SXSW may already be a distant memory for some, but the experiences and discoveries are still resonating strongly with us. We’ve had time to let things stew, marinate, and percolate after all the craziness of the week and there are still experiences that are sticking with us that we felt like we had to share. Since many of our experiences extended beyond simply enjoyable sets, we decided to do something a little different this year…
Best Ofs- The Best Stuff!
Best New Discovery: Lukas Graham
Lukas Graham was the first act we saw at the official start of SXSW on Tuesday at the Spotify House and was far and away the best act we saw that day. With songs that are more like stories about himself and his band mates, Lukas Graham was an absolutely enchanting act. As Kristen said, he created the “Graham Bar” for the rest of SXSW and although everything else we saw was still enjoyable, nothing ever surpassed the “Graham Bar.” We made a point to see him again at the YouTube Music House where the band performed a full 45-minute set, which is basically unheard of at SXSW. We both walked away from that set with our minds sufficiently blown and throughout the rest of the week would just burst out about how amazing the set was from Lukas Graham. Mind. Blown.
Best Surprise Act: Lapsley
Sitting in the sanctuary at St. David’s Church late Friday night waiting for the “surprise guest” to appear, I was debating my choice to stick around. I wasn’t sure that anyone could top the stellar evening of singer-songwriters I had experienced and my hotel bed was very enticing. When a woman in white walked out onto the stage, I wasn’t sure who she was, but once she started singing, I knew I made the right decision to stay. Her voice was arresting! As I sank further into my pew, mesmerized by song after beautiful song, I felt transported. A quick google search identified the mystery act as Lapsley, a rising British artist. I kicked myself for not including more of her sets on my schedule, but sometimes the best acts are the ones you were never anticipating – absolutely the best surprise of SXSW 2016!
Best Party: Quantum Collective’s Southwest Invasion at Whole Foods
A party so good, we kept going back! Quantum Collective is one of the few parties with a consistently long line, often running down the steps and stretching around the massive Whole Foods building. The crowd was there for a reason. Good music in a comfortable setting surrounded by high quality food. What more can you ask for? For the music, we were able to see favorites like Green River Ordinance and The Arkells as well as discover new exciting bands The Heirs and Great Caesar. As far as food, we were excited about everything Mama Chia and the all-encompassing Whole Foods salad bar downstairs. If there was one party to get to early and stay all day, this was it!
Best Dance Party: Mainland & Royal Teeth
Kristen’s pick: Mainland – When multiple members of a band jump into the audience two songs into a set and starting dancing around, you know it’s going to be a party. Mainland delivered on their promise to get my feet moving. Their set at Shiner’s Saloon was so much fun, I made it a mission to see them again. No band made me raise up my hands in the air with such abandon.
Amanda’s pick: Royal Teeth – In all honesty, Royal Teeth were one of a few bands I already knew about coming into SXSW this year and they were one of my favorites from last year as well. They are always a fun, high-energy dance party and there’s something about them that never fails to make me smile. It’s hard to pick my favorite part of their set at Esther’s Follies, it could be when co-singer Gary Larsen ended up on a large speaker hanging over the crowd with an audience member’s phone or when he ended up in the crowd with a drum during their last song Wild and hit the drum with such force he seemed to propel himself into the air.
HM: DNCE – One of the best aspects of live music is when a band can really get you moving. When you’ve been walking all day and your feet are sore, it’s even more of a feat. So many bands made us get up and dance, but none created the crazy party vibe quite like DNCE.
Best Venue for Snacking: McDonald’s Loft & YouTube Music House
Kristen’s Pick: McDonald’s Loft – I mean, McDonald’s had an ice cream sundae bar. That is hard to top. Aside from all of the McD’s food (including more healthy options like apple slices and Cuties), the event booked some of our favorite and most anticipated bands like Jared & The Mill, and The Score.
Amanda’s Pick: YouTube Music House – This was my favorite place to hang out, eat, and watch bands. During the day there were various juices to sample, six different popcorn flavors to try, free drinks including bottled water, and roving waiters with different things to eat. During the evening it was just the free drinks and roving waiters but it’s really hard to say no to a 5 layer dip with gluten free chips, roasted corn salsa, sweet and tangy meatballs, sliders, and chicken wings. It was the best spot for seeing bands like Banners and Lukas Graham.
Best Swag: Socks and a pillowcase from Casper
The best swag for me is always the most utilitarian…and who doesn’t use socks and pillowcases?!? Casper also provided one of the most unique activations of the week, the nap pod!
Kristen’s HM: Cell phone card holder from Capital One – my favorite piece of swag last year was back in an upgraded version this year (they added some sort of stand/clip to the back) Capital One may be my favorite bank simply because of how streamlined my life has become by using this card holder. Ha!
Amanda’s HM: Safe Catch Tuna– There was a section in the convention this year about food at SXSW and I was directed to the Safe Catch Tuna booth by a friend with food allergies worse than mine. We got to sample the tuna which is lowest in mercury and comes packed in it’s own fish oil so it’s automatically moister (is that a word?) out of the gate than any other brand. A tweet or post tagging Safe Catch would get you a free can of tuna. Who doesn’t need free food at SXSW and something that is healthy to boot!
Best Laugh: The Laugh Button Live! at Esther’s Follies
It was only Tuesday and I was already overwhelmed with the idea of so much music that was out there for me to see that week and everything I had already been through that day. I was walking down the street when I say a flyer that had my favorite comedian’s name on it, Iliza Shlesinger. I had heard there was a fair amount of comedy at SXSW this year and I had even seen Chris Hardwick’s name on some flyers as well. I made it a point to skip music and see Iliza that night and I have zero regrets about it. There was no other name on the bill I recognized but it really didn’t matter because SXSW is all about discovery, right? I’m happy to report that there were several other comics in the lineup who I really enjoyed including Baron Vaughn, Owen Benjamin, and Alonzo Bodden. The host, Chris Cubas, was really enjoyable as well and I actually saw him around SXSW a fair amount working as a door guy at one of the venues on Rainey St. The whole event was super fun, it was an awesome way to be introduced to new comics that were really enjoyable, and it was great to see Iliza pull out some new material and change up some material from Kaaboo. She’s kind of the best.
HM: The People The Poet – It was all in the delivery with The People The Poet singer, Leon Stanford. Every time you hear Leon talking about wearing sunscreen so they don’t turn into lobsters, it’s hard not to chuckle. The People The Poet were the last band we saw on Sunday (the day after it all ended) and we were all a bit done. It’s not clear if Leon’s stories about having a belly full of brisket would have been as amusing if we weren’t slightly delirious, but the laughter is just as memorable as the music.
Best App Discovery: Tasteful
Not all of us can eat whatever free food is given to us at SXSW and sadly, I’m one of those people. Taseful is an app that I discovered in the convention center right next to the Safe Catch Tuna booth. What makes Tasteful unique is that you can program the app to show you places to eat that fit your dietary needs/preferences. That means, if you’re gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, low carb, or don’t care it will show you places to eat nearby with possible menu items that fit your needs. It also ranks the places by the how good they are for each dietary concern which means how much food is cooked fresh right there, how much cross contamination there might be, and so on. I didn’t get to try that many options presented to me by the app, although one of the restaurants brought food to a party I was at so I got to sample, but it’s nice to know the options are there if I need them.
Other Notables: Things We Can’t Leave Out!
Worth the Walk: The Virginmarys
The Virginmarys were one of our favorites from SXSW 2013 and were a must see as soon as they announced they were returning this year. Unfortunately, they only had two shows announced and both provided some issues. One conflicted with Kristen’s #1 can’t miss set of the week (see below) and the other was a bit of a walk. Well, sore feet be damned, we were determined to see this band so we make the trek across new portions of Austin to the burger joint, Shady Grove, where the band was playing a set in small stage in the corner of the outdoor dining area. As soon as they started to play, it was clear that the walk was worth it. The Virginmarys are one of the most dynamic and enjoyable live acts and their new songs absolutely must be experienced in their live form.
Worth the Wait: AudioDamn!
We had to wait for this band not once, but twice. Technical issues seemed particularly plaguing at their Revolt daytime show, but the band took it in stride and did the best they could with limited time and workable instruments. Despite the early struggles, we were able to catch the band again later in the week and their catchy songs and energetic performance made them shoot up to the top of list of fave bands of SXSW 2016. Must see again!
Most Nostalgic: Judy Collins + Ari Hest
This was my #1 must see act of the week and I was not left disappointed. Every time I hear Judy Collins sing, I am transported to my youth (she was my father’s favorite artist). Her new collaboration with Ari Hest takes the iconic voice in a new direction which I absolutely loved. The set was mostly comprised of newer songs, but they stuck in a few classics and I just closed my eyes and became ten years old again.
HM: Rooney – Another blast from my somewhat more recent past was when California rockers Rooney, took to the stage and played many hits from their debut album. Robert Schwartzman has not changed one bit an even the band’s new songs still harken back to the glory days of those early college years.
Most Seen: Dreamers
You know you like a band when seeing them becomes somewhat of a compulsion. Even if I was only able to catch a song or two, I felt drawn to whatever venue Dreamers happened to be playing. I’m pretty sure I can now sing along to all of their songs. Honestly, their EP just does not satisfy the craving. They are one to experience live and I did at SXSW, more than any other band.
Biggest SXSW Fail: Wild Wild Horses set time change
It’s absolutely impossible to re-check every single set time originally posted, but we really wish it had for one of our top bands going into the fest, Wild Wild Horses. Their set was moved an hour earlier than original reported time and although we still caught a couple of songs, it was pretty devastating to miss an entire set from this British band. Kristen tried to make up for it by stealing a set list and chatting a bit with the band, but nothing really compares to seeing your new favorite live. She did still make their SXSW recap video so at least there’s that memory…
Band We’re Bummed We Missed: Judah & The Lion
SXSW is filled with difficult choices, but the hardest for me to make was Saturday night. We had to choose between walking a bit further away to see Judah & The Lion or sticking closer to the action and packing in more bands and ended up choosing the later. It’s hard to regret the choice (there is no room for regret at SXSW), but that does make Judah & The Lion our number one band we failed to see this year, especially so after we got reports of how absolutely amazing their live set was. Next time!
Worth Swimming Through A Crowd for: Kaleo
The free and open to the public Waterloo Records party is always a bit of a crazy one. However, the prospect of seeing Kaleo again propelled us to venture over to the packed parking lot and make our way closer and closer to the stage as opportunity presented itself. Kaleo is one of those bands that you’re not quite sure what you’re getting yourself into going in, but after experiencing their life show, you are hooked for life. I recall a particular moment, half way through the sea of people when the somewhat inebriated guy next to me said something like “that guy has a pretty lady voice, but then he sings in his man voice and it really rock.” I just smiled, nodded my head, and continued to push forward through the crowd.