Over the last couple of decades, SXSW has established itself not only as the premier music and entertainment conference in the world, but also as simply one of the best ten-day parties imaginable. Free food, free drinks, free music, celebrity appearances, and creative party people from around the world fill downtown Austin’s vibrant streets each March, providing a unique cultural menagerie perfect for networking, promoting, or simply having a great time.
This year was no exception. With major celebrity appearances by superstars like Prince and Justin Timberlake, it is clear that SXSW has outgrown its humble “underground” origins. No matter where you fall in the musical spectrum of life, so to speak, there is always something to be gained and certainly an interesting time to be had in Austin’s week-and-a-half-long celebration of music and multimedia.
For me, that celebration began on the Thursday prior to the festival. After stopping by the Cactus Café for the iconic folk club’s yearly tribute to Townes Van Zandt, I headed to the Mohawk to catch my friend Seth Sherman and his band play a set of catchy, eclectic indie rock. Seth’s a good guy and a great musician. I heard he had a pretty busy SXSW. Hopefully he’ll get some more exposure in the years to come.
Friday, we decided to stay away from downtown, instead visiting with some friends from out-of-town at South Congress’ Crowbar. Saturday, however, was a different story. In addition to being a UT student and a Music Design Intern here at Mood, I also have a career as a fledgling singer/songwriter (you can find my site here). I played a solo acoustic set at the Driskill Hotel. The place was packed and the show was a lot of fun. After my set my friends and I stuck around and watched Delbert McClinton’s son Clay and his band play a few songs, then we hit the streets.
As to be expected, Sixth Street was jam-packed with live music and party-goers. We hit a few bars and saw a handful of bands, all of which were pretty good. One thing I wish bands did more during SXSW – in that circumstance it’s critical to say your band name between almost every song. Most bands don’t like doing this, but it’s one of the only ways anybody’s going to know who you are in that context.
On Sunday we rested up a bit. Then Monday night it was back on the trail. My girlfriend hooked up VIP access to SAY Media’s epic three-story party at Speakeasy on Congress. There were bands playing at the ground-floor bar and bands playing on the rooftop, and all three levels were packed with out-of-towners and people attending the conference. One band that particularly made an impression was the LA-based Allah-Las. They have a very washed-out ‘60s vibe and their set went along perfectly with the luminous view of Austin’s skyline surrounding the Speakeasy rooftop.
On Tuesday afternoon I attended Mood Media’s official SXSW party at Clive Bar. Free Lone Star and music by Body Language, Blondfire, AVAN LAVA, and Tomorrow We Move to Hawaii…what’s not to like? It was fun seeing everyone in an outside-the-office setting as well. Afterwards I headed down Rainey Street to catch the Austin band Slowtrain along with T-Bird and the Breaks, the Eastern Sea, and Frank Smith at the Frog Music Licensing showcase. Great first day of SXSW music.
On Wednesday, I stopped by the Texas Music Office’s party at Saengerrunde Hall (I interned at the TMO before I got the gig at Mood). Junior Brown played a set of “guit-steel”-driven Texas rockabilly to a crowd of a few hundred politicos. Afterwards I headed towards downtown, stopping by an off-South By house party to see my friend’s band play the tail end of their set. Then we headed over to the east side and caught a few bands before calling it a night.
On Thursday I played a set at a day party in South Austin next to Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse. I opened the show at 1pm, so it was kind of a small crowd, but there was free beer and free pizza and everybody had a really good time. I ended up staying there for a few hours, catching a few bands from LA and Fort Worth (one of which I really liked was a drums-bass-vocals hard rock trio called Panic Volcanic) as well as local acts like Asteroid Shop.
On Friday I headed downtown early, meeting some friends at the Jackalope before wandering through the crowds on Sixth Street and Red River. We headed up to the Mohawk, but there was a line stretching half the length of Red River and none of us had badges, so we decided to head to the free concert at Auditorium Shores to get a good spot.
I was really excited for this show. Two of my favorite new releases have been Divine Fits’ A Thing Called Divine Fits and Jim James’ Regions of Light and Sound of God. These two bands were kicking the show off, with the Flaming Lips closing out the night. We caught the last couple of songs from the Divine Fits show, then saw Jim James play a great set. The Flaming Lips, however, were a pretty big disappointment, unfortunately. Playing to a large crowd that had waited all day to hear their music, they decided to open with all new material. Not only was the new stuff unfamiliar, it just simply wasn’t that good. It was the first large concert I’ve ever been to where after a while almost the entire audience stopped clapping in between songs. They tried to salvage the end of the show by playing familiar songs such as “Yoshimi” and “Do You Realize,” but by then they had already lost us. Fortunately there was plenty of music still to be heard. After some late night tacos, we headed back across Lady Bird Lake to catch some bands on the east side.
Saturday picked up right where the previous night left off. After meeting some friends at Parkside for lunch, we headed over to Rainey Street and stood in line to get into the Dickies party at Lustre Pearl. It was well worth the wait—Talib Kweli and his band were performing to a packed crowd on the outside stage. I really love it when great MC’s such as Kweli perform with a live band. These guys played a great show, which included musical interludes that paid homage to artists as diverse as A Tribe Called Quest and The Beatles. The crowd loved it and everyone was happy. It was one of the better shows I saw this SXSW.
Afterwards, we headed over to Craft Pride for a few pints. They had a nice beer garden and several million beers on tap, but no live music, so after a while we headed back down Rainey Street. By this time the sun had already started to set. We ended up stopping at Bar 96 and seeing another outstanding act. Andy Allo is best known as being a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriting collaborator in Prince’s band, but her own solo stuff is electrifying. The 24-year-old Cameroonian musician had the crowd in her palm of her hand—literally the entire crowd was shaking along with the groove of the band. It may have been the pints from Craft Pride, but I could have sworn I saw Austin Chronicle and SXSW founder Louis Black in the crowd. That’s about as high praise as you can get.
All in all it was a great week of music, and a great reminder of what makes this city such an awesome place to call home.
– Submitted by Ricky Stein, Music Design