DAY ONE: Wednesday, March 16th
So this was my second year volunteering for the Special Venues Crew at SXSW. Now that I was somewhat of a veteran of the process, I was hoping for a smooth beginning. Yeah, that didn’t happen. lol In fact, my first day at SXSW almost didn’t happen. As I had the year before, I drove down hours before my volunteer shift, which began at 6:00 pm, in the hopes of catching some music at the Convention Center’s Day Stage. The biggest change I saw immediately was the amount of traffic and the number of cars that were in the city. I could NOT find parking ANYWHERE!! I drove around for almost two hours and was about to give up & leave before I finally got lucky. I was so frustrated that I was near tears. So much for being a veteran of the process. I was still a freakin’ rookie. *sigh* Anyway, since I had left fairly early from my house, I was still able to catch a couple acts at the Day Stage before I had to get to work. The first artist was Jessica Lea Mayfield. What a tough chick. Don’t let the pretty blonde appearance fool you. This girl is straight-up country badass. Her songs and her attitude definitely have an edge. See for yourself in this video I found of her on YouTube:
I enjoyed her set a lot. A very different artist, Brett Dennen, came on right after her. I had never heard of him and when he came on stage I thought to myself, “who is this weirdo?” He is not your typical artist by any stretch. He’s got a singular voice and a unique approach to music. But, man, he was having so much fun on stage; It was impossible not to get caught up in it. I respected and appreciated that about him. I can honestly say he won me over. Check out one of his songs that he performed that day:
I actually saw him out and about on another day during the conference. This guy actually had an entourage…hilarious!! After he performed, it was time for me to take off for my volunteer shift. Usually the first night of SXSW is fairly slow and tonight was no exception. And luckily for me, my shift ended a little early. One of my fellow volunteers (a friend from school) was in the same group with me, so she & I went in to catch a little of Duran Duran’s set at Stubb’s. We walked in on “Wild Boys”, which was great:
I was happily surprised at how good Simon sounded. We only stayed for a few songs, but it was sure fun while it lasted. That was the only time I had ever seen Duran Duran and it definitely took me back to my childhood. Seeing them perform was a great way to end my first night at SXSW 2011.
DAY TWO: Thursday, March 17th
Today was my day off!! YES!! I was ready to make it a full day of music. And that I did!! The first place I went was the Day Stage. This band, DeVotchka was playing. In the past, I had heard them mentioned quite a bit, so I decided it was time for me to catch them live. WOW!! Talk about musicianship. This band was full of it! I lost count of the number of instruments they actually played on stage. It was intense. Come on, they had a chick playing the freakin’ sousaphone!! How freakin’ awesome is THAT???!! But the show itself was very entertaining. I enjoyed their songs, their stage banter, their whole performance. I wasn’t at all familiar with the band that followed, Chapel Club. I stayed for a couple of songs but they didn’t WOW me, so I ended up leaving. I headed over to Stubb’s. My friend had referred me to Ben Sollee because his brother plays drums for him. Ben plays cello and with my friend’s brother, they make a band. I was curious to hear what could come from this bare-bones combination. And let me tell you, I was quite impressed. The music was really lovely and there was such a strength to the songs that you wouldn’t imagine, coming from just two instruments. I appreciated the rec. I stayed for the next band, North Mississippi Allstars, because I had seen their name in many festival line-ups, but knew nothing about them or their music. They’re a 3-piece Southern Rock/Blues band from, where else?, Mississippi. And what a fun band they were!! They JAMMED out on their songs. And let me tell you, their drummer NEVER stopped smiling from “go”. He was a joy to watch. I found myself laughing during the show just because he was having so much fun! It was great! I had a great time! And G. Love from G.Love & Special Sauce was also there for their set and hopped up on stage and performed one song with them. What a nice surprise! After this show, I took a meal break. I got some food & just chilled out for a while. My next stop was The Parish to catch DATAROCK. I knew the name, but not their music. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. And what I got was a party!! I have to say they were the most fun band of the day!!!! They came out on stage in their red sweatpants, full of energy, and just won over the crowd (including me). I was right in front of the stage so I had the perfect vantage point to observe their effect on everybody. Everyone was going insane! I loved it!! They definitely had me going!! It was hard to top off such a performance. And really, the last act I saw, Ximena Sariñana, sort of deflated me. She was still setting up at the beginning of her set time. And it seemed to take forever for her to finish. Then once she finally did get started, it was mostly slower songs. I don’t want to completely knock her because she was pretty good. I mostly liked her songs, but she just couldn’t compare with the energy level that I had just left at DATAROCK!! I should mention that in between these two acts, I had tried very hard to meet up with a Chicago acquaintance that was having a separate promotional party on 6th Street, but we kept missing each other. Oh well. I tried. I left after this because I was seriously exhausted after a very long day of music and walking around. I was unhappy to see the amount of traffic as I got on the expressway, but luckily after a couple of miles it thinned out. It looked like there may have been a small accident which of course caused an annoying gaper’s block. Overall it was a fantastic day of music & fun!!
DAY THREE: Friday, March 18th
After a full day of music on Thursday, all I wanted to do was sleep in. But since I hadn’t been able to get into the Fitz & The Tantrums show on Thursday night (it was completely full), I forced myself to get up so I could catch them on the Day Stage. I kinda knew there would be a lot of people there to see them since they had garnered so much buzz in the months leading up to SXSW. I wasn’t really familiar with much of their music & what I had heard didn’t really blow me away. But their live show definitely DID blow me away. I could not get over how much energy they had. The female vocalist never stopped moving. She kept apologizing for not being as lively as she normally is, since it was a day show. But, MY GOD, if she wasn’t at 100% at this show I’d be scared to see how much of a maniac she’d be at full speed!! I was mighty impressed by the whole band. They truly lived up to the buzz and then some. By the end of the show, they had the audience on their feet and totally engaged. For a day show…man, for an any-time-of-day show, this was impressive!! I was completely converted into a fan after that performance. After they were done, I ran over to Emo’s outside stage where Friendly Fires was going to be doing a free show. Because it was free, there was a pretty long line to get in. But I was determined & waited patiently to be let inside. It was so hot and uncomfortable. But this is such a fun band with some great songs, so I stayed put. They started late so I was only able to catch the first few songs. I had so much fun with what I did get to see and just hated to leave, but I had to start my volunteer shift. So that was how I capped off my music for the day.
DAY FOUR: Saturday, March 19th
Since I didn’t get to sleep in the day before, I decided that I would today. I needed to catch up a little on some rest. So I didn’t make it down early enough to check out any music before I started my volunteer shift. I went right to work!! I ended up at Emo’s. At first I was monitoring the line for Emo’s outside, but apparently the place to be that night was Emo’s Jr. Omar Rodriguez was slated to headline that venue, so there was already a line of people down the block wanting to get in to see him. There was also another Mexican female artist (I wish I could remember her name) that was a very popular draw & attracted many fans. At first, I had a pretty easy time of keeping people in line & calm, but as the set time for Omar approached, more and more people lined up & they became restless, especially when they found out that all his band mates from The Mars Volta would be performing with him. In fact, it pretty much became chaos. People were pushing and shoving and trying to knock the fence over. I actually got scared and ran inside the tent for protection. I didn’t want anyone tackling me. Eventually, I asked if I could leave because I was over the crowd. Since there was no more that I could do to help, I just went home. I didn’t really see much of Omar’s set, but I was ok with that. I preferred to get home and away from the crazy SXSW crowds. I was done for this year. But I was definitely looking forward to the next year.