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Something Called “South By”

First Impressions of a Runaway Music Fest


How do you know when you’re on the train to SXSW?

There’s a bunch of people with funny looking heads - one spikey, one totally bald, one with brimmed cap, one with unusually long beanie - in the Phoenix airport, which you see after some chick on your SBA-to-PHO flight tells you not to get lost on Sixth Street on your way to piss.

And then, once aboard, said band happens to sit behind you and - beyond one’s personally provided musical experience (cuz budget-friendly US Airways don’t offer their own in-flight entry) - you hear their plans for stardom: do another record, stop doing this sort of showcase garbage, and/or then give it up. (They turned out to be nice fellows from someplace called Alberta. Band name: Social Code.)

Upon landing, you see more goateed, “cool” people you think maybe look like yourself, and make your way to the Super Shuttle for the cheapest route to your buddy’s casa. A few diversions aside - namely your driver, who details disciplining his apparently third wife, desires to go into “that janitorial franchising,” says Austin was at one point a couple years ago “shooting up like skyrockets,” and eventually needs help navigating - and one is ready to roll. Said rolling is quicker when reaching destination and only possible contact is rolling out immediately. Post-plane deodorant, face-washing, and urination be damned.

Photos © Erica Urech

After enduring the badge pick-up sitch and realizing that the colloquial calling is “South By,” you learn that the center of musical Austin, Red River and Sixth Street, is entirely freako nuts, Bourbon Street-style, you’re told, which translates to Southern notions of near riot-like gathering: a mix of hipsters, anti-hipsters, college dudes, anti-college dudes, drunks, anti-drunks, whites, blacks, browns, yellows, anti-colors, dudes, babes, fools, friends, what-the-f-ever. If you’re alive and like any sort of music, you’re represented. If you don’t like music, maybe you like booze, and you’re here too. No music, no booze? Don’t come here. You’ll hate it. Stop reading now.

Luckily, I like both, but that’s enough catching-you-up-on-me boredom. Here’s a little of what I found, liquidly, sonically, and otherwise:

Lone Star Beer: Dig it. 12 ounce bottles or 16 ounce cans. Cheap. Light. Good for pacing. Here: lonestarbeer.com

3OH3: Super dope party hip-hop from Boulder, Colorado. Friends were like, “I can’t tell if they’re joking or not” and “are they tongue in cheek or not?” With lyrics such as, “Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips” and “your sister’s on my mouth,” they’re in on the joke. They’re funny, fun, and good. Check it: 3OH3. Played in the backyard of Stubb’s, which my inside friends said has the best sound in town and fits 2,100.

The Meat Puppets: I’ll be honest: I am woefully inadequate when it comes to knowing what’s supposed to be cool when it comes to “modern” music. So when The Meat Puppets came on stage following 3OH3, I thought maybe I was in for something new. But no, they played that one song we all know (don’t we?), which I thought was a cover, and then I lost interest. But one of the guys had very nice and flowing hair that some women would kill for. They got more info on this new thing called wikiwhatever. (Also at Stubb’s.)

Brooke Waggoner: Appreciating quality music can be hard in a spastic scene like SXSW, but when someone has three stringed instrument players, pounds an emotive piano, and sings like a young, possibly more accessible Tori Amos, you shouldn’t be too bummed that your homie dragged you all the way up the stairs to Maggie Mae’s apparently fourth or fifth performance venue. Seemed to me like they were looking for the next Joanna Newsom, and they mighta found her. She’s at brookewaggoner.com.

Red Bull? So there’s this sprawling palace of coolness out in East Austin that Red Bull (if you’ve been in a cave for 10 years, it’s an “energy” drink) creates every year. It’s called “The Moontower.” (If you’re out of Texas lingo, think back to Dazed and Confused.) You need like ultra super duper credentials (or just be part of the press and act confident) to get in after a $20 cab ride, but once in, free booze, cheap food, not too many people, and, certainly, more Red Bull than your heart can handle. So this is where I say: Drink Red Bull, because all those stories about people dying from mixing it with too much liquor are, of course, totally lies. I didn’t see anyone die last night (but I only left at 3 a.m.). And they mix it with whatever you can think of, and then give you the rest of the RB can. (If only they gave you the rest of the vodka : ) If you can’t find it yourself, click here.

Bedouin Soundclash: I met the bassist but missed the band, due to aforementioned getting-in issues at The Moontower. I want to see them. You should too. bedouinsoundclash.com

Riverboat Gamblers: A punk band that’s apparently been around the block a few times - including having their lead singer named “frontman of the year,” or something crazy like that, by SPIN or some other music mag- these guys had spunk. The singer was all over the stage, crawling up the catwalks (or was that actually The Moontower?), lunging into the crowd. I even got hit by an errant moshpit monster, rather forecefully. They be here: theriverboatgamblers.com.

I’m probably forgetting something, but there you go. Oh, and I took some pictures, but am tired of the computer, so maybe I’ll load ‘em later.

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