collective off-beat, inharmonious soundtrack for your night. For Halloween, the addition of ‘spooky’ music comes rolling into play. Filtered vocal tracks cushioned with the sounds of rushing wind, children screaming, and maniacal laughter.
  • The chatter. There are people holding sober conversations, and, on average, these conversations are muted by the drunken conversations, which oftentimes involve a steadfast sense of conviction in the speaker’s tone. There are cops giving stern warnings, as well as directions. There are bouncers and club managers shouting the nightly special out to each passerby, “100 shots for ONE DOLLAR! Ladies drink free!”. For Halloween, the chatter evolves. It’s not just personal anymore; much of the chatter is in character. A J.K. Rowling Dementor is flapping his gigantic, black wings. A flock of sheep ‘baaa’ as they nose through the crowd. The Founding Fathers speak with accents that match their pristine-looking white wigs. The dog trapped in the skeleton costume whines more than he might on a costume-free evening. A saxophonist plays as he walks slowly through the crowd.
  • The vehicles. Much of 6th Street is closed for Halloween (and other big events, like SXSW) to motor vehicles. But you hear them anyway, coming from barricades’ boundaries. The honking, squealing of breaks, blasting of Slayer. Inside the quarantined area designated for stumbling zombies and the like, pedicabs are limitless and racing through the crowd. Many of the pedicabs employ their own sound systems and on a night like Halloween night, that means mostly one thing: more blasting, scary music. Bicyclists’ tires swoosh through puddles of spilled beer (during this kind of Texas drought, you can count on the street puddles being from just about anything other than rain). A helicopter circles overhead, its lights drawing chins toward the horizon and eyes toward the Austin sky, which looks as though it’s been tie-dyed with navy and rust orange.

Keep your mind fixed on this recreation of 6th street and focus on the kinds of lights to be seen on a night like Halloween in a town like Austin.

  • The strobe lights, we know about them. They are dancing incongruously, bolting from paved street to brick wall to starry sky to dusty window glass and bouncing off the glass to begin the chaotic circle of light again.
  • The club lights aren’t all strobe lights, though. One club is black-light-lit, another is dressed up in red lights. Bands or DJs are playing on every stage on a night like Halloween night, and just about every bar or club on 6th Street has a stage. In fact, I can’t think of any that don’t. Each performer has their own approach to lighting–a film playing on a screen behind the band, a rainbow colored expanse of lights illuminating the DJ.
  • The bicyclists and pedicabs fly by with their red and white lights blinking out of sync as they pedal.
  • The cops have flashlights, and sometimes they are on. But on a night like Halloween, it’s tough to tell the Halloween Cops from the Everyday Cops. But even the non-official flashlights emanate an apparent, even if fleeting, white light.
  • Food trucks are scattered throughout the street and their tiny work areas are thankfully alight; their signs are blinking.
  • The Halloween costuming on 6th Street represents an Austin attraction in and of itself. A man stands stationary in the middle of the street while juggling glow sticks; plenty of other people are simply wearing glow sticks. A robot’s lights twinkle throughout, no doubt indicating computation. An aviation duo appears. The man is dressed as an air traffic control tower and the woman is dressed as a flight attendant adorned with bright runway lights. I quickly scan the immediate crowd, but I see no plane.

These are sounds to be heard, these are lights to be seen. Austin’s 6th Street might very well be Bourbon Street’s little sister sometimes, but sometimes it is something else entirely, not even of the same blood. There’s a fine line between the Spooky City and the Weird City, but the distinction can be made, especially on a night like Halloween.

A Walking Tour of Austin, Texas