I have so many thoughts about SX. They kind of all jump around in my head in a totally distracted sort of way. Exactly the way that you feel when you’re in the midst of it. Now, this was my first year down there so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are plenty of people willing to tell you what SXSW is like. I guess I’m one of those people now. It’s long lines, hot sun, coffee, Lonestar (sometimes Troy & Sons Moonshine Whiskey, if you’re lucky), food carts, sleep deprivation, and all the other things you’ve probably already heard about it.
I got the opportunity to head down to Austin with the Daytrotter guys following my internship at their Rock Island home base last summer. So this meant I got to hang at Good Danny’s Studio (Daytrotter’s Austin studio) for the week. I had been thinking about SXSW off and on for a few months prior and it finally all materialized into one long, weird week.
After arriving in Austin, I eventually got downtown and wandered aimlessly onto 6th Street. I ended up at Stubb’s for a free The Lone Bellow/ Dawes show on the outdoor stage. Not a bad start. I caught the end of The Lone Bellow’s set and I knew we were going to have an awesome session with them later in the week. Dawes. Great to see those guys again. They played a great set (as usual); a mix of their older material and a few choice songs off of their new EP “Stories Don’t End”. This is a great place to note: if you can get to SXSW a few days before the “official” SXSW showcases begin, do it. A lot of bands are already there, and they play a whole slew of free shows, no badges or RSVP’s required.
Monday afternoon, after a morning of wandering about South Congress Street vintage stores, I hustled over to Hotel Vegas to catch my friends PHOX set. I arrived to the small venue where they had already begun. Now, I’m totally biased, but as soon as I walked in I knew those crazy kids were going to have an insane week. I stood on the side with a Lonestar, and a ridiculous smile on my face watching the crowd hang on lead vocalist Monica Martin’s every word. Everyone packed in that tiny room was completely smitten (PHOX seems to have that effect on the majority). It was only my first full day in Austin, but watching them play this show remains one of the highlights of the week for me. Although she may not be happy that I’m telling you this, Monica even had a tearful moment during “Espeon”, a track off their newest EP, Confetti. If that doesn’t convince you of the humbleness and emotion of this band, I don’t know what will. If they hadn’t already won over the entire crowd by then, Matt Holmen surely put it over the edge during their last song with his blaring trumpet solo at the end of “Noble Heart”. It was quite a moment.
Monday didn’t end there. Phil (Daytrotter) and I headed over to the GSD&M Presents: The Industry Party to catch Reggie Watts/ Delta Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I spent the entire summer of 2010 listening to Delta Spirit’s 2nd album History from Below. It still remains one of my favorites. I had been trying to see them live since then, so this was another highlight of the week for me, and rightly so. With an amount of vigor that surely is only available at the very start of SXSW, Delta Spirit took the stage in a loud frenzy. They played a mix of their old and new hits, including “White Table”, “Tear It Up” and “California”. I’m fairly certain this show took away at least another 5% of my hearing, but it was well worth it. Here’s another bit of advice- bring earplugs. You will thank yourself later.
I started the morning off at the studio hanging around for The Lone Bellow’s debut Daytrotter session. As I had suspected, it was stunning. They’ve doubled their size from three to six, and with that comes a bigger sound that fits them well. Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Doheney Pipkin’s vocals still push to the front in with their merging harmonies. 2013 is sure to be busy year for these folks.
I then headed over to Club Deville to catch Nashville up-and-comers Wild Cub. After the release of their EP “Youth” in August of last year, they’ve been taking everything they do by storm. They are certainly a force of nature. The album, although fantastic, doesn’t do their live show justice. Maybe it’s Keegan Dewitt’s dance moves paired with the pulsating energy of the entire band, but you will surely not forget about what a hell of a show these boys put on.
The legendary Billy Bragg joined us at Good Danny’s on Wednesday morning. Really, what to say? It’s a nothing short of amazing to be in the presence of such a great talent, and getting to see him perform in such an intimate setting. It’s one for the [Daytrotter] books, for sure.
Ah. The beginning of a very long weekend. It was a hell of a morning at Good Danny’s one great session after the next. Starting off right with Frank Turner, followed up a by a young and very talented Jake Bugg, and moving into the afternoon with the immensely brilliant Big Harp.
Thursday night consisted of popping into the Driskill to catch the incredible Canadian talent Jesse Marchant, better known as JBM. It was refreshing change of pace to the craziness outside on 6th. The room was full, but not overly packed. It was attentive crowd, which isn’t really surprising given the captivating way of Marchant’s sound. After the calm, it was back out into the storm…heading to the Mohawk to catch Local Natives. The Mohawk’s outdoor venue was packed to the very brim, but it was well worth the pushing and shoving. Local Natives had the whole crowd dancing and shouting back their lyrics to “Wide Eyes” and “World News”. The reaction to newer tracks such as “Breakers” and “Heavy Feet” off of their sophomore album Hummingbird (released in January of this year), was promising. By the end of Local Natives current US tour, I’m confident the fans will love those tracks just as much as the older favorites.
Friday afternoon I headed over to Holy Mountain to support some of my favorite Wisconsin/Midwest musicians. Majestic Madison and First Avenue (Minneapolis) hosted their first showcase at SXSW this year, and they sure did curate a great lineup. I was able to catch Madison darlings Count This Penny, Solid Gold from Minneapolis, PHOX (once again), and Field Report from Milwaukee. Although this was one of the smaller showcases I attended during the week, it was a great thing to be able to support local musicians/ friends in the context of such a large festival.
We also had whole new round of amazing sessions at Good Danny’s on Friday including Josh Ritter, PAPA and Chris Carraba’s new project Twin Falls, but I must say it was a pretty good way to end the day at the studio when we had The Zombies in. Yes, those Zombies. Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent recorded their session to a stunned crowd of friends and Daytrotter alums who dropped in just to catch this moment. Playing their hits “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season” they had us all floored. Yes, we’ve all heard these songs over and over, but let me tell you, when it’s happening right in front of you it’s a whole other story. There aren’t many words to describe it, so all I can say is that you’re going to have to have watch very closely for that Daytrotter session and then you will understand what I mean.
Following this was a late night show that Sean Moeller (Mr.Daytrotter) had mentioned at least a few months before SXSW. It was something along the lines of, “If there’s anyone you need to see at SX, it’s Mike and the Moonpies. You could just see them every night, and it would be worth it.”
Once again, he was right. True Texas honky-tonk. We headed to the White Horse at about 1am, and took spots close to the stage, which almost immediately proved to be right in the middle of where everyone wanted to two-step. It’s clear that these boys are an Austin favorite. This crowd knows the Moonpies, and if you’re smart you will make a point to get familiar. Oh, and a word of warning: if you order tequila at the White Horse they will give you an entire tumbler full. Don’t expect any measly shots there. Alternatively, if you’re a whiskey person, don’t worry, the bartender will come around once during the show and pour a shot in your mouth directly out of the bottle.
Saturday’s highlight, though not necessarily music related might be amusing for me to tell. Remember those Wild Cub guys I mentioned? Yeah, they’re fun. On the way to meet them at a Yellow Jacket Social Club, we thought it might be a great idea to bring a piñata with us. Why not? It is SX after all. We celebrated the end of their 8 show SXSW run by demolishing a piñata in the middle of the bar. Believe me; I’m surprised they let us. It was without doubt an appropriate way to finish off a long strange week.