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SXSW 2013 Redux

Apr 1 | Posted by: Rebecca Loebe |

SXSW REDUX

April 1, 2013

Ok, so it’s been a couple weeks since the crazy swirl of SXSW ended, but I still want to re-cap what little of it I can remember for you.

First, for the uninitiated: SXSW is the heavily trademarked acronym for South by Southwest, a giant music conference held every spring in Austin, TX. Allegedly it began a few decades ago as a meeting of independent record labels and musicians, but the conference I have been attending on and off for the past 6 years is something of a corporate carnival. Case in point: from the street, walking from one showcase to another, I saw LL Cool J on a jumbotron, performing a set to a crowd assembled beneath a 50-foot tall inflatable Doritos vending machine.

During SXSW, every enclosed space in Austin becomes a venue. All bars and nightclubs host music at practically all hours, and there are also shows in restaurants, cafes, record stores, parking lots, office buildings, hotel rooms, clothing shops and everywhere in between. The official conference hosts lectures, panel discussions, a trade show floor and thousands of official shows every night (there are 100 or more “official” venues hosting music from 8 pm - 2 am for 5 straight nights).  All this official fun is kind of expensive to participate in (limited access begins for around $400, full access costs $800 or more), but that’s ok because there are TONS of unofficial shows all over town.  Unofficial shows are not allowed to use the aforementioned SXSW trademark, and are technically unaffiliated with the conference. They are usually free to attend and most bands that play official showcases also play unofficials, so even without expensive credentials you can usually see all the bands on your wishlist. There are also tons of corporate parties happening - companies like Redbull, Converse, Target, etc host parties day and night, trying to promote their brand by providing food, booze, music and fun to crafty conference goers who are in the know.

I’m always a little unclear about what my goals are in attending, but since a ton of fabulous musicians and industry professionals of all levels flock to my backyard once a year, it certainly seems in my best interest to at least try to participate. After years of attending various networking events, I have concluded that trying to meet people, schmooze, network, etc is all lame. Catching up with old friends and exploring new music, however, is awesome. So in recent years I have focused my efforts on supporting the performances of people i love and getting recommendations about bands to check out. I focus on the music and let the business take care of itself. Or not. But either way I see some awesome shows. Let’s take it day-by-day…

WEDNESDAY:

Carrie Elkin & The Sea, Sea and Nels Andrews at the annual Comboplate Booking party at Guero’s (a seriously fun unofficial day party that raises money for an Austin soup kitchen every year). I had to leave before The Birds of Chicago, which was a shame. 

THURSDAY:

I had breakfast with my good friend Moldover, who is a bad ass electronic musician/songwriter currently based in San Francisco. 

He and I parted ways and I met up with Raina Rose and Drew Pressman to go see Nicki Bluhm at the SXSJ party in the parking lot of the San Jose. There was a makeshift flea market set up and Raina and I bought new dresses just before the show. We also advised Steve Poltz in some key pearlsnap shirt purchases. Afterwards I wandered out to lunch with Steve and his band, where his bass player John recounted in vivid details the Dave Grohl keynote speech he had seen that morning… I have since watched the speech online and I’ve gotta say that John’s re-telling was impressively spot-on.

After lunch I walked to Raina’s house and hung for a bit before we all packed in the car and drove into the heart of downtown to play a show together at a bar called Logan’s with the magical Lex Land. This show came together last minute but turned out to be a lot of fun. A bunch of friends came out to support, including my friend Charles who then came show-hopping with me for the rest of the night. Raina and Drew were kind enough to schlep my gear home for me so I wasn’t saddled with it all night, and on our way to the car we met some guys launching a mobile photobooth business — they literally had a photobooth hooked up to a bicycle, pedicab style. Raina had the good sense to ask if we could get in and take pictures, which we did. It was super fun!

Charles and I then walked on the madness of 6th street for a little bit (6th Street is sort of like the Bourbon Street of Austin, and SX is its Mardi Gras, minus the open containers). It was shoulder to shoulder people, you could almost lift your feet and just get dragged by the current. We ended up at a space I had never seen before called The Palm Door where we saw Pearl & The Beard (who BLEW my MIND!) followed by Gregory Alan Isakov (who was quite wonderful).  Pearl & The Beard’s set, someone to my left shushed the audience audibly when the band stepped off stage to perform a cappella — i turned to smile my appreciation towards the shutter and was pleasantly surprised to learn it was someone I knew: Dan Molad, a great drummer who I went to college with who is now playing in the super buzzy band Lucius.

We ducked out of the Palm Door and headed across the street to the Hilton Garden Inn where Carrie Elkin was performing on the 18th floor at midnight as part of the official Red House Record Label showcase. Earlier in the evening, while I was performing at Logan’s, her longtime partner Danny Schmidt proposed to her on that same stage during his showcase (in song form. TOO precious). The room was still crackling with magic and excitement and I was really happy to get to hear her sing again. 

After Carrie’s show we headed back to the Palm Door where we heard Dan Bern, one of my favorite living songwriters, close the night out with an awesome 1 am set.  I was pleased but not surprised to bump into David Berkeley, a wonderful New Mexico by way of Atlanta/San Francisco/Corsica at the bar. After the show Charles, sweet wonderful Charles, drove me home and I fell deep into sleep just a few minutes shy of 3 am.

FRIDAY

Friday started early! I had early morning coffee with Monica Hopman of Thinkpress Publicity, who helped me spread the word about Circus Heart last fall. After that I headed over to the Chateau Something Fancy for a really cool annual women’s brunch — there were ladies there from all over the country who work in all fields of the music industry. 

From there I walked over to an outdoor park in downtown Austin where my alma matter, Berklee College of Music, hosted their annual alumni showcase. It was a really fun event, though it occurred to me on the walk over that I had basically signed up for a college reunion that I was going to have to sing at. I began to get nervous, which is a little atypical for me — honestly, since performing on The Voice I haven’t found many performance experiences scary (not that singing on TV gave me confidence, per se, but it definitely clarified the difference between singing to be judged and singing for an audience that is just out to be entertained). For some reason, however, I got a little nervous about this show, especially when I realized I was performing solo between two really loud rock bands… Then I got onstage and remembered: singing is what I love to do. And I don’t care what anyone thinks of me :-)

I had a lot of fun! It was a great set, and a wonderful reminder of why I love what I do. When I got off stage, I was greeted by my friend Sanjay Kothari, who is on tour for the first time with the Songs for Kids Foundation; they are traveling for almost a full year performing at every children’s hospital in the US. I’m very proud of him and had fun showing him off :-)

We left downtown for a little bit and stopped at my house to visit and rest before heading back into the fray for my sweet 9 pm showcase at a local coffeeshop. After that we wandered the streets a bit, barhopped and watched an impromptu group of college students start a rowdy jam of 90’s hits. At 11 we saw Steve Poltz play at the Hilton Garden Inn (same room where I had seen Carrie Elkin the night before and, I realize now, where I saw Ed Sheeran play an acoustic set at 2 am last year). If you’ve never seen Steve Poltz play live, you owe it to yourself to check it out: I’ve never seen a performer more fully in the moment. He is completely comfortable in his own heart and it shines outward in every performance. Sanjay, who had spent almost every day of the past 2 months performing at children’s hospitals, was completely lit up by the performance. It’s always fun to see someone you love enjoying a set by a band you love, but this was even more fun than usual.

SATURDAY

Saturday started with the Folk Alliance showcase at Threadgills, which was a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of bands that I know and love: Doug & Telisha, Amy Speace, The Howlin Brothers and a few more. I played a fun set at 1 pm, packed up in a rush and headed over to The Whip In to play my last set of the conference at 3. It was great to see friends at both shows, and nice to be done performing. I had an ambitious itinerary of music I wanted to spend the rest of Saturday watching and listening to…but after getting dropped off on South Congress, catching half a Steve Poltz show (I left after a dude the size of a refrigerator drunkenly passed out behind me, knocking into me pretty hard. Seemed a little extreme for 4:30 pm) and a bit of Lissie’s show at the SXSJ extravaganza, I walked over the Raina Rose’s house and spent a few hours chatting with her, playing with her baby and eating take-out that a friend brought over (turns out that when you have a baby people bring you food!). So I ended up missing some of the music I had planned to see, but the change of pace was nice.

From there I ventured out to the East Side of Austin, where I hunkered down at The White Horse to see Wood & Wire, a bluegrass band that some of my friends are in…I hadn’t seen them play a proper show before and it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. No matter how you feel about bluegrass, I highly recommend that you check them out — their songs are a lot of fun and their live show is a party. During the show I sent out a snarky tweet that the front two rows of their audience was all ladies, probably due to the heart-throb status of all of the band members…but I say good for them! Anyone who can get a bar full of college girls enthusiastic about traditional acoustic music is doing something very right :-)

That was where my night ended. I drove myself home and slept deeply, satisfied that I had enjoyed SXSW to the max extent that I possibly could. Sunday after SX is always a nice denoument; a few showcases still going on, meetings and visits with folks who didn’t want to fight the crowds at the airport. I filmed a performance and interview for Secret TV and then had dinner with the incomparable Jackie Indrisano (this is our second year eating together on the Sunday of south by, I think we’re starting a tradition). I capped the whole thing off with a margarita party with all of my friends who were still in town – it was a marvelous gathering and a great way to end the crazy week. 

I have clearly gone on much longer than I meant to about the madness that is SXSW. If you think you’d like to come to Austin in the spring and cram a year’s worth of music (and walking…and drinking…and talking…) into 5 short days then you should come hang out next year! I’d book your hotel room soon, though, things fill up fast!

Thanks for following along in my travels :-) Hope I get a chance to sing for you in person soon!

xoxo

~becca

PS: Here are links to some of the musicians I name-checked in this blog, and others that I got to see during the conference. I suggest you make yourself a nice playlist with all these fine folks on it! You won’t regret it :-)

Carrie Elkin

The Sea, The Sea

Nels Andrews

The Birds of Chicago

Moldover

Raina Rose

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers

Steve Poltz

Lex Land

John Craigie

Pearl & The Beard

Gregory Alan Isakov

Danny Schmidt

Doug & Telisha

Amy Speace

The Howlin Brothers

Lissie

Wood & Wire

Robby Hecht

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