With more than 2000 bands to choose from at SXSW this year, there was no way anyone could have seen even a small fraction of it all, and if Bruce Springsteen was right in his assessment during his keynote speech, the odds were 50/50 that you’d either stumble upon the best band in the world or … “They suck!” It’s hard to agree on music these days, he says, after rattling off a breath-defying cache of subgenres, like “alternative metal, avang-garde metal, black metal, black and death metal, Christian metal, heavy metal, funk metal, glam metal, Medieval metal, indie metal, melodic death metal, metalcore, rap metal …”
His speech offered an endearing education on the history of music from his personal influences – do wap, blues, gospel, Woodie Guthrie, the British Invasion – to the plethora of sounds that have manifested since.
Having been a bit haphazard in my SXSW music picks, I know of what The Boss speaks. SXSW puts it all out there on the streets of Austin. It was easy to weed out what was or wasn’t going to be interesting, if even bearable, just by the sounds bellowing out of venues. But so much was good, even if I felt like an antique in some crowds. I will say you can enjoy SXSW without a badge (some venues offer cover charges, too), but I appreciated the flexibility a badge afforded me – allowing me to pop in and out of venues without feeling committed to something that might not be my style.
Some of the highlights for me, though, turned out to be homegrown Texas talent – both new and legendary (What happened to all those unsigned bands of yore?).
I’m really excited about San Antonio’s trio Girl in a Coma, who are signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label. Sisters Phanie and Nina Diaz, along with longtime friend Jen Alva have been making strides over the past few years, but I see even bigger and better things ahead for them. Others agree. They are nominated for two Independent Music Awards for Best Independent/Alternative Rock Album and Best Independent/Alternative Rock Song. Going to keep an eye on them.
And my heart just loves listening to Austin’s Quiet Company, named the 2011-2012 Best Band of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. They are touting their CD, “We Are All Where We Belong.” Luckily, amid so many choices, they had three time slots slated to make it easy to catch them.
Kat Edmonson, who I saw in hybrid interactive-music setting for a SXSW-meets-TED conference session at the Driskill Hotel, is another favorite. The session was touted as an “intersection between humanity and technology” that “allows us to rediscover our human connections amid the tech-enthusiasm of SXSW.” With some of the boldest thinkers and most interesting minds from the SXSW community taking the stage, Edmonson set the tone with her unique, lilting voice. I feel like I’ve tuned in to 1930s radio. It’s akin to Billie Holliday, and I find it refreshing.
I also enjoyed music that was mixed with the highly-charged atmosphere like those hosted by well-knowns. Film director Richard Linklater – a native of Houston – hosted a party after the screening of his new film “Bernie,” which stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.
Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society, also brought us films like “Slackers,” “Dazed and Confused” and “School of Rock.” He is a genuinely fun guy – too Texas to be “Hollywood.” It was nice to be able to thank him for bringing attention to Austin and Texas as viable locations for movie making. You can’t talk about filmmaking in Austin or Texas without bringing up Linklater. (See: Texas films at SXSW).
Blues great Marcia Ball ranks high on my list of performers that I admire. She didn’t perform for SXSW, but I was able to visit with the 5-time Grammy nominee (the latest for her album Roadside Attractions) at a SXSW-inspired luncheon for women in music. The event, hosted by Carla de Santis Black of M.E.O.W (Musicians for Equal Opportunity for Women) with assistance from Nancy Conklin of Women in Music Professional Society, included a phenomenal array of empowered women who were performers, music label reps, publicists and key movers and shakers in the music world. … all in one room to do one thing, support each other. A beautiful thing. It was inspiring, and you could feel a push to the moment women in music are feeling right now. At the end of the event, a performer from Boston took the mic to share this was her favorite part of SXSW so far. Others echoed the sentiments.
On the last evening of SXSW, I finally made it to Rachael Ray’s private three-night bash on Austin’s east side (she also hosted a musical showcase for the public during the day Saturday). I arrived in time to see her husband take the stage with his band, The Cringe. It’s nice to have a supportive wife, no? Ray has become a regular SXSW party host, and she was A-OK. Thanks Rae-Ray! But after about an hour, I have to admit I started to feel a bit of withdrawal. I had a hankering for more of the Texas vibe. I found it.
I think music is like the blood in our veins … the air in our lungs. I imagine we’d wither and die without musical expression. So, THANK YOU Texas, because an event like SXSW makes me realize how incredibly blessed we are with the creative community that has been fostered within the Lone Star borders. The state is brimming with talent, and its up to all of us to support our local performers. We have a good thing going, let’s help keep it thriving.