POSTED ON MARCH 27, 2013:
Found Sound at SXSW
Austin amazing for UTW contest winner
As I breezed into the South by Southwest music festival, the predominant voice resounding in my head was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. She exclaimed, "Anna, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!" Indeed, I felt far removed from my Tulsa home. I found myself faced with a cyclist riding sky-high on bicycles merged together, a werewolf violinist, a living Lego man, and an obese, diaper-clad angel strumming his harp. Looks like we found the rainbow, kids. Let's slide down and see if a pot of gold awaits us next to the leprechaun.
Welcome to Austin, Texas. The straightforward slogan plastered on souvenirs, cars, and even houses is, "Keep Austin Weird," which depicts this psychedelic capital's essence. Needless to say, this city welcomes the uglies and the crazies while turning its nose up at those aiming to "keep up with the Joneses." The city's heart pulsated in an unfamiliar, yet undeniably alive, manner. So many nameless street musicians bang away at beat-up pianos, or prop themselves up against buildings to pluck their upright basses. They and the passersby painted its rhythm with a cacophony of sound. Each individual played an integral part peppering the ambiance with allegros, adagios, and cadences in between. SXSW afforded me a rare opportunity to socialize with international music lovers from as far away as Ireland, Australia, and Brazil.
Why would the press from renowned magazines, as well as commoners, travel far and wide only to arrive in Texas? Bob Marley answers the question with his song, "Trench Town Rock." Marley's lyrics claim, "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain/ ... Hit me with music ... brutalize me with music." I interpret his words as meaning that music provides a release for everyone, regardless of life circumstances or demographic. When one connects with the beauty and truth within a melody, it inspires them while freeing their spirits to unite with others. Every soul hungers for nourishment; musical compositions fulfill this task in the same manner as church or therapy. This thought helps me conclude my SXSW purpose: Discovering, analyzing, and appreciating the art of sound, and publicly relating that message.
I arrived at the tail-end of Charlotte Church's showcase at Latitude 30. Luckily, I reaped the benefits of hearing several tunes from her recent EPs, aptly titled One and Two. She emerged with a Bjork-esque appearance, complete with tribal face markings and a couture kimono. Church's semblance and newfound musical direction signified a radical departure from the once familiar classical darling. Her songs commonly used a quiet-loud dynamic to illustrate a soft melancholy in congruence with an infallible strength. Likewise, her vocal abilities easily rivaled those of Mariah Carey's by spanning the entire spectrum. Church's bittersweet masterpiece, "Mistress," demonstrates the complications sustained by a jilted lover during a doomed relationship. It quickly became a favorite of mine.
While Charlotte Church gains widespread recognition, Pickwick currently flies under the radar. Not for long, thanks to their phenomenal debut, Can't Talk Medicine. Seattle's soulful sextet laid down some downright funky grooves, guaranteed to rock your panties right off. Although they evoke a blueprint comparable to the Black Keys, do not write them off just yet. Pickwick possess a much darker demeanor, clearly evident in their song, "Hacienda Motel." Frontman Galen Disston describes awakening at the motel battered and broke, due to his involvement with a bloodthirsty prostitute. The amplified acoustics during their set at the Central Presbyterian Church further compounded their fans' frenzy. Each song topped their last. My Catholic boyfriend even screamed out, "%$#@ Yeah!" But then I had to be the Debbie Downer, reminding him of our church location.
Moreover, you probably have not heard of Austin native Guy Forsyth. When I unearthed this diamond in the rough, I felt akin to an archaeologist during an excavation. Forsyth and his band's discography unbelievably stretch back two decades. Their all-encompassing style borrows from nearly every standard genre. Forsyth proves his virtuosity by fluently playing the banjo, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and singing saw. Ironically, he performs "Sink 'Em Low" accompanied only by tambourine and hand claps. This song blends traditional, work song elements with old-time gospel. Another notable track, "The Things That Matter," shuns materialism in favor of truth and love. It suggested to the listener that people leave legacies behind based on what they do for others, instead of what they acquire.
Similar to Forsyth, The Specials know a thing or two due to years of practice. The British rude boys have rocked steady (no pun intended) since their inception in 1977. Members of the ten-piece group show no sign of slowing in their middle-aged years. Consequently, they bounced, skanked, and even dropped down to their knees delivering, "Rudy, a Message To You," "Too Much Too Young," and "Monkey Man." The heads bobbed while the bodies pogoed unanimously within the audience, coalescing into an insuppressible beast. I simply could not get enough of them, even though I reveled in their performance from the front row. The Specials encore closed the night with, "You're Wondering Now," causing tears to well up in my eyes. As the song started, I wondered what to do after the curtains fell. However, I disagreed with the chorus. I knew this was not the end for either them or me.
With over 2,000 musicians, countless parties, and hundreds of venues, SXSW nearly offers too much entertainment. The typical day begins in the morning, ending several hours after the bars close. Attendees face the difficult choice of picking and choosing the most stellar acts to see. I heard so many exceptional bands that I took great pains whittling them down to my top four. I stand by each of these musical groups, because both the newcomers and seasoned veterans exhibit mind-blowing qualities which speak for themselves. I truly cannot wait to experience SXSW all over again in 2014, and all the years to follow. Austin rubbed off on me. I brought a piece of the weirdness back.
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