Austin's Sixth Street: An American Mezcla

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Throbbing Art Scene

Past Interstate 35, Sixth Street becomes another world.

Throngs of young people, many from one of the seven colleges in the city, dip in and out of the many tattoo, body piercing, and scarring shops here, looking to augment the natural. Their adventurous spirit and that of thousands of musicians looking to follow in the footsteps of legends such as Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Ray Vaughn give west Sixth Street its modern vibrancy.

"Scarification has always been a form of art and now we're bringing it back," proclaims one young acolyte, proudly baring his arm to reveal the latest trend in body art—cut-raised skin in the form of wings.

This cultural corner even has its own king.

"I'm the king," says Gerry Van King, the crown royal of Austin's rambunctious music scene. "I'm a funkster, baby."

Van King has been playing Sixth Street six nights a week, every week, for more than a decade. In this place, amid the city that is known as the Live Music Capital of the World, he's not alone. On any given evening there are about a hundred live music acts of every style imaginable.

As the monarch admits, you can't keep this city down. "Austin knows how to entertain," King said. "People come here and they have a good time, and of course they want to move to Austin."

This story was featured on the television news show National Geographic Today.

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