AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW 2014, PART 1 (of 5)
Since 1987, the city of Austin, the state of Texas and The South open up their doors to the entire world with The South By Southwest Festival which continues to grow, becoming more famous each passing year. Recognizing achievements in film, interactive media and music, tens of thousands of people, from fans to industry insiders, show up in Austin. The Southland Music Line found it’s way to this year’s South By Southwest. We had a great time following the music. Artist Robby Amonett spent his time before and during SXSW, touring with one of The South’s hardest working bands, Banditos. It was a great way to see how things work on the other side. (See Part Three of this article about his time with the band.) Our intrepid photographer, Stephen “Andy” Anderson and I came along later to get as much music in as possible. We were very thankful to have friends in Austin, whose hospitality allowed us to stay just a few miles from where we would start each day. We were also able to park at the same parking spot every day and it couldn’t have been easier, though we did get downtown each morning quite early.
After breakfast and a visit to the Austin Convention Center (ground zero to SXSW), we started making our way around to seek out the music. We had a slow start in our endeavor to find standout music because for every few bands you see, only one or two are worth checking out again. But it was the best feeling when we did. Such bands as Cheers Elephant or Mandolin Orange made the search worth it. We even walked up some stairs to a rooftop and found a band performing who was doing well. The band was Roo & The Howl, a Colorado band, who turned out to be a nice find. (Read more about them and other bands later in this article). Of course, there was some that simply weren’t that good. Even if they had the ability to be good, “they”, “he” or in one case “she” used incredible amounts of crudeness for shock value. It never took long to leave such shows. We just wrote it off…. and on to the next. The first day we were at SXSW, Stephen was asking me ‘where’s the music?’ I assured him, it was just still too early and that our first showcase event was a bad start. For around an hour, it was an ongoing joke between us, until we were finally able to hear some good music, thanks to The Giving Tree Band.
The Giving Tree Band from Illinois performing at the Bat Bar in Austin, TX at this year’s SXSW.
South By Southwest has seen many bands and artists discovered down through the years. Examples of this: John Mayer’s performance at SXSW led to him being signed to his first deal with a record company; UK artist, James Blunt was discovered performing at one of the many small venues during one year’s festival, which led to him being signed; Other breakouts at SXSW in previous years: Alabama Shakes, Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Foster The People and many more. Amy Winehouse was already known in her native England when she came to SXSW in Austin, where she made a huge impact on the audiences, which led to enormous success in the U.S. as well.
The famous 6th Street in Downtown Austin. You can go east or west of this intersection and find many music venues for live music.
Each year, more and more bands/artists are registering to become part of the annual Austin event. There was 700 music registrants to SXSW in 1987. More recently that number is around 12,000. The SXSW Film and Interactive parts of the festival bring in even bigger numbers. Not all who register get to perform, but a huge number do get their chance. An interesting point: Bands/Artists/Musicians are willing to come to Austin, TX for SXSW, even if they often, financially go in the hole, doing so. Usually responsible for the own expenses for travel and lodging, these new (often young) performers are paid very little for performing. A band might get $250 and a solo artist $100 or they have the choice of getting a festival wristband, which will get them into all the music events. From what I can tell, most choose the wristband over the money. They come to SXSW to be discovered or widen their fanbase. It really is a place where the industry comes to see ‘what’s new’.
Many of the shows throughout the city were set up with outdoors stages like this done by Waterloo Records.
When most think of a giant music festival, they think of some large open field with a stage very few can see from where they are standing. SXSW is different. True, there are events or all-star shows with such a setting like this year’s “Tribute to Jimi Hendrix” or “The Tribute to the Memphis Sound – Take Me to the River” which were held across the river from downtown Austin in Butler Park. By and large, most shows are scattered about the downtown area at around a hundred different venues and stages. Often you do need a wristband or badge pass, but for the most part, you can get into so much music for free either by RSVP or in several cases, just walking into the venue. During the day hours it’s very easy, because the larger crowds aren’t there until the evening hours.
REMEMBERING THE TRAGEDY AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2014
The majority of the time, the annual event goes on without many bad occurrences. The streets do seem fairly safe, but this year there was the terrible tragedy on March 13, outside the Mohowk and Cheer Up Charlies. Sadly, a huge part of this year’s SXSW will be remembered for the tragedy that occurred early Thursday morning. A drunk driver, Rachad Charjuan Ownes, ran into a crowd while trying to evade a traffic stop. This act of stupidity led to his hitting a moped and bicycle, before slamming into a huge crowd, killing two and injuring more than twenty others. (Since then, two additional lives were lost.) All these victims were there to enjoy a week of good music, but was cut short due to some idiotic act. The remainder of the festival and many of the showcase performances remembered the horrible thing that occurred with moments of silence or prayers often given from the many stages. Also a website was set up in the honor of the victims. (see later.)
Flowers at the scene of the tragedy that occurred at this year’s SXSW. The days following, many ‘moments of silence” and mention from the various stage were done. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
Despite the above, the feeling of security during the festival around Austin was quite good. We saw few incidences that seemed ‘out of hand’. Law enforcement was present during the whole event throughout the city. However, this one event brings to mind just how unsafe we all can be at any music or sporting event, festival or simply just walking down the street in any town or city.
We here at The Southland Music Line send our thoughts and prayers to the victims of Thurs. March 13, 2014 and their families.
The four who lost their lives:
*Jamie Ranae West, age 27, from Austin, TX.
*Dutch SXSW attendee Steven Craenmehr, age 35.
*Sandy Le, age 26, a college student from Pass Christain, MS.
* DeAndre “Dre” Tatum , age 18, from Fort Worth, TX.
More than twenty others were injured.
We felt it important to mention this tragedy in detail and show respect to the victims and families.
THIS YEAR’S SXSW MUSIC STANDOUTS
Each year, more and more A-list artists are showing up at SXSW, but the real special thing about this event is discovering great NEW music. The Southland Music Line obviously follows bands and solo artists around the South, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find time to praise bands from elsewhere. Whenever someone good performs ‘Down South’, we want to talk about it. Now that the festival is over, here are some of this year’s crop of bands/artists worth checking out:
Cheers Elephant – Originally from Philadelphia, PA; now making their home in California; Their sound is tight with every note, beat and sound. It’s charismatic drummer, Robert Kingsly, most definitely was an entertainer too. When asked who he admired most as a drummer, his answer was ‘Animal’ from The Muppets. Cheers Elephant was one of our favorite finds at SXSW.
Roo & The Howl – From: Colorado Springs, CO. We saw them on the rooftop of the venue playing host to the Colorado Music Showcase; The songstress behind Roo & The Howl, Bekah Wagner on lead vocals has “an easy to listen to” vocal quality. I personally enjoyed it and was impressed. Once I returned home, I contacted her and found out that Scotty Murray (known for his guitar work with Escondido, one of my favorite bands in recents years.) appears on their new album to be released May 20th. This only makes me more excited about what’s to come from this band. I highly encourage all to check them out.
Roo & The Howl appearing at the Colorado Showcase on the Rooftop at SXSW.
Desert Noises – From: Provo, UT; we saw them at The New Frontier Touring Showcase and this band rocks. Great show!
Liz Longley – From: Downingtown, PA , but now living in Nashville; She has some amazing vocals and was yes, a real standout. She too performed at The New Frontiers Touring Showcase, which frankly was one of the best showcase lineups we attended at the festival. I am sure we will be discussing her more in the near future.
Liz Longley performing at The New Frontier Touring Showcase at venue “Holy Mountain”.
The Giving Tree Band – From: Yorkville, IL; After a slow start at trying to find some good music at SXSW, thankfully we were able to find this lively entertaining band performing at The Bat House on 6th Street. They have a nice stage presence and great music to back it up. Also one of the coolest looking banjos we saw the entire week. (Interesting note: Artist Robby Amonett had the priviledge of painting one of their performances while they were in Ocean Springs, MS.)
Mandolin Orange – A super talented North Carolina duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz; Another of our favorite bands/artists to run across at this year’s festival. We here at “The Line” are looking forward to hearing more from Mandolin Orange. Most definitely, we want to see them again.
Mandolin Orange performing at this year’s SXSW. (Photo by Stephen Anderson.)
Future Islands – Formed in Greenville, NC & now based out of Baltimore, MD; check out their single: “Seasons (Waiting on You)” from the album, “Singles”. Future Islands received great praise from this year’s SXSW music insiders and fans alike.
Hurray for the Riff Raff – From: New Orleans and led by the incredible Alynda Lee Segarra, who appears on the recent cover of American Songwriter magazine. Anywhere this band performs it will be a standout. Check out their new album: “Small Town Heroes”. We’ve been a fan of theirs for some time and another band Robby has painted.
Above: Hurray for the Riff Raff (Art done by Robby Amonett) Contact us about purchasing the art of Robby Amonett.
The Dollyrots – From: L.A.; This L.A. Punk-Rock band features Kelly Ogden (Bass) and Luis Cabezas (Guitar); Of course, I am a fan of anything that somewhat reminds me of the old days at CBGB. They have several catchy tunes and a band worth checking out.
….and speaking of L.A. Punk: John Doe and X were in town. I got to see the classic L.A. Punk band “X’ while they were on tour with Blondie last year.
And while we are speaking of the Early 80’s L.A. Punk Rock scene, SXSW saw the reunited Rock & Roll brothers, Phil & Dave Alvin (formerly of The Blasters) performed at this year’s SXSW including performing at the all-star Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. (Read More in Part 2 of this Article.)
Dave Alvin performing at The All-Star Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Photo by Stephen Anderson.)
Hospitality – From Brooklyn, NY; check out their debut release from 2012 and their album “Trouble” from earlier this year.
St. Vincent – Originally from Tulsa, OK; presently living in New York City. She was definitely one of the most talked about artists at this year’s festival.
Dum Dum Girls – Formed in L.A., but now based out of New York City; one of the more interesting rock bands to perform at SXSW. Blondie’s Deborah Harry surprised the audience at one of their shows by showing up on stage to perform Blondie’s hit “Dreaming” with them.
Sturgill Simpson – From: Jackson, KY, but now lives in Nashville; Very impressive Country artist that provided the festival with something different and needed.
Shakey Graves (Alejandro Skylar Rose-Garcia) – From: Austin, TX; It’s really easy to see why he has quickly caught on with audiences. It is easy to become a fan.
Jordan Sokel – From: Maryland; here is an example of walking into a venue and finding someone worth listening to and knowing nothing about beforehand. It turned out the music was very good, so I definitely felt the need to mention. Check out his album: “Life of a Tree”.
Jordan Sokel performing in one of the many venues along 6th Street during SXSW. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
Lucius – From: Brooklyn, NY ; check out their track, “Go Home” from their debut EP.
Angel Olsen – She’s originally from St. Louis, MO; check out her album, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”.
Damon Albarn – This UK artist is no newcomer to music. He is also part of Blur and Gorillaz. (one side note: Damon Albarn along with Graham Coxon wrote the song “Tender” for which one of my favorite bands, Rosco Bandana covered on their 2012 release.)
Belle Adair – From: Muscle Shoals, AL; we saw them at Callaghan’s in Mobile, AL not long ago and now the Austin Chronicle named them “the band to see” on one of the nights at this year’s SXSW. One of The Line’s favorite bands.
Wye Oak – From Baltimore, MD; check out their single: “The Tower” from the album, “Shriek”
The Strypes – They are from Ireland; check out the track, “Blue Collar Jane”, from their 2013 EP.
Tacocat – Originating out of Seattle, WA; presently hitting some venues in the South and East following their SXSW appearances.
Kishi Bashi – A founding member of Jupiter One, as well as a touring member of the band ‘of Montreal’ and Regina Spektor; Check out the single: “Bright Lights”
Rosco Bandana – A Must-See band from Gulfport, MS. They were at their very best at the New Frontier Touring Showcase nearing the end of this year’s festival. As fans and friends of Rosco Bandana, it was a real privilege for Stephen and I, to see them do such a show. Their SXSW Showcase performance ranks near the top of all their performances we’ve seen. Way to go!
Rosco Bandana from Gulfport, MS performing at the New Frontier Touring Showcase at SXSW. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)
Obviously there were many more great bands and artists that managed to pull off some great shows during this year’s SXSW. We will discuss some in the next few sections of this multiple part article.
Click Here For: AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW [14, PART TWO –
A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix;
Celebrating The Music Legacy of Memphis, TN
Click Here For: AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW ’14, PART THREE –
Robby Amonett on the Road with Banditos;
Austin Locals Prove Why Austin is “The Real Deal”
Click Here For: AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW ’14, PART FOUR –
Our Final Thoughts of SXSW ’14
Click Here for: AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW ’14, PART FIVE –
A PHOTO RETROSPECTIVE
© The Southland Music Line. 2014. All rights reserved
Great read, Johnny. Can’t wait for part 2 and some more great leads on up and coming musical talent!