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Ben Ballinger
(Dave Creaney)

Ben Ballinger's first drive-in concert sold out in hours, so he plans to make it a weekly event.

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Ben Ballinger can't remember the last time he went more than two months without playing music in front of an audience.


But with venues throughout Austin closed since mid-March as part of precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the singer-songwriter said he hasn't set foot on stage since late February, when he performed at a local fundraiser for one-time presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

That hiatus came to an end May 7, however, thanks to some ingenuity—and Ballinger's instinct that Austin music fans are hungry for a chance to experience live music again.

Along with fellow songwriter David Ramirez and the duo of Kevin Curtin and Gary Lindsey, Ballinger booked a drive-in style concert in an undisclosed field in south Austin that accommodates 25 vehicles.

Once at the location, which was distributed only to ticket holders, passengers stayed inside the vehicles and listened to the live performances on the car radio via a low-power FM transmitter. Since all 25 slots, at $20 each, sold out in less than two hours, Ballinger said he's encouraged that local fans are ready to support live music again even if they have to do so in an unusual setting.

"My stir-craziness, if I have any, is not why I wanted to do this. But I did sense an overall stir-craziness in the community and that definitely played into it," he said. "I tried to do as much market research as I could because I didn't know how it would be received and everyone has different levels of precautions. As soon as they heard what I was thinking, everyone thought it was a great idea."

The do-it-yourself gusto that inspired Ballinger to organize the concert roughly two weeks after first conceiving of the idea means attendees had a far different experience than they've grown accustomed to while attending shows in any of Austin's dozens of bars and live music venues.

Performers used a cargo rack atop Ballinger's Chevrolet Suburban as their stage, with no alcohol on sale. Concert flyers acknowledged the lack of public restrooms on-site, which Ballinger said played a part in the decision to keep the concert short, at 90 minutes total, as a way to minimize discomfort.

Tickets for tomorrow are sold out, but Ballinger plans to make this a weekly event.

The quick sellout has Ballinger planning to host performances weekly and he's encouraging interested acts to contact him via email (see flyer) to take part in what he said is likely to be one of the most nontraditional concert settings he or anyone else involved have ever been a part of.

"There's definitely a heartbreaking aspect to it—that in any other situation I'd be uncomfortable with the awkward distance we're going to have between us. But given the circumstances it's the best we can do right now," he said. "It's going to be unique. Part of why I felt emboldened to try it was because if anywhere was going to have something like this, this is the place where it could happen and the people here would support it and be open to it."

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‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

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We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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