I was eager to hear music in my first full day at SXSW, but as it turned out, it was nearly 8 PM before I devoted my full attention to a full set. That's one of the problems, of course, with SXSW -- there's so much going on, that you're constantly being bombarded with sensory overload. The crowds wandering the streets of downtown Austin, the noises coming out of every building, the knowledge that right now somewhere some other band you wanted to see plus 14 other bands you'd probably love if only you knew they existed are playing. This isn't some Austin City Limits Music Festival problem where it's 2 or 3 folks maybe playing simultaneously with staggered set times and within a 4-minute walk. No, this is everything. happening. at. once. No matter what you're doing, there's something else cooler happening someplace else. That may not actually be true, but it's hard not to feel that way.
My sole real barbecue experience of the weekend came courtesy of the suggestion of Austin Chronicle writer Melanie Haupt, who suggested Franklin Barbecue, which is a trailer in the shadow of I-35 just north of downtown. I joined Melanie, her husband, and a friend for some excellent early in the morning. It was a reminder amidst the tons of free food and stuff and music on offer at SXSW -- sometimes it's worth paying for something. I recommend it highly.
Anyway, at this point, it was nearly noon, and since the pre-meet for my SXSW panel was at 1 PM, I had to abandon any (unrealistic) plans for sliding into a day party prior to the pre-meet. So after finding some parking, I scooted on down to the convention center where I spent most of that free hour or so wandering the aisles of Flatstock 24, a poster convention held (annually) in conjunction with SXSW. Very, very cool. It's like going to a museum - A MUSEUM OF AWESOME ROCK POSTERS. Made of awesome and win, y'all. I never did find the perfect show poster for me -- for me, it had to be a perfect combination of art and artist, and I never really did find it. (Plus, I'm trying to get rid of wall art, not add it.) But gorgeous stuff to look at.
Then it was off to the pre-meet for Jumping into the Kiddie Pool: Diving for Dollars. Tor Hyams was our moderator, and he led those of us on the panel through a spirited discussion of the business of kids music -- in many ways, this was as much fun for me as the panel itself that followed, because there was a lot of give-and-take. The regular panel (squeezed into a room that was probably a bit small for the 40+ folks crowded into it) was useful, I think, for the folks that attended who wanted more basic info. But there wasn't as much time for the interplay. There was time for me, however, to curse. Sorry, guys.
After the panel (the hour went by quickly, they shooed us out of there at 3:15) we continued to shoot the breeze with folks outside the panel room, then a couple of us went across the street to have a beer at the Hilton Hotel's sunken outdoor patio restaurant. While we there, a couple guys from GWAR walked by. Those guys are normally pretty tall, walking around in elevated boots and headpieces. When your head is at about street level, they look gi-normous...
Eventually I wanted to, you know, hear some music, so I took a walk across the Congress Avenue bridge to see the WOXY.com day party at Home Slice Pizza. (Unfortunately, the day parties at SXSW were WOXY's swan song, as they were forced to cease operations the following week, but let's not dwell on that.) I caught the very last song of The Lonely Forest's set. It was "We Sing in Time," of course, which the band probably played a dozen times in the span of 3 or 4 days at SXSW. That's the thing -- it's not uncommon to have a band play a dozen or more SXSW gigs official and unofficial. I probably missed a Lonely Forest gig at my mom's house.
Anyway, after the Lonely Forest came former Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky. Good stuff from the 6 folks crammed onto the very tiny stage behind the Home Slice restaurant (and check out the lead video from his new album The Desert of Shallow Effects -- very cool, almost kid-friendly).
After Kursoky's set (and while the Swedish swing/hip-hop trio the Move-Its were playing), I decided to get a slice of the famous pizza. While in line I struck up a conversation with a guy by the name of Jon Goldman, whose short film Diplomacy was playing SXSW Film. You could probably spend the entire week at SXSW just networking -- not in a formal, "must meet 20 people each day who will advance my career" way, but just constantly talking to people for whom creative endeavors are an important part of their daily lives.
We had a slice of pizza together, then I headed back across the Congress Ave. bridge and made my way to the Austin Music Hall in the southwestern part of downtown. I walked in to catch a few songs from Mayer Hawthorne, a Detroit soul/R 'n' B singer, who maybe if I'd been prepared I'd've appreciated but instead made me wonder whether the guy's white-boy take on rap and soul was an odd joke I just didn't get.
After the Black Joe Lewis set, I walked up to Sixth Street to Momo's, where there was actually a line for badge-holders to get in (not to mention the line for non-badge-holders which stretched around the block). Luckily, it didn't last long, but it highlighted how not having the badge can really put a crimp on your SXSW planning -- you can do SXSW for free (or for low-cost), but you're pretty much limited to deciding which single nighttime showcase you want to see and parking yourself there by, like, 8 PM.
I was there to see Austin native (and one-time Biscuit Brothers friend now living in Portland, I believe) Sarah Jarosz. And while I knew she was popular, it didn't quite explain the line to me. Until I realized that the band she had joining her, Black Prairie, was a Decemberists side project. Then I understood. Jarosz has a pure voice and nimble instrument skills, although those weren't on display much in her set. Still, she could eventually be in the same league as Alison Krauss.
Next was Freedy Johnston, whom I hadn't seen live in at least a decade. He got "Bad Reputation," one of the '90s best songs, out of the way right off the bat, but I gotta say his new stuff sounded pretty good. He ended his set by doing an epic cover of his longtime standby "Wichita Linesman" with a random audience member (who turned out to be New Orleans singer Susan Cowsill, who also appeared at the Alex Chilton tribute the next night). It was pretty awesome -- it's good to have Freedy back.
There's definitely a difference between Thursday and Friday nights at SXSW, because at my next venue, the Ale House, there was a 20 minute wait for badgeholders like me to get in. As a result, I missed the first part of April Smith and the Great Picture Show's set. Smith's got a big voice and a swinging band, and I can recommend her new album Songs from a Sinking Ship (note: I've received a copy of the album from Smith's publicist). If you don't believe me, stream the album here -- just listen to "Movie Loves a Screen" and tell me you don't want to listen to the next track. Kids music equivalent: AudraRox.
And while I wanted to stay for the whole set by English band (and Sigur Ros favorite) Fanfarlo, at that point, past midnight, I was fading fast and after a few songs decided to call it a night. I did, after all, have one more day (and night) of shows to get through...