Did SXSW humble us? Yes…well, sort of. We felt very small and faceless coming from the quiet homogeny of Utah. We also noticed immediately the prodigious pomp and pageantry of the endless fledgling rock stars that filled the streets. How were we to feel unique in this steaming sea of stardom? Well, we didn't right away. It took days of listening to great and lousy music and sampling the entire visual palette of rock star outfits to realize that in Austin, everyone claims the eclectic crown.
All that was left was mom's lesson: 'you're special because you're you…' and that was our first acumen. If you're interested, I will take you day by day through what we experienced. Let's start by fast forwarding through the flight and hotel check in all the way to the line to get our event badges. Wednesday night we stood amongst the lambs and wolves waiting for that long long line to take us to badge booth. Once we had our very expensive very green badges, we mapped a quick line to the Hilton Ballroom where The Who's Pete Townsend was interviewed. Mr. Townsend touched on the importance of keeping art as art, the trend of music towards a digitally compressed and lackluster sound, and his idea in the '70s of starting an 'internet' with which and artist could compose a musical portrait of a subject much like a painter capturing the same subject in paint.
After Mr. Townsend's words, we left the conference center and followed the flow of event goers to the infamous 6th street. Now 6th street- if you've never seen nor heard of it- is five or six city blocks long with bar after bar after bar after bar. I tried to imagine this place empty of people and noise and what came to mind was an image just like a photographic negative where black is white and green is red but no matter how I tried, the people and noise were inextricable. We were ants among innumerable other swarming ants with no queen and no director. We wandered in and out of holes and bars, up and down streets in search of that sweet sound on some stage somewhere inside some establishment. This first night, we ventured off with no plan. We would poke in and out of places hoping to stumble into something satisfying. We found ourselves dependant on each other, not yet comfortable enough in this new atmosphere to go our own ways.
That night's music disappointed, so using our exhaustion as an excuse to head back to the hotel, we shuttled back and rested up for three days of partying.
Day two. I'm going to break the chronology a bit and start with one of the highlights of day two. Slash. That's right, the top hat, the aviator sunglasses, the cigarette and the top hat. Slash, the guitarist of Guns and Roses made a surprise appearance during the last act of the night. No matter that the sound was set up for acoustic acts, when you're watching a low key show with the likes of Badly Drawn Boy, and Carey Brothers, and Slash comes out, you stand on your tip toes and rub your eyes and say 'is that Slash?' Slash was sitting in with fellow rocker gone acoustic Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. Morello brought out an all star cast including the afore mentioned Slash, Alexi Murdoch, Primus's Les Claypool, Jane's Addiction's Perry Ferral, as well as a handful of other well known rockers. And yes, they rocked! This was the day's highlight.
The rest of the day up to this point was spent in conferences, panels, demo listenings, and various other not so glamorous aspects of being in the music business. David Byrne of the Talking Heads lectured about the future of record labels in the new school called the internet. Simon Raymon (Cocteau twin member and president of Bella Union records) heard sixty seconds of a song of ours and was quoted as saying "I'd probably listen to more…" Later that day we bumped into fellow attendee, SL City Weekly writer, and new friend Jamie Gadette. Jamie was glowing and told us of many a fantastic show that we'd missed. We swapped itineraries for the evening and split up for the evening.
I must mention, before I forget, the solid and emotionally charged performance of a great local talent that night. Joshua James stood alone on stage with his well-loved guitar and tenderly gritty voice and told us stories in song that gave us all the good kind of chills. Get Joshua's autograph soon because he will be going places. Day three. At this point the colors began to blur and writing this post facto, I may not have the clearest recollection of exactly when things happened. I do remember sitting next to an ostentatious Australian for an interview with Booker T. Jones (fascinating fellow that one) I also recall that as a group, we had each found our independence at this point. Part of this independence came when we cracked the code of bus routes allowing us to come and go as we pleased. Before, we would grimace at the thought of paying for a taxi without the buying power of the group, but a bus! a bus only costs two quarters. Freedom! and we went our separate ways. I couldn't tell you for sure what my fellow band members did this night. I recall something mentioned about St. Vincent and that she was either amazing or incredible.
For myself, I had a very strong urge to revel in the world music scene for the night. This turned out to be a wise choice. The countries represented at the Copa club covered most continents. It was good to be with people whose pretentiousness was fresh when compared to the tight-legged style of American music. I felt more at home in this room where there was no common language than I had in any other clubs thus far. Not only that, but man, when you see a Russian fusion band incorporate Tuvan throat singing in their act, you know that's something that won't happen at any other club.
Day……I forget. We are tired at this point. We stay up every night until the sky begins to lighten, and then collect ourselves and get to the hotel in anyway possible. This would be our last night in Texas so we remained passed out in our beds extra late in the morning so we could be well rested. Off to the races. We caught a Louisiana blues act right out of the block, and from there, music until the wee hours of the morning. I won't describe in detail everything we witness this last night in Austin, but it was St. Patrick's day and the closing night, you can imagine the possibilities. I do want mention a friend of the band Dawn Landes. Dawn was the darling of the stage that night, and hopefully a friend from this point on. Great folk/indie chops and if you care to hear her, rent the movie Winter Passing.
Day to go home. "Five more minutes," "OK dude, but check-out is at noon and it's your card that will get charged if we're late." We were very sad to be leaving this well-spring of energy and dreams, but no one could live the SXSW routine for long without burning up like a meteor in its atmosphere. We spent this day in reflection, repeatedly asking the question 'what did you get from all this?' We sat in a café as friends and talked about the future. Sometime we granted our future the same fanciful luck and opportunity as an unscratched lottery ticket, and sometime we acknowledged the daunting details of reality and probability. We are, after all both artists and pragmatists.
Before I end this blog, I must thank everyone involved in allowing us this opportunity. I thank our fans for winning the slammy's and for the support we constantly feel, I thank City Weekly and all the other sponsors for hosting us, especially Jamie Gadette for guiding us through the whole SXSW mosh pit of a conference. I'm grateful to the city of Austin, Texas for cultivating such a pageant, to my fellow band members for being creative and picky and terribly good musicians and artist. And to Has for having a biggest adventure of anyone in Austin. Has got dripped on by Slash's sweat. Finally, the thing to do is to leave you with our picks from the festival. Please support good music. Of the artists we saw, here are a few that we really liked: The Fratellis, Saint Vincent, Midlake, Jim Bianco, Pierre, Aderne. Cheers. (St. Boheme)