"Tomorrow Happens Here."
This is the official tagline for SXSW, but I dare suggest another, more fitting one: Hurry Up and Wait. It seemed like we were always rushing to the next venue only to wait in yet another line.
The waiting experience wasn't nearly as bad as one would think due to: a) the glorious music badges that allowed us priority entry into most places and b) the constant sights and sounds all around us; from the raucous sounds blasting from the rooftops to the random traveling musicians (read: homeless) on the streets with a guitar or metal trash cans, music was inescapable.
In the four days that encompassed SXSW, we saw more than 30 bands. I'm not counting Sunday because only a few bands played at a single venue, and by Sunday morning I was so exhausted that I couldn't move my left toe.
Most of the performances were ones we selected and sought out, but others were "on-the-fly" shows that we only heard about through word of mouth. For example, Saturday morning around 11am, while we prepared to attend yet another party for free lunch and drinks, I overheard a couple of kids talking about a private party at Mohawk; I did some digging and discovered Broken Bells, Demolished Thoughts (new supergroup featuring Andrew W.K., Thurston Moore and J. Mascis) and the Black Keys were headlining. Crazy, I know!
This was one of the only times we rushed last-minute to a venue, but since they were already at capacity, we were able to stand next to the fence and catch a few minutes of Broken Bells (Danger Mouse and James Mercer of the Shins). Let's just say, I'm grateful for the insanely loud speaker systems at SXSW.
Let's travel back a few days first before I jump head first into all of the festivities. On Wednesday, Lemmy was late for his interview.
Usually it's irksome when an artist is late, especially in a situation like SXSW where everything happens at the same time and everyone is rushing around trying to be in 10 places at once. However, for once, I was grateful for Austin traffic.
While waiting on him to arrive, I escaped down the hall to catch Nneka, an amazing vocal talent hailing all the way from Nigeria. She's been on several "Artists to Watch" lists for 2010, and I wanted to make it a priority to see her at least once.
Unlike other artists with similar heavy promotion, Nneka, with her raw and thought-provoking lyrics and lighthearted melodies, actually lived up to the hype.
This day was also our big day to attend the music conference. Most of the booths seemed to pitch unnecessary products for a fee. "Sign your band up with us, and we'll help connect you with your fans!"
Stupid me, I thought playing shows personally connected a band to fans while Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are three of many online ways to stay connected to fans for FREE. The booths we enjoyed most were the ones representing a specific country because each gave away its own compilation CDs. Canada, Berlin, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and many others all had their own showcases, but if attendance wasn't possible, this was a great way to get a taste of each country's music.
I guess I can call myself a "swag hag."
So many people were giving out free tangible items like CDs, T-shirts, coozies, pens, notebooks, energy bars, earplugs and even care kits (band-aids, energy gum, ibuprofren and chapstick) that it was hard not to toss everything into the convenient shoulder bags we were given.
We happened to be at the right place at the right time on Saturday to score super-nice Jansport backpacks -- each came with a colorful patch sewn on, designating us as "Official SXSW Performers." I know, I know -- we weren't performers, but we couldn't pass it up. This was one of the many cool perks we experienced simply by waiting, but it also enabled me to collect even more "stuff."
Smokey Robinson spoke at the Austin Convention Center as the keynote speaker on Thursday. He met and signed autographs for all of the fans afterwards, and I can honestly describe myself as being star-struck. I've been around bands -- both big and small -- for more than a decade and usually the star power doesn't affect me, but it was Smokey frickin' Robinson! My mother raised me on his music -- "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Ooh, Baby Baby" are two of my favorites -- so this was definitely a personal "Top Five" moment for me.
That afternoon, we attended the Sax, Clogs and Rock & Roll party, a RSVP-only Oklahoma showcase featuring, among others, Daniel Walcher, KC Clifford, The Red Alert, Fiawna Forte, Pretty Black Chains and the legendary Wanda Jackson.
The venue wasn't as full as I expected, but the Copa had an indoor and an outdoor stage; the weather was so nice each band would have to really grab their attention to keep fans indoors. Everyone we saw was solid: No bad performances here; however, I would have liked this showcase to have been open to the public, so everyone can see the great talent we're churning out of Oklahoma.
Since we had just seen Wanda Jackson the night before, we skipped her performance to catch Eric and the Adams at one of the Red Gorilla venues.
I figured since EATA helped me win the UTW essay contest -- and I truly do enjoy their music -- the least I could do is support them in Austin.
For those unaware, Red Gorilla Music Fest is a music festival that goes on at the same time as SXSW at some of the same venues and/or venues right next door to the SXSW ones. Some artists, such as Stardeath and White Dwarfs and Andrew W.K., even play both.
EATA played two shows at RGMF, the first one only had about 20 people inside, and half of us were friends of the band. However, the right person must have been part of the other half because the next day, EATA were featured on Austin360.com as an "Editor's Pick" for its Friday night show.
Unfortunately, we missed it while we were waiting on Muse, but I heard through the grapevine it was a packed-at-capacity show. Good for them!
The evening time led us to John Hiatt, The 88 and the legendary Ray Davies from the Kinks. John Hiatt was a solid slice of Americana, but Davies was too low-key (read: boring) for us, so after snapping a few photos we headed down the street to catch Stone Temple Pilots.
While walking the 20 blocks to our hotel, after which we quickly realized the $7 per day fee was worth parking downtown, we passed what became my favorite late-night grub spot. It was a tiny red mobile catering trailer that wasn't necessarily in the same place each night, but they had the tastiest smoked turkey grilled cheese sandwiches for only $3. Heck, part of the fun was finding it!
The next day, my teeth hurt. Maybe it was from the speaker vibrations, but since the rest of my body already hated me, my teeth were no different.
Friday had the worst-kept secret in recent SXSW history -- Muse was in Austin! Stubb's even cancelled The Toxic Avenger, a band all the way from Paris, France, to accommodate them.
Ironically, UTW's music man G.K. Hizer is the one who sent me the heads-up, and he was in Tulsa!
Muse had never played Austin, so this was going to be a real treat for us ... if we could get in.
Luckily, this year SXSW introduced SXXpress, an express pass system that allowed a designated number of people at each venue to bypass the line -- a VIP line for non-VIPs. I'm happy to say we didn't wait AT ALL to get into Stubb's and ended up only five rows back during Muse's amazing set. Thank you, SXXpress!
Saturday turned me into a giddy schoolgirl, even more so than meeting Smokey Robinson.
After waiting two hours -- the longest wait for anything the entire week -- we got into the HitRECord.org short film presentation with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer). The high point came at the end of the short films, when we were treated with a small intimate performance by Ghost of a Sabre Toothed Tiger -- Sean Lennon & Charlotte Kemp Muhl.
This was such a surreal experience; Sean Lennon is like a reincarnation of his dad in how he sings, writes and even signs autographs. I was fortunate enough to snag an autograph -- on his lyric sheet, no less -- along with an uber-short conversation and photo of myself with him.
By this time, it was already 11pm, so we rushed over to catch one of my guiltier pleasures -- Scissor Sisters. Any musician, especially one barely over five feet tall who performs disco dance music in freezing weather in black leather chaps will always have a special place in my heart ... and on my iPod.
Overall, I had no regrets. I missed a few local bands, though attendance often came down to location and/or wait times. For example, Colourmusic was high on my list, but it was at capacity by the time we arrived. Paul Benjaman Band was more than 11 blocks from our next destination.
I learned several lessons for anyone planning to attend SXSW: RSVP, RSVP, RSVP. Even if you don't expect to attend a party, it's always great to have as many options as possible; we were able to plan all of our lunches around the parties with the most food and drinks, all of which are typically free.
Leave your ego at home; nobody cares that you once partied with Andrew W.K. or that your friend once dated the guitarist from "insert band name here."
Join the SXSW online network; you will definitely meet some cool people in the industry -- yes, they do exist -- and maybe even hear about a surprise performance or private party invite that one of your new "friends" can hook you up with.
All in all, SXSW 2010 was a fantastic experience. I am eternally grateful to Urban Tulsa Weekly for choosing me as their essay winner; as much as I had heard about SXSW, nothing could have prepared me for 100 of non-stop adventure, whether it's running from venue to venue, going from heavy metal to acoustic folk to hip-hop in a single night or hunting down my favorite sandwich.
My first trip to Austin and SXSW was an unforgettable journey ... this wasn't reality, this is SXSW.
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