As the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film and Interactive conferences swung into full gear in Austin last Friday, festivalgoers had already begun packing into standing-room-only panels at the Austin Convention Center. Hotels across town have been booked solid for weeks and flights into Austin were full.
For the savvy visitor, the weekend offered a good chance to check out the scene in “the Live Music Capital of the World” before the rest of the hordes arrive for SXSW Music Wednesday.
Celebrity sightings abounded – CultureMap staffer Carey Kirkpatrick spotted Rainn Wilson and Rick Fox, and other notables in the capital city included Conan O’Brien, Danny DeVito, Mike Tyson and Pee Wee Hermann.
Popular author and blogger Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) was seen on South Congress, tweeting “Don’t just want to move TO Austin, want to move INTO the Hotel San Jose.” And news reports confirmed that Jake Gyllenhaal (apparently otherwise a good sport about posing for pics) scuffled with a fan who snapped his photo at an “inelegant time” in the Paramount Theatre restroom.
From a music perspective, it almost felt like a regular (busy) Friday night in Austin. There were plenty of folks out enjoying their weekend on South Congress, but the South by San Jose Stage (which will be surrounded by hundreds of people later this week when Black Joe Lewis, the North Mississippi All-Stars, and the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra perform) was dark, in anticipation of the unofficial free showcases that will begin Wednesday. It was even possible to secure a prime parking space last weekend near the popular Continental Club.
Over at Threadgill’s World Headquarters, a packed house enjoyed the music of the Joe Ely Band and Shinyribs (featuring Gourds frontman Kevin Russell). A few badges were spotted, and a handful of Scandinavian visitors in town for the conference stopped by the table where the bands were selling CDs. For the most part, however, the outdoor venue seemed filled with a largely Austin-based crowd, blissfully unaffected by the frenzy of South-by.
That’s all about to change.
Thousands more festival attendees (some credentialed, many others badge- and wristband-free) are descending on Austin. There’s always a surfeit of great music, but this week it will be oozing from every pore of the city.
Soon, Cee-Lo Green, Queens of the Stone Age, Duran Duran, the Strokes and keynote speaker Sir Bob Geldof will join some 2,000 other bands at conference events and venues all over Austin. Rumors are swirling about an appearance by Kanye West.
A typical venue might host six bands in a showcase each night, and at any given hour on a SXSW Music evening, there are probably 80 different bands playing at SXSW venues. And those are just the official showcases. A mind-boggling number of additional parties, unofficial showcases, and other random music occurrences will round out the week.
Musicians with Houston connections will be well represented at South by Southwest. Famed Houston rapper Chamillionaire will be a featured conference speaker. Local favorites Buxton and Robert Ellis, both recently signed to New West Records, will both have official showcases and will appear at New West’s annual afternoon gathering. Rising star (Woodlands native) Hayes Carll has already begun a jam-packed SXSW schedule that will include at least nine official (and unofficial) appearances.
Houstonian singer-songwriter Gordy Quist will be appearing with the Band of Heathens for their official showcase at Antone’s on Thursday night in support of their new album “Top Hat Crown and the Clapmaster’s Son," due out later this month.
“We're excited to be playing the showcase with Emmylou Harris and the Old 97s,” Quist says. “We'll be going through lots of the new songs.”
L.A. entertainment lawyer, Paste Magazine writer, and Houston expat Jeff Leven will be returning to South-By this year after taking a year off for the birth of his daughter. As usual, his schedule is planned to the minute – he’s especially looking forward to hearing bands like The Silent Comedy (“part big tent revival, part Prohibition-era moonshine orgy, part bluesy kingsnake crawl”) and Maxim Ludwig, whom he says combines “the grizzled wit of Levon Helm, a loose-limbed young Van Morrison, the piercing wit of the punk era Elvis Costello.”
Can’t make it to Austin? Have a virtual South-By experience via the numerous radio stations that will be providing broadcasts from the festival.
The popular KGSR morning shows from the Four Seasons hotel will offer live performances from G Love, Ozomatli and Bob Schneider, and the station tweets that they have just confirmed appearances from Emmylou Harris and Ryan Bingham. Austin’s KUT will also do live morning broadcasts from the Hilton, including the Old 97’s and Ron Sexsmith.
Some out-of-town stations will stage their own concerts to provide exposure to their hometown acts. Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current will feature acts like DeVotchKa and Chapel Club during their showcase from 3-6 p.m. Thursday. Seattle’s KEXP will be broadcasting live from Austin for eight hours a day Wednesday through Friday.
And, if you want to help South By Southwest give back…the festival’s annual Japan Nite (a SXSW tradition featuring Japanese bands) has been turned into a benefit for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. You can contribute here or text your donation to 90999.