We saw a lot of awesome acts during our time at SXSW thought we don’t have enough time and energy to share with you all of the awesome act we saw, we though we should share with you the highlights of our time in Austin.
I’m sure you’re already familiar with our Walking on Cars story but just in case you aren’t, I’ll break it down for you… caught half of their first set at SXSW, second set conflicted with another, missed the third (and final) set after literally running there by just a few minutes and lamented them not playing more shows. And then…. the SXSW Magic happens. A band pulls out of a show that a friend is booking, ask them on Twitter if they’re free and want to play another show, they say yes! Like I said, magic. The thing about Walking on Cars is that there’s something really special about them musically. They have a sound that I can’t even begin to classify or describe but I can tell you that I feel their music in my heart and my soul. And it’s a pretty special thing to get a full 30 minute set from a new band love while being around friends who are also dancing along and loving the band you love. this show will forever go down in my personal SXSW History as something so magical and lucky that I still have a hard time believing it actually happened.
Where to begin with James Bay? I mean, the guy is a guitar and lyrical powerhouse of songs that just pull at your heart and all those emotions you don’t always like to think about. He only had a few shows that were doable schedule wise and one was completely rained out to boot. I only caught half a set at Spotify and that just wasn’t enough James Bay for my taste. The opportunity to see him in a church with those kinds of acoustics is something you’d be hard pressed to walk away from. Truth be told, I almost wasn’t able to get into this show because earlier the showcase had been declared “badge only” and I, the lowly wristband wasn’t allowed in. However, after patiently waiting and enjoying some other music just down the hall, I circled back to try again and as luck would have it, I made it in. The air in the church was palpably electric and the whole room was filled with this charge that went right through your body. It was a feeling that I won’t forget anytime soon. Even though James didn’t play as long a set as he did at Spotify, I can let that go in favor of the story telling behind the song Scars and the feeling of being a part of something really unique and special.
So this show technically wasn’t during SXSW “officially” but it was still during the week and was kind of a wrap up show. After catching only 2.5 songs of Royal Teeth at the Swan Dive earlier in the week, this was my last opportunity to see a full set from them. The band didn’t disappoint and somehow managed to still have a wonderful amount of energy for the end of the week. Their infectious pop energy was enough to prop me up and keep me going even though I felt dead on my feet. Even though I (sadly) wasn’t familiar with their tunes, it didn’t matter because everyone was bouncing along. I’m not sure what the most memorable part of the show was… when singer Gary Larsen jumped off stage and got into the middle of the crowd for some drumming or maybe when the confetti went flying during their last song and everyone looked so blissfully happy. Regardless, that show was something special.
Truthfully, I don’t know what pulled me to the Swan Dive for Zeke Duhon. I didn’t know him or any of his music but this little voice in my head told me to make sure I made that show and I’m really glad I listened. Zeke was a surprise I hadn’t been expecting and especially after already seeing so much music and reaching a point where it all begins to blend, he was someone who managed to really stand out and make me stop to listen. Probably my favorite part of his set was when he started talking about covering these two different songs and he couldn’t decide which he liked better so he chose to do both. This ended up being a super awesome mashup of Shake It Off and Can’t Tell Me Nothing by Taylor Swift and Kayne West, respectively. I mean, seriously.
I was so bummed about missing Colony House when they came through San Diego with Sir Sly but I was so happy to see their name on the list for SXSW. Sadly, all their showcases conflicted with something or were just too out of the way. But on SXSW Saturday, I made it a priority to see them and it was especially meant to be because they were just down the road from where I was that morning. Colony House completed slayed at Blackheart on a day that had proved difficult for other bands due to the weather. But some drizzle wasn’t going to stop vocalist Caleb Chapman from hopping onto this box in front of the stage with his mic stand and guitar and then getting some air while jumping back down to the stage, several times I might add. Their whole set was a powerhouse of rock energy that just didn’t let up until they got off the stage. If that’s how they played at the end of the week, I can only image how they are when fully rested, locked, and loaded. Whew.
Admittedly, I didn’t really want to stay for Jack Garratt’s set as I had just seen numerous other amazing acts at the church and was pretty darn tired with a write up still to do. However, I’m so glad I did because that guy is something really special. He has the vocals of an angel with the beat skills that is sure to make more than a few established artists jealous. He’s a really interesting juxtaposition of soft melodic vocals and hard bass dropping beats that echo through your chest. As someone in our party said, “he has that combination of soft and hard that Sam Smith tries, and fails to achieve.” He really was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.
1. Irontom at Lucky Lounge
Some might say it’s silly to go all the way to Austin to see a band from Los Angeles, but there is something quite special about seeing your favorite bands in a different setting. There is a comfort and joy in experiencing something familiar and a thrill from watching others fall in love for the first time. Plus, when it’s the end of the week and everyone is delirious from exhaustion, both you and the band are going to have an experience unlike any you would have back at home. This is what made Saturday afternoon’s Irontom set at Lucky Lounge so very special. I was propped up against a wall when singer, Harry Hayes, called out to me from the stage to check that I was okay. He then proceeded to bounce on and off the stage like I’d never seen before, as the entire band gave their all in their final SXSW performance, the third that day. At the end of the set, Irontom newbies clamored for more and without hesitation, the band launched into an encore. It was a set to remember.
2. Charlotte OC at Des Moines Embassy
When I saw Charlotte OC’s name listed as a SXSW artist this year, she flew straight to the top of my “must see” list. Wednesday afternoon, as my friends were retreating back to the hotel for some rest, I insisted on squeezing in one more set when I saw Charlotte’s name on my schedule. I rushed over to the Des Moines Embassy in time to make it up to the front of the stage before she began. She opened with my favorite of her songs, “Hangover”. I knew I was going to like the song, but her live interpretation took the experience to another level. This woman has a presence on stage that goes beyond simply singing her songs. I wasn’t even able to stay for this entire set, but I was so blown away it had to make my list. Fortunately, I caught a full set at The UMG Party at Palm door a few days later.
3. Brandi Carlile at Central Presbyterian Church
Now, this was a once in a lifetime experience! Brandi Carlile took her band of musicians and unplugged them all. They used the venue as another instrument, playing with the acoustics of the room. At one point, sting instruments were placed around the venue and even up in the balconies. At another time, the band paraded down the aisles with Brandi augmenting her voice via an old fashioned megaphone. I feel like she got through most of her hits as well as several songs off her new album, Firewatcher’s Daughter. When Brandi and the twins broke into my new favorite song, “The Eye”, I wasn’t sure if I was having an allergy attack or if tears were streaming down my cheek because I was so moved by the song in this form.
Frank Turner seems to be a SXSW regular and thank goodness for that! The energy he brings and can create in a room is infectious. I’m not sure that it’s possible to not have a good time at a Frank Turner show. I, for one, was clapping and singing and bouncing along at the one set I was able to catch of Frank’s at the Red 7 Patio. It seemed to be a “play the hits” kind of evening. I would have liked to hear more of the material off his upcoming new release, but it is always great fun being able to sing along with song after song. Mid-way through the set, there was a t-shirt swap with a fan. I hope this becomes a tradition!
SXSW 2015 offered the first opportunity I’ve had to see this new duo formed by Jay Nash and Josh Day. I was expecting the music to be good (and it was), but more unexpected was the humor and warmth created by the musicians personas revealed through the in between song chit chat. These guys are rivaling The Milk Carton Kids for the award for best banter! The dapper duo captured the audience in the small church hall, delivering a series of sad tunes with happy smiles. At least I had a goofy smile on my face the entire set. I look forward to hearing more from this band.
I was familiar with their infectious single, “High”, but Young Rising Sons, had an entire set worth of fun and memorable tunes. I’d also call this set a right place, right time kind of deal. I ended up at Maggie Mae’s because there were a lot of great bands at that venue that night. I was tired, but Young Rising Sons provided a perfect pick-me-up. They were fun and easy to enjoy. Sometimes you need a band with good pop sensibilities that can make you dance without thinking. Young Rising Sons came to me just when I needed them and became one of my most fondly remembered sets of the week.