In my near decade going to SXSW, this is the first year that the music festival got the better of me and I had to miss a day+ of programming due to food poisoning. The ugly setback meant missing several must see acts, but the week in Austin still provided plenty of highlights. Here’s what I gleaned from my SXSW 2019.
Donna Missal SLAYS – my favorite set of the week was Donna Missal at the VEVO House, but every time Donna takes the stage (including at a 7am radio show), she commands the audience with a vitality and passion that emanates from every fiber of her being. A woman on a mission and with a message, Donna uses her platform to preach the importance of inclusion, togetherness, and women working with, instead of against, one another. More please!
The future of music is female – at the close of the day on Tuesday, I realized that every single act I saw that day (save one) had at least one woman on the stage! My list of favorites reads like a list of rising female singers: Angie McMahon, Samia, Robinson, Minke, Charlotte OC, ROE…all acts I’m super excited to follow. Despite one depressing conversation with a music business guy about the struggles of women in the music industry, the future of music, to me, looks decidedly more female.
Welcome back to Austin, Dear Boy! – One of the best parts of SXSW is seeing one of your favorite local bands in a different city. This year, that band was LA natives, Dear Boy. Armed with a smashing new EP, The Strawberry EP, (which includes one of my favorite Dear Boy songs, “Limelight”), the quartet returned to Austin ready to shine. And they were greeted with open arms, finding new fans (and bringing out long-time supporters) with every show. Welcomed indeed.
Everyone’s going to be talking about Sam Fender – With lines out the venue for most of his sets, one of my fave SXSW 2018 artists returned this year with much more acclaim. For someone so young (Sam’s in his early 20’s), his songs show a maturity and political awareness that can deeply resonate with contemporary culture. Hopefully as his fame rises, he’ll learn how not to swear on the radio and figure out a better way to keep his vocal cords fresh than drink so much water right before a set that he wants to end early so that he can run to the restroom…
Acoustic sets for the win – I saw plenty of amazing rockers this year (Reignwolf, Quiet Company and Black Pistol Fire leap to mind), but many of my top sets were bands who chose a more acoustic route. Jamie N Commons, who knows how to rock, came to Austin with just a keyboard and guitar…and I loved it! Second Play stages afforded me the opportunity to see two of my new faves, Robinson and Apre, play more stripped down, intimate, and memorable sets (as I curled up on a couch and gave my feet a much-needed break). Finally, an early morning radio show hosted both X Ambassadors and Judah & The Lion whose acoustic versions of “Unsteady” and “Pictures” overwhelmed me with the most emotion I felt all day (if not all year).
As for the rest:
Best 1 AM Set: Jared & The Mill – if you haven’t already, you need to check out their new album, This Story Is No Longer Available. This band keeps getting better and hearing all the songs at 1 in the morning just made them feel even sweeter.
Best Dance Party: Pip Blom – they know how to party in the Netherlands!
Best use of one song 3 x’s: Sir Sly (“High”) – The LA faves wanted to play more songs but didn’t have enough rehearsed so they played their hit single three times…
Best Venue: British Embassy (Latitude 30) – Although they got rid of my Biffy Clyro poster and still don’t have anywhere to sit, they bring in the BEST lineups, day and night, hands down. A trip to the British Embassay will never end in disappointment. Top acts seen there include ROE, Sports Team, whenyoung, Thyla, Saint Phnx, and Anteros.
Morgxn at VEVO House
Best Party: VEVO – for two nights in a row, I planted myself for a time at the VEVO house. They had excellent food (plus ginger beer), a chill atmosphere which fostered good conversation, and, despite the awkward stage angle, the party seemed to bring out the very best in their awesome lineups (highlights include Donna Missal, Sam Fender, and Morgxn).
(HM: Communion Showcase: always a winner, the church environment was perfect for the lineup that included Novo Amor, Minke, Celeste, Tamino, Angie McMahon, and Dean Lewis)
Most Seen Act: Dean Lewis – gotta see him now before he becomes too big for me!
Biggest Misses (by me) – The Amazons, The Howl & The Hum, Briston Maroney, King Princess, the last Dear Boy and Jamie N Commons sets, Fatherson – my SXSW was going to end with the one, two punch of Dear Boy and Fatherson at Lamberts. I even tried to make it out figuring I’d sit in the back and just listen, but the smell of the BBQ was nauseating, and I couldn’t last more than 20 minutes. Darned food poisoning. Next time!
Since I did not have the mental capacity to do daily recaps (and have been getting some complaints about that), I thought I’d at least throw out some photos I took each day at SXSW. Here’s a glimpse at my amazing week of music.
Well, I made it! SXSW 2017! I love the beginning of week when I’m so full of energy and can walk from Red River to Congress like it’s no big deal. When I still have the wherewithal to converse intelligently with the people around me and one little tea is all I need to get me through…ah, the beginning of SXSW.
My week started off a bit hit or miss. Let’s start with the big miss: where is the swag?? Gone are the days when someone is handing out free t-shirts or phone chargers at every corner. Those people have been replaced by the lovely folks of OxFam who instead of giving you things are asking for money. Some of my swag misses today were just bad luck as I managed to be the first in several lines to not get things (M&Ms, t-shirts, cliff bars, popcorn, food, etc) but it wasn’t all bad as I did walk away today with two shirts, a phone charger, a water bottle, buttons, and some stickers (thank you Pandora!).
Today was a mix of Interactive and Music and my day reflected that. I somehow (and I’m still not quite sure how this happened) ended up going through a door that said “closed” down an incredibly dark hallway and through another door into a backyard patio where two guys were speaking on a panel about AI. It was interesting to hear them posit a pathway for Alexa to become a machine that passes the Turing Test. I also ended up at a mixer sponsored by the American Chemical Society called something like Your Brain on Music where I got to see how the brain responded to a live 90’s cover band in real time. Pretty cool stuff!
My evening began with some Second Play stage action. I made it to The Hilton to see Ciaran Lavery (incidentally one of the acts I saw on my first day of SXSW last year) and then The Westin for Damien McFly. For those of you who don’t know about the Second Play stages, I’d visit the SXSW website and check out the lineups!
The highlight of my evening was probably getting into the Pandora event to finally see FRENSHIP (a fantastic dance party that must be repeated ASAP) and then realizing that I knew one of the singers. In fact, Amanda and I met Brett Hite about 5 years ago just a couple blocks away…back when Brett was just a guy with a guitar (I still listen to his song “Look Away”).
The second highlight of my evening was catching a bit of Jacob Banks at Empire for the Mazda Party. Wow, that guy can emote! The stage was running late so I also caught a bit of Maggie Koerner who was a very pleasant surprise.
I ended the night, as tradition dictates, at The British Music Embassy but sadly the band I was there to see is missing the first few days of the week due to “scheduling conflicts”. I caught a couple of bands that were good (maybe even great), but the experience was slightly marred by the schedule change. Here’s to hoping for more of the hits (and fewer misses) Tuesday!
Other random things of note:
On the plane ride, I sat next to the guy who started the whole Movember movement. He is speaking on a panel about marketing for men and reflected a bit on how it has changed.
There is a giant wave pool set up in Austin where people are surfing. Surfing in the middle of Austin. It’s as strange as it sounds.
I got to play with a ferret today (yes Austin is weird).
There are quite a few bands that I hope to see this year. Some old favorites, some soon to be too big for me, and some hold the potential to be my next band love. Here are my top 10 acts to see at SXSW 2017:
One of my favorites return to SXSW so you bet they are at the top of my list! Armed with a new EP, Parts of a Flower, that includes one of my favorite Dear Boy songs, “Alluria”, these bittersweet rockers are worth putting down that taco and running across town for.
Lewis did a few songs at Bardot earlier this year and it got me very excited about his forthcoming album, Midnight, out March 24th. I’ve been listening to “Deep The Water” on repeat. I especially enjoy the acoustic version.
One of my top 2016 artist comes to SXSW and I will do my best to see this band as many times as I can just to watch the audience fall in love for the first time over and over again. Then we can all sing along the lyrics to “Shine” at the top of our lungs and feel better about the world.
I was able to see these Aussies play an intimate gig at The Echo and I would say they surpassed expectations. Their live show really takes their music to another level and I can’t wait to see them again in Austin!
Findlay – “Electric Bones” is one of those songs that notice every time it comes on my mix…I’d say that’s a sign that I need to see it performed live.
James Hershey – saw this guy a couple of years ago and he was great, but his new song, “Everyone’s Talking” takes him to the next level
Airways – It’s like Twenty One Pilots meets The Neighbourhood? Idk, but this “One Foot” business…I approve!
The Wrecks – I have had the pleasure of watching this band grow SO much and I can’t wait to see them conquer SXSW…which they will.
Ocean Park Standoff – “Good News” is so catchy and fun. I need to see what else this group has in store!
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…
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
Well, I’m tired and my face is as red as a lobster, but I still can’t help but smile at all the music I was able to see today. We started out with a series of interviews for High Voltage. I chatted with new band love Judah & The Lion and SXSW 2013 faves, The Virginmarys. It’s always a treat to get to know a band outside the hectic and noisy club.
After interviews we took a free car (thank you Mazda!) across town to Whole Foods. The Quantum Collective party, I must reiterate, booked some stellar acts. Today we caught Green River Ordinance, Great Caesar, and The Arkells – there was plenty of dancing. I unfortunately missed Wild Feathers, but that was in order to bounce across the street to the Waterloo day party to see Kaleo. My how this band has grown since I saw them last summer at Make Music Pasadena! Kaleo melts the heart and stirs the soul. The play both gorgeous falsetto heavy ballads and down and dirty rockers. It’s the dichotomy that really fascinates, but it totally works!
My evening’s schedule presented itself with quite a few tough choices so I made the decision to walk 20+ minutes from Whole Foods down to Shady Grove to see a late afternoon set from The Virginmarys. Amanda was such a trooper and came with me and we met up with a couple of friends to witness what had to have been the hardest rocking set ever at the outdoor burger joint. Sticks went flying as the UK band busted out a few new tunes from their forthcoming album, Divides, as well as some old favorites (sing: “hey girl, lay off my dead man’s shoes”). Afterwards, the band was gracious enough to give us a ride back downtown. My take-away from that adventures is that I’m very glad I’m not driving through Austin during SXSW.
After picking up some free food at the South Bites area (chips and guac, spicy pulled pork mac n cheese), I ventured to the church for what was my most anticipated set of the week – Judy Collins + Ari Hest. They opened with their duet of Ari’s “Strangers Again” which just filled me with such joy and nostalgia, it brought tears to my eyes. They have an album coming out and played many newer songs, but busted out a few of the oldies that Judy is known for.
More difficult decisions lead to an evening of sampling. And while no band quite reached the “Graham Bar” for new discoveries, I do have plenty of additions to my must see list. The most fun was probably had during Mainland’s set at The Sidewinder where dancing was an absolute must. From there we ran up the road to catch Drowners, but left after a couple songs (the place was packed) to make it to the McDonald house to see The Score and have an ice cream sundae. While walking up to the venue, the band starting playing the song I wanted to hear (“Oh My Love”) which I took as a sign that I was in the right place. Due to some set time switches we wandered aimlessly for a bit before settling in at Ester’s Follies where we caught a promising new act from Los Angeles called Runaway Saints. The night (and the week) then ended with one of my recently discovered new favorites, Dreamers.
And that was all she wrote, folks. Another SXSW down. Tomorrow we’ll catch a few more bands to ease out of the madness, wait it out at our favorite cafe for some Mad Mud, and see what else Austin has for us after the masses depart.
Happy Birthday to me! Since I’d like to gift myself an extra hour of sleep, we’re going to keep this brief with a simple list of my day’s highlights:
BMI Brunch – always the primo spot for food, networking, and music, this year brought eating with Jay Nash and Drawing North, sets from Tor Miller and Shawn Hook (among others) and of course running into…well just about everybody.
The Quantum Party on the Whole Foods rooftop – after a failed attempt to get into the Key Bar, we eased on down the road to Whole Foods where I drank Mama Chia (win!), discovered a fantastic new LA band, The Heirs, and chatted with Gingger Shankar.
30 seconds of Blue October – because walking past the maxed out venue and only getting to see/hear a snippet of a song is better than no Blue October at all (and probably one of the best musical moments of my week).
Bday Chai – Starbucks gifted me a free drink so I took it! The largest most delicious chai was the perfect pick-me up to get me though the day. It even came with a golden ladybug type creature which I will take to be extra special luck.
Aussie BBQ – the two stages packed in tons of great Aussie acts. I was able to catch Tigertown and Drawing North before the impending storm put a pause on any outdoor music venues.
Compelling singer-songwriters – I spent all night at a church or the ASCAP showcase sampling singer-songwriters and none of them disappointed: Matt Woods, James TW, Billie Marten, Jay Nash, Jake Bugg, Jake McMullen, and a surprise special set from Lapsley (the perfect way to end a wonderful day of music).
Can’t believe tomorrow is the last official day of SXSW!