Photos by Eric Horn
South by Southwest is not your run-of-the-mill music festival. During the music portion of SXSW, tens of thousands invaded dozens of venues in downtown Austin. The madness seeped out of venues and flooded the streets in a way that resembles New Orleans during Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras. As a first timer, it's easy to be overwhelmed by both the crowds, and the immense talent that invades the city. For me, the festival was about seeing as many breakout bands as possible. Quality over quantity. With that said, March 15th was a day that music lovers like myself dream about. I was lucky enough to stop at multiple showcases and catch Of Monsters & Men, Alabama Shakes, Kimbra, and fun.
Icelandic folk rockers Of Monsters & Men put on a stellar early afternoon performance during the Paste Magazine showcase at the Stage on Sixth. This was only the second performance of their North American tour, with the first being earlier that day at Brooklyn Vegan's Hotel Vegan day party. Regardless, they seemed perfectly comfortable stateside, and had everyone singing and dancing along to their single "Little Talks" by the end of the performance.
At the ATO Records show at Stubbs, lead singer Brittany Howard stunned a crowd of music industry heavyweights with her soulful vocals. They only made their national TV debut a few short weeks ago yet they stormed Austin with multiple shows per day. Their hype is well-deserved.
After being featured on Gotye's single "Somebody That I Used To Know," Kimbra has become an overnight sensation among a relatively new American audience. The Warner Sound showcase at La Zona Rosa was one of eight performances in four days for Kimbra. She made a bold move and ditched her band for a more stripped-down vibe. Her natural ability and presence was mesmerizing as she live-looped her vocals to perform unique versions of "Settle Down" and "Cameo Lover."
The MTVu Woodie Awards was my last stop before the sun went down. The Jersey Shore cast member turned celebrity DJ Pauly D was on hand to introduce some of the performances. Although I arrived as Chiddy Bang was wrapping up their set, I was just in time to see him introduce fun. - who's anthem "We Are Young" has dominated the radio in recent weeks.
When a band goes from relative unknown to having the number one song in the country so quickly, you wonder if they will be here to stay. I'm glad to say that their performance affirmed their talent and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
I ended my night at the BET Music Matters Showcase at Stage on Sixth. The Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra opened the night with a series of well-constructed orchestral hip hop medleys.
What followed was a showing of some of the most popular freshmen and sophomores in the hip hop game. Kendrick Lamar marveled the crowd with his unique flow, and Big K.R.I.T continued to work for the "Hardest Working Man in Hip Hop" title.
G.O.O.D. music signee Big Sean closed the night with a strong performance and a positive message. "When y'all leave here, if you can take away one thing from this show" he said, "make sure your doing what you love to do every f*cking day! There's no time in life for woulda, coulda, shoulda's!"
The amazing thing about South By is the ability to have not one, but multiple days that feel surreal. Unlike most festivals, the performances are intimate. The crowd is full of music lovers and industry folk who, for the most part, pay a great deal of respect to the artists as they perform. March 15th felt like a dream, and yet the 16th and 17th offered serious competition.
Although I spent most of the day recovering on the 16th, I was able to find my way into the Third Man Records showcase in the evening. There was a strict no camera policy but ultimately, it wasn't a bad thing. While I would've loved to have gotten some pics of Reggie Watts generating his spontaneous funk grooves, or Jack White playing with two different bands, those performances were unforgettable with or without pictures. It was also nice to see John C. Reilly (yes, the actor) play some country jams with the young and spunky Becky Stark.
The next afternoon, I returned to La Zona Rosa to see Gary Clark Jr at The Rolling Stone Rock Room. I had seen Gary earlier this year at New York's Rockwood Music Hall and was pleasantly surprised to see Questlove sharing the same excitement as me as he watched and live-tweeted from the front row. Gary Clark Jr is an Austin native and undoubtedly an artist with a very bright future. Between his dynamic vocal range and unbelievably self-taught guitar chops, he has all the makings of the next rock and roll legend.
After eating some good BBQ, I headed over to a showcase being hosted by The Deli Magazine at Lipstick 24. The band I was there to see: Brooklyn-based indie rockers Snowmine. Fresh off a residency at Pianos in New York, the band was confident and ready to tackle new audiences. As a result, it was clear in the first few minutes of their set that the band was finding many new fans.
The last showcase I attended was a trolley ride away from most of the action. Mad Decent and Fools Gold were hosting a large warehouse party where Andrew W.K showed off his unique PIZZA guitar. With nearly a dozen people on stage, he infected the crowd and showed that he is the original party rocker. LMFA-who?
All in all, this past week has transformed any past notions about what a music festival can or should be. While the scope of the chaos was unimaginable, it was overshadowed by a high volume of quality performances. I quickly learned that it would be impossible to see all of the best shows. There are simply too many. I'm walking away from this experience with an iTunes library in serious need of a refresh and I couldn't be happier.