My motto: Make more good choices than bad.
I think I did ok, especially since I decided to head down only a few weeks ago. Getting the SXSW app was key. So was having a smartphone too. Oh another hint: I bought an extra battery pack and that was a life saver. Highly recommend that one. Having a map on the phone was quite handy. Texting was important too.
Let’s start with Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech
No I didn’t see Bruce live but Jeff did (and he reminded us constantly. More on that at the end).
I got into town on Thursday around 3. Off the plane I got in line for a taxi (of course mine didn’t have AC – good start, you know, a little something to get me in the mood). I asked the taxi to wait while I jumped into a buddies house, dropped off my bag, said hi (and bye and thanks) then back to the taxi. He got me as close to the Convention Center as he could so that I could pick up my MUSIC WRISTBAND. Thank you to Black Taxi for letting me be their “driver”. I got in line. Got my wristband and I was off. I am ready for my first SXSW.
I had been texting with London artist Lee MacDougall. He played SXSW the night before and was heading out to Houston for a gig but waited for me before leaving Austin. I hunted him down and interviewed him. My first SXSW action was a quick interview with Lee. Thanks Lee.
Now what? So many decisions. So many bands. Remember Bro make more good choices than bad. New Next contributor Jessica (from San Antonio was in town). She was at the Fuse Party at The Driskill Hotel. A fantastic looking and old hotel on 6th street (in the middle of everything) and supposedly very haunted. I didn’t see anything, sorry ghost hunters. I got in (another wristband damn I hate these things already) and walked over to the open bar. My first beer. Damn it tasted good. OK I’m ready.
Black Taxi were playing right around the corner. I had to stop by and say hi. They played Shiner’s Saloon. They shoved them in the corner. You couldn’t even see Jason, the drummer. Sadly the microphones cut in and out but they put on their typical show. Jumping around, enjoying themselves and having fun. Ezra ran around the crowd, climbed the bar, played his drum while hanging out a window (the bar was on the second floor). Good start. Plus I ran into AJ from Bright Light Social Hour. I asked him when they were playing and he mentioned they were opening for The Cult on Saturday. Hell yeah. He told me to text Alex and he’d try to get me backstage. Good game plan.
Hit Low Anthem. Great drummer and then I meet up with Jessica again. This time at MTV’s Woodies stage for Fun. Well they were fun, upbeat and I don’t think it was the Texas heat and/or beer but Fun.’s rhythm guitarist/backup singer/sax player looks quite a bit like Taylor Swift.
Deadbeat Darling were playing soon but I needed a fish taco first. It was long haul to get out to Hotel Vegas. Oh you walk a lot during SXSW. Got there just in time to hear them sound-checking. Stepped up to the stage to say hi. That’s another thing. You get so close at SXSW. It’s amazing. Listened to their set. Black Taxi were on NEXT and Jessica had never experienced them so I made her stay and while there I meet up with Samantha from The Attic Ends. PS don’t miss our charity concert with The Attic Ends on April 21st. She is ready. You better be ready. She’ll be dressing up for you. Image search her and you’ll know why you shouldn’t miss the charity concert.
Black Taxi finished now where to? Off to see Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. They were playing at Bar 96. Cool place. Good beer selection. Alberta Cross were on the stage. Oh man did they bring it. Great show. If you see them and they don’t cover “Bitch” by the Rolling Stones don’t leave until you demand that they play their version. Glorious.
Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah hit the stage and crowd was pumped to see them. They are fun, lively and tight. The best part was the red-headed mulit-talented member of the band. He played “drums”, guitar, keys and etc. He was playful and constantly smiling. He just loved performing. It was great to watch.
Tired…I am so tired. Jessica’s boss had a van. He was supposed to come and drive me home. After a long wait…yes he didn’t show. I said good night and that I would try to stop by at 9 am for a radio performance/interview Jessica was trying to set up for us. She said “sorry about the no show” and I said “no worries I’ll catch a cab” or so thought the New Yorker. NO YOU WOULDN’T.
Warning lowlight. There aren’t enough cabs. Seriously a company should come in next year with a massive fleet to cover SXSW next year. You’ll make money. After looking for a cab downtown I had enough. (Yes I forgot about the buses). Did I mention I was tired? I pulled out the phone. Click on Bob’s address and start walking in the direction of his house. Bob lives way, way out of town but I thought I’ll catch a cab once I get out of the pure madness of drunk, downtown. I walked forever…and finally caught a cab. I was so happy. The cabbie got a huge tip. I got home at 3:50.
Guess what is not going to happen: My interview at 9 am. My hope was Jessica got there.
I wake up have breakfast get on the SXSW app and plan my day. I stop at a near by coffee shop, TEO, and call a cab company. They say they are busy and if you don’t see your driver in 20 minutes to call them back. You’ll never guess what happens. That’s right. No cab. I call back. Again 20 minutes go by…and no cab. So I asked a few random patron’s of the coffee shop if they are headed downtown. First 2 “no, sorry”. The third says yes. Thank you brilliant lady named Kathy. She said her office was very close to the festival. She also said that “my father (a police officer) was probably looking down right now not very happy with me”. I get it. Not sure I’d give me a ride either. I offered her some money and she turned me down. May good things happen to you Kathy.
OK late start to the day. I look at the app again and notice Imagine Dragons were playing close by. I had been emailing with their manager and had an interview scheduled but since I was close I thought I’d just stop by. Why wait for later what you can do now? They were at Buffalo Billiards. A very impressive bar with a fantastic live music stage up stairs.
When I get there Tribes were just finishing up. Good bar, rock music. I text the Imagine Dragons manager that I’m there. No answer. They start playing and sound brilliant. The lead singer keeps referring to “night” even though it’s 1 in the afternoon. Yes he corrects himself but I agree rock music, in a bar, is just not right at 1 in the afternoon. They are from Vegas and it’s only a matter of time before they tour with The Killers. It only makes too much sense. Sonically they match plus the obvious city thing. They finish and sprint out of there so quick I can’t get an interview. This band could/should get huge. They put on a good show and will sound excellent on Grey’s Anatomy. Plus as I mentioned previously they would sound good on the stage with The Killers and that’s saying something.
Oh and guess who walked into Buffalo billiards during the Imagine Dragons set? If you said Matthew McConaughey you were correct.
I had been texting with Saints of Valory for an interview. They had just finished up a gig of their own and were close by. They needed to park the van then we would meet up. I get a text “hey do you have a press badge?” (we don’t need no stinking badges). I text back “no, why?”. It turns out they parked next to the Google party and “fell in to it”. They said they’d get me in. By that time I had rambled up to another bar to catch Good Old War. Interviewed one of their members and caught their set.
OK bring it Google. Let’s see if I can get in. I do (another wristband). I walk through the door and the boys in Saints of Valory get me straight to the bar (like any good band should, right?). They order me a Maker’s and Coke (I had a lot of those). Google had free drinks, great food, a masseuse (long waiting list), a body painter (more on that later) and a stage.
We chatted, drank, chatted, ate, drank and listened to Grimes and Jimmy Cliff. All very nice. I finally decided to interview them. I was tempted to stay all the way through for The Shins (still not sold on the new line up) but if I did stay I knew I wouldn’t be awake for the rest of the evening (thanks Maker and Coke and Saints of Valory). I decided to move on. I said goodbye and thanked the band (and of course they gave me “one for the road”). Love those guys.
I text with a buddy and he asks “who should I see at 6?” I tell him Imagine Dragons at Whole Foods. he texts back that he “listened to about 10 seconds of the band was sold.” See I’m good for something.
I have yet to see him so I decide to join him. I need the walk and more food and non-alcohol and Whole Foods fits the bill. Again making more good choices than bad. A key. A mantra. Without that pause I doubt I could have made it throughout the night. Plus I got my interview there. I text Nick (Imagine Dragons manager) and tell him I’ll at the show. He sets up the interview. Perfect. I get to see Jeff, get food, a coconut water and an interview. Well played Bro.
Jeff and his buddy take off to other places while I interview and promise to meet up with him later.
I text Jessica and she’s at Motopony. On my way to that bar I text Samantha about an interview. She is close to the bar I’m walking to and we decide to meet up. We sit on the steps of a church and chat into my iPhone. After the interview off to see Motopony. Luckily they had sound problems and I got there just as they took the stage. Jessica was in the back of the room changing her phone on a couch. Hell yeah I can sit down. Motopony sound great. The lead singer is quite the entertainer.
Jessica tells me about Wild Belle and that I need to see them live. A new band from NY that have one single and are finishing up their first album. (looking forward to Jessica’s interview with them). They are playing at Antone’s. AC baby! Great sound system and a must see live venue anytime you visit Austin. Trust me.
Jessica was right. They were brilliant. Don’t worry I’ll be playing their music on NEXT as soon as I get my hands on some. Hey Jessica set me up on that front. Please. They will be your new beach cd. Tiny, little blond woman backed by 4 groovy white dudes playing reggae tinged rock.
I text Jeff. He is at Of Monsters and Men and holy balls I need to see that but by the time I cross town (a lot of walking I tell you) the line is too long and they only have one song left. I listen from outside while I wait for Jeff and Brian.
Jeff really wants to see Jack White so we walk past The Stage on Sixth on our way back to Antone’s for Glen Hansard and Pickwick (back to back plus AC baby!). Jack is badges only (I guess we really do need stinking badges). The line is massive anyway and he wouldn’t go on until Midnight.
By the time we get to Antone’s we need to wait in line and we get in about 6 minutes late. It’s a long walk from Stubb’s. This concert was a highlight. Glen played songs acoustic, with Bruce’s sax player, and with a full band. At the end he closed with a brilliant rant about St Patrick’s day (“Let’s bring the snakes back to Ireland” ) and a heartbreaking acapella version of an Irish folksong. The place fell into a hush (well accept a few assholes in the back by the bar but there’s always a few of those…idiots.) It was amazing. Again you get so close at SXSW. If he played NYC I would never have been that close and it would have cost a pretty penny.
Half the crowd left and Pickwick took the stage. We moved to front and center (if I hadn’t mentioned how close you get to the bands I should tell you that you get sooo close to the bands) I had heard great things about them live and was glad they came through as my reputation as “music guy” was on the line. We all walked away very impressive. Plus did I mention AC? Their lead singer looks a bit awkward but he gets in to it. Plus he has such a soulful voice. An angel singing. I can only imagine how cute he was at family reunions when he was in grade school. There have to be great home videos of that. Oh and I have never seen a more intense, exuberant and awesome display of “egg shaker” playing. That was courtesy of their lead guitarist. Brilliant. You must see this band live.
Back to Buffalo Billiards to catch the Class Actress set. I really love that bar/live venue. Downstairs they have everything. Real darts, shuffle board tables, foosball and plenty of room and TVs. She started the set out with a trench coat on. Jeff said if she doesn’t end up wearing just a tank top by the end of the show he’ll be disappointed. A few songs in off with the coat. She is wearing a ladies sport jacket. The tease. Two more songs and off comes the jacket. She is wearing a flashdance shirt (you know off the shoulder). Sadly that’s as far as it goes. The music was fun and John Hughes would have loved Class Actress. She even dances like Molly Ringwald. Joyful is a good one word review.
One show left. Someone suggested Blitzen Trapper. At this moment I’m happy someone else has decided and I merrily tag-a-long. Plus Jeff and Brian are staying close to were Bob lives (where I am crashing). Strength in numbers right? At Blitzen Trapper Jeff asks if “this is what Alabama was like in the 70s?” and he is probably right. Portland does him proud. Oh and the lead guitarist is a beast. Favorite part was the their last song. They finish the song but just as the last notes are being played the lead guitarist plays the opening chords to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times”. I think he is just playing around but the band breaks into the song full bore. Everything sounds amazing (in all honesty only the drums are lacking…not bad mind you but obviously not Bonham) (but who today plays in the Bonham style…no one…and probably no ever will). It may just be the SXSW talking (think Texas heat, beer, booze and 14 hours of live music) but the lead singer looked a wee bit like Charlie Manson.
Time to head home. If it’s only half as bad as last night I’ll be happy. Jeff is hungry but the food truck lines are way too long. Brian knows of a Thai place that’s open until 3. We get there and Jeff tries to order a taxi (you know how that will end). So he checks the map on his phone for the bus (duh Bro…see smartphones are good). He notices there’s a bus in 4 minutes or the last one of the night in 30 minutes. We quickly discuss pros and cons. We apologize to the waitress (leave a big tip…considering we drank only water) and run out the door and two blocks down to get the bus just as it pulls up. Chris Bro happy boy. This is so much better than last night. I get home around 3:35. I think.
I wake. Have an espresso. Check my phone for the bus schedule (Those that don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it) (or I may be dumb but I’m not stupid) (didn’t I tell you having a smartphone was good?)
I get downtown for The Big Pink and then text Jeff. He had mentioned last night that he was going to see the Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and The Old Crow Medicine Show’s “train tour” documentary called Big Easy Express. I want to see it but I’m not sure I want to take all that time off from concert going.
He also reminds me that Mumford and Sons will be playing a short set after the documentary. I text that I’ll meet him there but I need to get to Torchy’s first. Another Austin must. There isn’t a Torchy’s close by and again I remind myself of my mantra. Make more good choices than bad. I know once the night starts up I wouldn’t get a chance to walk out of the way to get to Torchy’s. It’s either walk there now or go home without having Torchy’s. I’ve already told you it’s a must do so I walk out of my way to Torchy’s and I’m so glad and happy I did. I order a Brush Fire and Baja Shrimp (my favorite). Chris Bro happy boy.
Jeff is a movie critic so he has a film badge and is already inside saving us seats. Fourth row. I walk back and meet Brian in line.
HIGHLIGHT: The film, the Q and A afterward, and don’t even get me started on the short set by all the band members (16). So worth it. Plus I was sitting. Sitting is good. I swear by Saturday I would have paid any amount for a foot/calf massage.
Jeff’s video (Man I love this song and version)
We headed somewhere and ended up nowhere but we were close to the line that was already forming for Sleigh Bells. The one band Brian really wanted to see. We had a choice. Quickly cross the river to catch The Bright Light Social Hour’s outdoor set (with 8 to 10,000 of our closest friends) or wait a bit for Kimbra to start. I didn’t feel like waiting plus that would mean missing TBLSH plus Kimbra was playing at the Perez Hilton show and if I went to that I would just feel dirty inside.
So we decide that we could make it to TBLSH set and still get see Sleigh Bells. Win-win. Again making more good choices than bad. You can’t see everything.
Crossing the bridge we see a guy jump off the bridge and Bill, the lead guitarist of Black Taxi. We get through the gate order a High Life and get close to the stage. AJ had told me to text Alex when we get there but Alex is sick but his assistant texts back. We go back and forth with a few texts and then radio silence. Well so much for backstage.
Yes Bright Light Social Hour (not Club Jeff) were brilliant but my highlight was watching the lady hired to do sign language for the show. It was mesmerizing. Especially guitar, drum and keyboard solos. Very cool.
Back toward Sleigh Bells. We had to blow off The Cult (with a guest bongo player Matthew McConaughey). The line was getting crowded no way we could make Kimbra and Sleigh Bells. So no Kimbra but food. Maybe? That might be smart. So we notice a Which Wich down the block and split a turkey sub. We get it to go, get in line and munch. Perfect. We get in (Maker’s and…everyone?) What’s a man to do? We order doubles. Good thing we blew off Kimbra as Sleigh Bells started early and Holy Nine Inch Nails Batman they were blistering. I haven’t seen a stack of Marshall amp’s like that since The Who. Remind me not to piss her off. She did crowd surf while singing and she got <<
Now to decide between, The Lumineers, Fanfarlo or The Black Belles. We vote Black Belles hoping against all hope that Jack White makes a surprise visit since they are signed by his Third Man label. No luck. Not shocked. The ladies are deeply seeped in all things Jack. They dress all in black (joke later in the night coming), big black hats, the lead guitarist has the White Stripe’s tone down pat, and they don’t look all that joyful. Pissed in fact. They drink that Jack kool-aid alright and yet she kept complaining that she is “so tired”. Really lady? Try being me right now. (Think: I’m getting too old for this sh!t in a Danny Glover voice). She is also complaining about being out of key and doesn’t like the sound (really? Jack would not be happy…just play damn you) Jack doesn’t like his sound pretty. Personally I thought they sounded great. Cool venue too. I forget where.
We aren’t done yet. We split up and this is my big mistake but I really want to see Tommy Stinson at Midnight. No one else does. We are walking in the same general direction and we pass a cover band doing a version of The Heavy’s “How you like me now?”. Brian pauses…notices it’s a cover and I say “you need to see The Heavy live. They kill. The lead singer is brilliant” We go our separate ways. I head over to see Cory Chisel before the Stinson set. Not a good choice (one of my few bad choices, honestly maybe my only bad one). He was way too mellow for my mood and played all new (I’ve never heard them) songs. I guess he has a new band and they don’t know the old stuff.
OK now I’m ready for Tommy. If your radio station doesn’t play The Replacements it’s time for you to find a new radio station. As I’m heading over to see Tommy I get a text that The Heavy are playing at 1. Too funny – we were just talking about how you must see them. My friends are pumped and they are my ride so I text back I’ll meet them there. Plus The Heavy were playing right across the street from The Whiskey Room where Stinson was playing (less walking). I really wanted to see Graffiti6. Oh well. That’s a common story at SXSW. Too much music. Too many choices.
So I get into The Whiskey Room. I’m ready. This is probably the closest to the ‘Mats I’ll get. Although I’m looking forward to Color Me Obsessed. That will be pretty close too. Glorious mess that’s what I was hoping for. Careful what you wish for. Tommy was having trouble with his mic. He tries and tries and finally declares “is this a coat hanger? Might as well be. It’s not a microphone stand. I should just hang my coat on it”. After a bit he moves over to his backup singer’s (wife) mic and tries hers. It works. He says “I’m a professional I’ll just fucking use one mic. We’ll just sing real close” but then the guitar wouldn’t come through is monitor. After about 11 minutes of this he throws the guitar on the ground and stomps off “Fuck it I’m not playing tonight”. His guitarist (uncle I think) tries to get things right. They finally get close. Tommy comes back. He is less than happy. The Fucks fly. “This is who the fuck I am and I do what I fucking do.” He finally starts playing and he is throwing in random “fucks” into the lyrics. “I’m not here to make a fucking name for myself I just want to fucking play.” It’s just like a messed up The Replacements concert. Thank you. I am quite sure the sound guy didn’t have as much fun as I did plus I think I learned a new swear word or too.
Crossing the street I’m in line for The Heavy. This is the longest I wait in by far (usually it’s been right sir, thank you very much). 10 maybe 15 minutes. I finally get in and buy a round. The Heavy are just getting started. The lead singer has a suit and tie on. That wouldn’t last long. They start playing and after 2 songs he says they just finished their new album. It wouldn’t be out until September or so. He thought SXSW could handle “new songs, I mean you don’t just want us to come out and play ‘How you like me now?’ right?”. Jeff looks at me. I assure him they will play it. They ended up playing 83% new songs. They sound great. I can’t wait. They close with…of course “How You Like Me Now?” Jeff is happy. I’m happy. The whole crowd is happy. Oh by the time they play that last song he has striped down to no jacket, no tie, and shirt off. The ladies in the front row massage his chest as he sings. He doesn’t miss a beat. Now that is a lead singer. A perfect way to end my SXSW. My place as “music guru” is intact in Jeff’s eyes.
Chris Bro happy boy.
We walk toward the car park. On the way we pass a girl getting out of a car dressed in all black (black dress, black hat). I yell “hey are you in the Black Belles?” thinking it would be a good inside joke and instead the girl quickly retorts “I AM NOT IN THE BLACK BELLES” obviously I’m not the only one to have made that comment. I am so unoriginal. Another high point to the walk is Jeff reminding us (again) that he saw Bruce in concert and just as he was rubbing it our faces a girl swung her purse? around and (by mistake) hits him square in the balls. Thank you karma.
We get to the car. I get home early. 2:40. I raid the refrigerator for a V8 and scissors to clip all my wristbands off. Heaven.
That is my SXSW. I think that was everything. Remember you can’t see all the bands you want to see. The key is to make more good choices than bad.