So if you have ever been to SXSW you know that by the 4th day, you have pushed your body beyond every possible limit you thought you had. Day 4 was not quite as crazy as the previous days…a lot less running around (band choices were highly determined by proximity), not quite as much dancing (early morning Viva City and late night Little Red Radio aside), and more attention paid to things like eating and hydrating. At a certain time of the day we kind of hit a wall. There was a lull in the schedule. Resting in some way was a popular option. I, however, couldn’t bring myself to NOT be around music for any prolonged period of time.
I noticed a conveniently timed tweet from Joey Ryan saying that him and Kenneth Pattengale (AKA The Milk Carton Kids) were playing a set in about an hour at The Hotel Cafe showcase and it was open to the public. Previously I was under the assumption that these showcases were badges and wristbands only so none of them were on my schedule. But I located Saint David’s Sanctuary and made my way in.
Seeing that The Hotel Cafe feels like my home away from home in LA, I wasn’t surprised to find that the Hotel Cafe Showcase produced a similar vibe. It took place inside a church so seating was plentiful and MUCH needed at the time. The rows of pews extended quite a ways back, but each and every artist was somehow able to reach out and connect to every person in the room. Plus, the venue provided for plenty of humorous “church” references throughout the evening.
When I first walked in, two women were on the stage playing keys and cello. I was unfamiliar with them, but the peaceful and soothing sounds they were producing were exactly what I needed at the time. Turned out, the keyboardist was German artist, Agnes Obel.
After Agnes was The Milk Carton Kids. Of course I’ve seen Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale numerous times, but this was my first official Milk Carton Kids experience. As they played several of my favorite tunes, I glanced around the church. The Audience seemed so moved and so intent on the music it was almost as if they were stunned into silence. A silence only broken by bouts of clapping or laughter brought about by Joey and Kenneth’s unique sense of humor and general stage banter.
I only intended to stay for this one set, but then I saw Brian Wright setting up and I just couldn’t leave. I’ve also seen Brian Wright many times, but this might have been my favorite of his performances. I don’t know if it was the venue, the fact that it was at SXSW, or my general mood, but his first song literally gave me the chills. By the end of the set, he had the audience standing (not a trivial accomplishment) as he led them in a chorus of “Halleluiahs” made even more poignant by the church setting. It was one of those magical moments…a song sung a particular way at a particular time with a particular audience that will never be captured in that exact way ever again. Magic!
At that point, I knew I wasn’t leaving until I absolutely had to. It continued to be a night of magical moments. Jim Bianco also took advantage of the setting to sing this song about sinning, but I feel that his bringing his band into the aisle for “Sing” was the transcendent moment of his set. Holly Conlan sang my favorite of her tunes (“OK”) and then brought Joey Ryan unto the stage for a duet that was so beautiful it nearly brought me to tears. Then Laura Jansen took the stage and mesmerized the audience with her gorgeous voice.
After Laura, I forced myself out the door (I had other places to be). On the way out I ran into Cary Brothers and Brooke Fraser (both to perform later). It was hard to leave, but I am just so grateful for that tweet that led me to at least attend the event for a little while. Seeing a showcase of singer-songwriters amidst a sea of mostly rock bands and dance parties made me appreciate my Hotel Cafe experience even more. These artists’ ability to captivate simply with the power of their voice and beauty of their songs is a true testament to their talent. Even though my goal of SXSW was to discover new artists, I don’t think the experience would have been complete without my little oasis of The Hotel Cafe showcase.