SXSW Cycle: Drink, See Bands, Rinse & Repeat

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SXSW 2010 Diary

That’s pretty much the shtick at SXSW. With around 2,000 artists playing on multiple stages throughout downtown Austin from 11am until 2am in the morning every day. All varieties of music, but indie rock is prevalent with a heavy dose of metal, folk and alt-country. Musicians that don’t have an arranged gig at a club or outdoor stage play on the street to the thousands of SXSW festival fans.

We start SXSW on St Patty’s day where we have the opportunity to celebrate the green in Texas. The weather conditions are perfect; sunny and low 70’s. The main drag in Austin is 6th street where every building seems to contain a stage for some type of live music. Portions of Sixth Street were shut down for St Patty’s day to give the event more of a street party feel. That’s not unusual as we found out later that Sixth Street is shut down every Thursday through Saturday to cater to the throngs attracted to the numerous music venues.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

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Sharon Jones - I Learned the Hard Way

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One of the best things about SXSW is the international flavor of the event. It’s really impressive the number of countries around the world that send a contingent of artists to SXSW; Great Britain, Japan, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Canada and many others.

The day began with a late morning breakfast at the Hyatt buffet with an interesting mix of musicians, bloggers and industry-types all bleary eyed from the night before. The Austin conference center is our first stop at the day stage where we take in MNDR who is a cult favorite electronic pop singer/producer and she is having problems with the sound mix. Of course, we take advantage of the adequate free wifi signal and comfortable bean bag chairs to update the Rock of the Arts web site. We are surprised by the relative lack of people attending sessions at the conference center. With so much music happening during the day the music conference sessions really take a hit. Later that afternoon we take in the “Belfast Rocks” showcase with alternative rockers Fighting With Wire. Oddly, no one was wearing green at that show.

Fighting With Wire

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Fighting With Wire - Long Distance

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We ventured over to the legendary Stubbs outdoor amphitheater for the opening night NPR party featuring Visqueen, The Walkmen, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Broken Bells and Spoon. The place can hold about 2,000 people and it was packed to the gills. All artists playing official SXSW showcases get a free festival badge to see bands and I swear ever other person in the crowd at Stubbs was a musician.

As a matter of fact, three guys standing next to us were singing in harmony before the start of the show and I casually asked them If they were in a band. Yes, they were in the band Tally Hall and had just played The Frequency in Madison the week before. It’s a small world!

The Walkmen

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The Walkmen - Canadian Girl

Seattle's Visqueen was impressive with their rock-infused power pop. The Walkmen provided a change of pace to more introspective lyrics and haunting melodies. Sharon Jones was a back-up singer on Amy Winehouse recordings and thrilled the SXSW devotees with a high energy soul review that would give Tina Turner and Betty Lavette a run for their money. Broken Bells, the indie crossbreeding between James Mercer of The Shins and Danger Mouse's Brian Burton, struggle to live up to the blogosphere hype brought upon them, but nonetheless fuel the fire for their excellent self-titled debut album.

Austin's favorite sons, Spoon, top off the night with the first official gig of their tour supporting Transference. Spoon delivers an excellent set and we rejoice in our first day of SXSW activities as the crowd exits Stubbs venturing into the wild crowd on the streets of Austin. I've never seen so many spontaneous pockets of revelers celebrating St. Patrick's day among the street musicians, Hare Krishna devotees and bible belt preachers on Sixth Street. This is only the first night of the SXSW music festival and everyone has a lot of energy to burn.  

Looking forward to tomorrow.

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