I had heard about this huge music conference for years. In fact, before I moved to Austin, one of my friends had come down with his band and played a showcase. As a music fan, this is the ultimate conference to attend. But I have to admit, because of its size it can appear quite daunting. So daunting, in fact, that the first year I could have attended (2009) I shied away. I know, stupid! But after I had volunteered for ACL 2009, I was determined to do the same for SXSW. So I researched the process and made it happen. Yeah, that’s how I operate. Because I ended up registering late, my volunteering options were quite limited. I chose to be on the Special Venues Crew because they described this crew as being the one that yells at people. Sounded perfect for me! lol Anyway, it turned out to be the ideal group for me. The Special Venues Crew is more of a roaming crew. We’re hooked up with different Team Leads and we basically roam the different areas of SXSW and help out with line control where needed. You can end up at one venue for the night or you can end up moving from spot to spot throughout the night, depending on venue needs. Since this was my first rodeo, I opted to be on a crew that took me down 6th Street. There was so much music going on that I didn’t even know how I was going to take it all in. When you volunteer for a Music Badge, you have to work at least 3 shifts and then you get one day off. The whole time the Music portion is going on, the badge you earned pretty much gets you in everywhere. I loved that! Because when I wasn’t working (during the day & my day off) I took full advantage of that badge. I pretty much came down early every day before I had to start my shift at 6:00pm. I was in heaven!!
DAY ONE: Wednesday, March 17th
I drove down early in the afternoon to catch some shows at Waterloo Records. This was the first and last time I did this. I guess I didn’t realize how far removed Waterloo was from the rest of the venues. Yikes! I thought I would die after walking what seemed like miles to get there. I made it in time to enjoy Surfer Blood’s set. I had heard a little bit about them and wanted to check them out. It was a fun set, but I’m still not convinced it was worth that walk from hell. After they played I trekked on over to the Convention Center to check out the Day Stage. Another artist I had been hearing a lot about was this Nigerian-born & raised chick that moved to Germany after finishing high school, Nneka. When I walked into the Day Stage area, I knew immediately this was going to be my joint. Most people weren’t out and about this early, so this stage seemed to be SXSW’s best kept secret. It was a huge room, but the area around the stage was quite small and intimate. It was like seeing a show at a small theater. LOVED IT!! This girl blew me away. WOW!! She led up to every song with a description of its origin and what the song meant to her. She had a very powerful point of view and an incredibly emotive voice. She blew me away. I was quite happy I had caught her performing in this environment. It was perfect for her music. After she was done playing, I had to leave to start my shift. I didn’t really get to see/hear any music while I was working, at least nothing that stuck with me. After my shift was over I met up with a friend from school who was working at a small venue. I saw the last band, Little Black Dress. They were ok. A little pretentious, but ok. They had remnants of Joy Division in their music, but definitely had their own sound. Overall my first day at SXSW was good, but the best was yet to come.
DAY TWO: Thursday, March 18th
I tried to get down here early again, but after such a full day the day before, I needed some rest. So I only got to check out a couple of bands before I started my volunteer shift. I decided to walk into Latitude 30 because they were hosting The British Music Embassy. And I do love me some British Rock!! They were featuring bands from Wales when I walked in. The band I happened to catch was called Straight Lines. They didn’t look like the typical rock musicians, but they definitely did rock it. I really liked them. I had fun listening to them do their thing on stage. And it was a great crowd which kicked the energy level up a notch. When they finished, I headed over to the Day Stage again to catch Dr. Dog. I had seen them at ACL 2009, but I knew I would enjoy them better in the more intimate setting of the Day Stage. And I was right. I loved it! They’re not real ROCKERS, but they definitely jam out on stage. The audience may have been sitting down, but I could tell that everyone around me was really into it, including me. They started the show off with a new song “I Only Wear Blue” and won the audience over right away:
I happened to run into the lead singer on this song later in the evening (when I was working) & he approached me for directions on how to get to a particular venue. He was wearing the exact same outfit so I recognized him right away. I was like, “Hey I saw you guys perform earlier. You were great!” And he was like, “Really? It was kinda weird with everyone sitting down. So we couldn’t tell if people were into it.” I reassured him that we were all really into it. He seemed happy & grateful to hear that and thanked me for that & for the directions. Gotta love SXSW. Everyone is out mingling with the masses. After my shift ended on this night, I made an attempt to see The xx at Mohawk. OMG!! That place was beyond crowded. I tried my hardest to push forward into the venue, but I could barely get myself in there. I was struggling so hard to just stand comfortably that I really couldn’t enjoy the music. After one song, I finally gave up and left. It was just too freakin’ packed. And that’s how I ended Day Two.
DAY THREE: Friday, March 19th
By the third day, I had my routine down. I drove into the city, parked, and headed over to Latitude 30 to get my British fix. The only band I got to see on this day was St Deluxe from Scotland. And to be honest, I don’t really remember much about them. I guess they didn’t really strike a chord. Or it could’ve been that I just couldn’t wait to see Jakob Dylan a little later that afternoon. I was sooo excited!! lol I did make my way over to the Day Stage at this point to catch the Court Yard Hounds. This band was made up of the Dixie Chicks sisters. It was their way of putting out music while Natalie Maines was on hiatus. They were pretty good. They put on a good set, although they kept the audience waiting way longer than was necessary. This severely shortened their set, but at least Jakob still started on time. I already had great seats for Court Yard Hounds, but I moved even closer to see Jakob. I was in like 2nd row!! I was in HEAVEN!! Even though I wasn’t familiar with this new music he was playing (from his latest album), I was just happy to finally be seeing him perform live. His two back-up singers were Neko Case & Kelly Hogan. I thought that was pretty cool. He started the show with “Nothing But The Whole Wide World” from Mother & Country:
It was a very mellow & pretty set. I sat next to a guy visiting Austin & the Conference for the first time ever from Germany. He was totally laughing at how excited I was, but he was excited too. So we were both having fun. I stayed for most of Jakob’s set, but I missed the tail end because I had to start my volunteer shift. Tonight I was determined to work at Stubb’s. The not-so-secret Muse show was happening there tonight and if I couldn’t be in there, I at least wanted to be outside to hear it! Wow! The crowd was intense. And everybody and their mother claimed they were on the guest list. It was hilarious dealing with all these people who would try to kiss up to us. As volunteers, we have NO pull, but these dorks didn’t know that. I was even offered money!! hahaha Unfortunately because there was a crowd around the venue during the entire performance, I didn’t really hear much of the show. BUT, after it was over and people were flooding out, this dude walks out & I kinda jumped and said “Hi Tom!!” He turned around with a huge smile and said, “HI!” I asked him how he liked the show & he said it was great. Yeah, it was only Tom Morello (former guitarist for Rage Against The Machine & Velvet Revolver). That made my NIGHT!! I didn’t end up making it out to see any bands after my shift because I think I worked fairly late that night. But I was happy to go home & get some rest because the next day was my day off, which meant I would have the whole day to see music. YAY!!
DAY FOUR: Saturday, March 20th
I woke up and of course, this day, my one day all to myself, the temperature had dropped. And it was actually chilly & drizzly. UGH!! Just my luck. But I didn’t let the weather put a damper on my mood. I set out to the city mid-afternoon. I made my regular trek into Latitude 30 to catch some British bands. And I’m so glad I did. I heard the tail end of one band and then all the technical difficulties started. The next band to perform, Ten Bears, had so many issues that I almost left. But I forced myself to stay because there was really no other music I wanted to see. Finally, when they had gotten all their shit together, they played. And what a set they played. They were so great!! So much fun!! They had such incredible energy. And I loved their cute Manchester accents. They started playing a song that I found myself singing along to. I couldn’t figure out why I knew the song because their version was so far from the original. And then they got to the chorus and I realized they were brilliantly covering “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic. When it finally clicked, I went NUTS!! I loved it! I thought to myself, “How do they even know this song??” It was really great. Here’s a taste of one of their originals, “Fireheart”. When they were done, I decided to hang out for the next artist. While I was waiting, I started chatting with this guy next to me who happened to be from Chicago. What a coincidence. He was in Austin with his band and he invited me to a show they were doing that night. He also gave me one of their CD’s. Nice guy. He headed out after Ten Bears, but I stayed on to listen to a little of John Smith. He was an incredibly powerful solo vocalist. He was good, but after a few songs I was ready to move on. As I was walking out, I saw one of the members of Ten Bears and I stopped to tell him how much I loved their set. He seemed genuinely delighted by my praise. I was happy. I started walking over to 6th Street to check out an early party with some artists performing for their label’s showcase. I happened to run into my German friend (from the Jakob Dylan show), which was such a funny coincidence. With all the thousands of people in Austin for this conference, what are the chances?? Well, I didn’t stay too long because I didn’t really like the band playing…not really my cup of tea. So at this point I decided to go to the convention center to check out a little of the Flatstock show. This was an incredible display of original music-related artwork & posters. I was a bit overwhelmed because there was so much to look at. It was incredible. After I was done walking around, I took a little break and ate. This wasn’t the best idea I had. The sports bar I went into was jam-packed full because of March Madness. AY AY AY!! I had to wait forever before I could even get a table. And then it took even longer just to get through ordering, eating, & paying. What a nightmare. By the time I finished, it was even colder out. BOO!! I decided to go to Habana Calle 6 because I had been planning on seeing Visqueen. Because I got there early, I caught the band before them, Parlour Steps from Vancouver. They were ok, nothing special. Visqueen came on and rocked the house. It was a very small space but there were a good amount of people there. It was a fun show. After they were done I made my way over to Stubb’s. The main band I was looking forward to seeing was Scissor Sisters. But I’d have to sit through two bands (The Drums & Circa Survive) before I would get to see them. Ho-hum. I have to admit, I did not care for either of these bands. I realize that there was quite a bit of buzz out there on both of them, but I just wasn’t impressed. In fact, they both bordered on cheesy to me. Oh well, that’s just my opinion. I did make some friends waiting. I chatted with a group of guys from England (Yes, I love those Brits), one in particular wanted to help me stay warm. He was hilarious. By the time Scissor Sisters came on, he had vanished. I guess he had moved on. lol Anyway, Scissor Sisters were super fun. The tag-teaming going on between the two vocalists was great. They put on such an entertaining show. Here’s how they started their set:
Jumping around to their set definitely got the adrenaline & the heat pumping!! I had a great time and it was a great way to end my first SXSW experience. I had a BLAST!