From Thursday, March 18 to Sunday, March 21, I was in Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Music Festival.
I’m writing this now from the Austin airport, hoping to retain everything I learned from my experiences this weekend, and most importantly, to not lose the hope and inspiration I gained from the hundreds of artists, fans, and music industry professionals I met while here.
Austin, Texas is an amazing, diverse city. I had never been here before and I found myself enamored with the city’s unique life and culture that it so vehemently exudes. I fell in love with certain streets, certain venues, certain foods…I so often felt completely overwhelmed with emotion for music and the people around me, simply because we were all experiencing the same thing together. This, I believe, is what music is truly about.
The South by Southwest Music Festival showcases hundreds of bands in 89 “official” venues throughout Austin’s downtown area (there are unofficial venues and shows as well). The festival is one of the biggest of its kind, drawing thousands of people to the southern city from all over the world.
I came to cover the festival as a music journalist, hoping to experience something unique. The last few days have exceeded any expectations I had prior to coming.
Thursday afternoon I arrived in Austin and was picked up by my brother’s friend. We dropped my stuff off at his house on West 49th Street and took a taxi south, toward the center of downtown. I picked up my press badge from the convention center where I met a guy from the Canadian North by Northeast festival. Together, we went to the Paradise restaurant on 6th street and had some free food at a Montreal music showcase. I then went to Emo’s on Red River Street for the So Many Dynamos show with my friend from MIT who was also in Austin for the festival. So Many Dynamos’ performance was energized and awesome…the guys always perform so well live, and it was really nice to see them again (I had seen them a couple times in Boston).
I then trekked over to the Palm Door, owned by the folks at Austin’s Beauty Bar, for The Rolling Stone Showcase, featuring Low Anthem. Low Anthem’s set was engaging and a lot more subdued—a pleasantry after being surrounded by the hundreds of intoxicated music lovers on the street. The Low Anthem guys were gracious and I spoke with them a little after the show about their experience at SX.
Afterwards, I was hoping to catch Wye Oak, but got sidetracked talking to some booking agents, and instead headed to the Sub Pop showcase at the Galaxy on the 6th Street. I saw The Dutchess and the Duke, and then Dum Dum Girls, before running off to Club De Ville for Man…or Astroman? (if you like indie music, and you don’t know these guys, you should look them up). Man or Astroman? became big in the ’90s and then broke up in 2002. They had just gotten back together a couple weeks before the festival…in short, the band’s uninhibited and spontaneous on-stage performance was a mix of outer-space hysteria and surf-guitar, fast-paced dance music. It was great.
I then went back to Emo’s to meet my friend and watch the Maps and Atlases set. I’d never seen Barsuk’s M&A live and the band was solid. The lead vocals added to their catchy guitar riffing; the 18+ crowd (some kids had X’s on their hands) were so into the performance, and they really brought a fun mood to the set.
My friend and I then spent the rest of the night eating pizza and searching for an available cab—something of an impossibility at SX. While searching, I ran into music industry people I hadn’t seen for a long time, from different parts of the United States. Such a thing can only happen at festivals like SX. I eventually found a cab and paid the driver close to $20 to cart me back north.
The following nights were just as hectic and wonderful as the first. I saw a variety of musicians every night including, Man Man, Frightened Rabbit, Dr. Dog, Andrew W.K., No Age, Billy Bragg, Memory Tapes, Jeremy Messersmith, and Daedelus. My favorite show went to either Dr. Dog or Daedelus and my least favorite show went to the band Yacht.
Go to page two to check out some photo highlights from the festival…