Every spring there's a commotion in Austin. Known mostly by four key letters, SXSW (South by Southwest) is revered by some and downplayed by others. If you hear a band talking smack about the festival and conference, chances are it didn't get accepted and the members are trying to downplay its importance. To some degree, it's accurate in the fact that SXSW is no longer the place for a band to go, be discovered and sign a big recording contract.
On the other hand, a SXSW showcase is about far more than getting signed socially when independent labels are proving to the be the way to go. It's an opportunity for those bands who are invited to play before a much a larger audience, get some much needed exposure and make a fistful of valuable contacts to help the group trade shows and hit the road, learn some tricks about distribution and marketing or, in some cases, even find a producer who wants to work on their next CD.
As a music fan, the week is a pilgrimage to worship at the altar of music. Over 1,200 band showcases in four nights doesn't include day parties and additional official events, much less the shows and parties that are rolled into Red Gorilla, the free festival and showcase that coincides with SXSW and rides its mentor's coat tails.
This is the place to catch all the hottest buzz bands, find a few new favorite artists before they break and even catch a few legends taking advantage of the chaos to show up and create a stir by playing a small, intimate venue for lucky fans and media that will in turn hype the latest CD release or tour. With this many bands playing, sometimes the most fun isn't catching the biggest acts, but gauging the audience response to some relatively unknown acts and seeing who becomes the next big thing.
While I feed off of the energy and chaos of the week and am chomping at the bit to sit in on a couch interview with this year's keynote speaker, Bruce Springsteen, I've got even more to look forward to. Although my first steps outside of the convention center may well take me to The Onion for my favorite slice of pizza, I'm sure I'll also wear a path to Friends, the club on 6th Street that will be converted into The Buffalo Lounge, where OKFMI (Oklahoma Film and Music Industry) and ACM@UCO will be hosting three days worth of Oklahoma bands to show off the talent that we have here in Green Country and across the state.
Although I won't be turning all of my attention to Oklahoma artists while I'm in Austin, you can be sure Urban Tulsa will be well represented as I flow in and out throughout the week, as will our guest correspondent, Rachael Roach.
Likewise, Tulsa is once again outnumbered by bands from the Oklahoma City area, but those we do have representing us will surely do us proud. More than anything, I can't help but be impressed and encouraged by the number of Oklahoma artists that will be appearing this year for official showcases and SXSW parties. When I first attended SXSW in 2004, there were less than a half dozen acts representing our state. This year, we've got over 40 artists stepping up to the plate to make us proud and the quality of musicianship has risen just as dramatically as the number bands.
I'll just be rolling into town on Tuesday night as the music festival gets kicked off with a soft opening, but I'm sure I'll be crossing paths and catching up with many of Tuesday's artists over the course of the week. While the music festival doesn't officially open until 8pm on Tuesday evening, March 13, OKFMI kicks things off early with the "Oklahoma Film + Interactive + Music" party, which segues between the three festivals as the music emphasis takes over from Wednesday through the end of the week.
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Tulsa artists dominate this party, beginning at 4pm. Wink Burcham, Jesse Aycock and Desi & Cody will each get their turns in the spotlight before Oklahoma City's Modern Rock Diaries takes over at 6pm to finish up before doors close at 7pm, in preparation for the official 8pm showcases.
The only Tulsa artist on Tuesday night's "Okie Soundcheck" is Daniel(s) (Sutliff -- also part of And There Stand Empires). Bands to keep an eye for here include OKC's Mont Lyons, who is currently building a solid buzz and indie/dance/electro-pop sensation, and Chrome Pony, who will close out the night as a giant dance party. The real time bomb of the night, however, will easily be Pretty Black Chains.
They pretty much stole the show last year with rave reviews from Austin press for an explosive live show that had the entire club throbbing to the band's propulsive groove. Even if I slide in too late to catch The Chains, they'll be playing a handful of parties over the course of the week, so I know I'll catch them at least once.
Wednesday afternoon's "Sax, Clogs and Rock & Roll" party features Tulsa acts Scales of Motion and Panda Resistance mid-day and provide a great transition into Brother Bear, who opened for Other Lives at Fassler Hall last month. I'll definitely have to break free from the conference for a few minutes to check them out and grab a quick lunch earlier in the day as an excuse to catch The Damn Quails giving 6th Street a swift kick in the butt to kick start the day.
The official ACM@UCO showcase on Wednesday night takes things in a distinctly indie rock direction with Defining Times (who I will go out of my way to catch), as well as The Boom Band, The Non, Horse Thief and headliner Stardeath & White Dwarf. You can be sure Stardeath will have to be on its A-game, however, as Tulsa's Broncho leads in with a blast of punk rock to set the tone. Hopefully this gig will grab Austin's ear as abruptly as it did last year, drawing a number of positive reviews from papers nationwide.
Thursday afternoon's ACM@UCO party is the curiosity of the week, with the wild card acts that I've not heard of. Thursday afternoon was spotty last year, but I've got a few to look in on briefly, including Rockettops and Of the Tower.
Thursday evening wraps up the Okie bands with the official Oklahoma showcase. I'm already planning on kicking off the night's festivities here with Weatherford's Green Corn Revival -- one of the best bands I've heard from Western Oklahoma. I'll also try to catch a few songs by Fiawna Forte before heading out to catch Springsteen. This will be the most promising set of the night, however, as Forte played to a packed out house last year with a crowd forming behind the stage to fill the street and peer in the windows to catch a glimpse of where that thunderous female voice was coming from.
The middle of the evening features Jacob Abello and Junebug Spade before Tulsa talent wraps up the night with JD McPherson (Tulsa's official representative artist at SXSW) bringing his signature rockabilly and Americana sound to the showcase and OK Sweetheart (which will include Paddy Ryan on drums as well as our local sweetheart, Erin Austin, leading the charge) closing out the night.
Those are just the official showcases and parties for the week. There are even more Oklahoma acts headed down for the week for unofficial showcases and appearances as part of the Red Gorilla. I haven't seen a full list or heard from everyone yet, but I do know that Chase Stites (whose new album is near completion and is being mixed by Beau Hill -- who has previously worked with The Killers) will be making an appearance, as well as FM Pilots and a few others. PDA will be showcasing on Friday as well and even though he's now located in Dallas, he'll always be a Tulsa boy at heart.
If you think that sounds like a lot to try and take in, you haven't experienced SXSW before. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
While I'm looking forward to potentially catching some smaller shows by big name artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Mayer, I'm even more eager to find some new favorites and previously unknown artists. Past discoveries that have become staples in my iPod include John Butler Trio, AbsentStar, Bob Schneider, Meiko and David Moore, to name just a few. As stoked as I am about that, what's even more exciting is pondering how many people will potentially head back home with CDs in hand from our Oklahoma artists and find themselves referring back to acts like Green Corn Revival, Fiawna Forte and Brother Bear for years to come.
Watch out, Austin. Oklahoma is coming for you.
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