This time I won't wait six months to write.
Last year when I learned that Cornerstone was ending, I decided I should check out the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. SXSW is actually three different festivals for film, interactive, and music. All of them sounded appealing, but they are rather pricey, so I chose to only go to the music festival. My friend Jenn has always wanted to go too, so we made plans to attend this year. A trip to Austin, TX in March was quite a nice vacation from the Chicago cold; Austin was sunny and in the 70s most of the week.
We had a really smooth process getting from the airport to the convention center, getting our badges within minutes, and even getting checked into the hotel early. Our friend Mark met us that afternoon and we spent some time catching up while getting coffee and falafel. Mmm.
The scale of SXSW was rather overwhelming at first. Just about anywhere that could host a concert was doing so. There were over 100 venues and the official program was a half-inch thick book — and that only covered the official events, not all the unofficial events and parties.
We knew to expect to wait in lines, but that first night was a bit discouraging when we realized how long (and disorganized) some of the lines can truly be. We waited in one line for an hour to see Haim. By the time we got near the front, the show had already started. Then we learned that this line was just to get into the outer area where a DJ was playing; there was a separate line from there to get into the venue where the band was playing. So we did not wait there any longer. We went to another venue in attempt to see Japandroids, but asked right away about the status of the long line. We found out it was the same type of situation; they were letting a few hundred more people into the outer area, but the actual venue inside was at capacity already. We did not bother spending time in that line.
One of the artists on my must-see list, Bastille, was playing about 2 hours later, but after the line experiences, I decided to head over there right away. The venue appeared packed from outside, but at least we could see the stage. Volunteers were trying to organize the mass of people, though, and we finally ended up in a short line of badge holders. And in about 15 minutes, we got in! Faith was restored in the magic badges. We saw The 1975 play and they were quite good; catchy, dancy pop from the UK. After their set a lot of people left, so we were able to get right up to the stage. Willy Moon was up next and delivered a really rocking show with influences of '50s rock. He was a ball of energy on stage, and the ladies on guitar and drums were awesome. Then Bastille came on for their first show in the US. While they were setting up, I commented that it's a good sign when the keyboards and synths don't leave much extra space on the stage (it was a small stage, but still). They have some really catchy pop songs and great harmonies; the show did not disappoint. Everyone loved it when they played their cover of City High's “What Would You Do?” Another highlight was the keyboardist's kitten shirt. Obviously. It was a late night, but it ended up being a great first night of music.
The next day I took it easy in order to recuperate a bit. I went to a music panel about Amanda Palmer. She and her team talked about what it takes to manage their totally artist-controlled venture. They ran a hugely successful Kickstarter last year (almost $1.2 million) and then a sold-out world tour. I did not know much about her going in to the panel, but I was impressed with her attitude about creating and fan interaction. She gave plenty of credit to the team of people that it has taken to make everything happen. She finished by playing her song “Ukulele Anthem,” which made me smile. Give it a listen.
So play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong. 'Cause even if your grades are bad, it doesn't mean you're failing! Do your homework with a fork, and eat your fruit loops in the dark, and bring your Etch A Sketch to work, and play your ukulele!
— “Ukulele Anthem”
Speaking of Etch A Sketch, I met up with Gretchen Alice (formerly “gretchasketch” — see, the segue wasn't random) for dinner that night. We have been Twitter friends for a few years and used to socialize on Google Reader back when it had the cool social features, and before Google decided to shut the whole thing down . . . sigh. Anyway, we got Tex-Mex at a delightfully tacky restaurant with hubcaps on the ceiling. We had fun discussing our shared fan/geek-doms and figuring out “So who is this internet person, really?” Meeting people from the Internet is always fun and seems easier because you already have some things in common. Cool. Cool cool cool.
Dave Grohl was the keynote speaker the next morning. The long days were catching up to us, so we missed the beginning of it. What we heard was great, though. The takeaway line was “It's your voice. Cherish it, respect it, nurture it, challenge it, stretch it, scream it until it's fucking gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last.” The audio is available on NPR.
Other highlights of the week included the Depeche Mode interview, Stevie Nicks interview, Shout Out Out Out Out (electro with a bunch of synths and two drummers), The Mowgli's (pop/folk/hippie/lots of fun), The Joy Formidable (a wall of rock), and Anamanaguchi (chiptune; music made using video game hardware from the '80s, or “a hacker boy band”).
On the last day I heard about a secret show taking place that night: Smashing Pumpkins. I entered a drawing for tickets, but did not win. At first I just shrugged it off, but the more I thought about it (and at the urging of my friend Sarah), I decided to wait in line to see if I could get in. I had never seen them live, so it seemed worth it. This was not an official SXSW show, so it was just first-come, first-serve. I got in line at about 4 and the doors didn't open until 7. Thankfully we were located on a shady sidewalk, so the wait was not bad. And I got in! The venue was small, which would make for a great show. It was a long night waiting through the openers (they were good, I was just exhausted), but it was well worth it. Their set was about two hours and included “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Zero,” “Disarm,” and a cover of Bowie's “Space Oddity.” That was a fantastic end to the week.
Overall it was a really good experience and I would probably go again. Austin is a pretty cool city; it would be interesting to see it sometime under “normal” circumstances. One way or another, I am sure I will be back, Austin.
More Music Links
Fitz and the Tantrums
The Joy Formidable
Shout Out Out Out Out
Update 1: Added links to Depeche Mode and Stevie Nicks interview transcripts.