Austin There has to be a really good reason to be out of bed before, say, noon during South by Southwest.
With showcases often stretching into the wee hours, sleep is key to keep from collapsing in a heap of wristbands and laminates as the fest grinds on. Nevertheless, after a late Wednesday night that turned into early Thursday morning, I found myself walking toward the W Hotel on just three hours' sleep, making my way upstairs to a brightly lit ballroom to watch KGSR's live broadcast. Having never sat in on one of these SXSW events (local public radio station KUTX also does one, from the Four Seasons), I figured it was worth the loss of precious shut-eye to see what the experience would be like.
And would you believe I didn't even need coffee to kickstart my day? The wide variety of sounds (and the shocking enthusiasm of the performers, given the hour) did a fine job of getting my third day off and running. Although some acts tended to be more subdued (although no less engaging), it was bands like Fitz and the Tantrums, Divine Fits and hometown hero Nakia who went full tilt, the earliness be damned. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these broadcasts, jump at the chance. It's a unique opportunity to see these acts in a slightly different setting.
Fitz and the Tantrums
Ivan & Alyosha
My bloodstream sufficiently flooded with caffeine, I struck out for another, off-the-beaten-path SXSW experience. (Speaking of recharging, Samsung has a unique promotion going this year: tweet #poweron to @samsungmobileUS, and a bike messenger will deliver a fully charged battery to festival attendees.) This one took me about 45 minutes south and west of the hive of activity that is downtown Austin, to the small town of Spicewood. There, I entered into a state of tranquility, as I entered the grounds of Willie Nelson's "Luck, Texas," and the second annual Heartbreaker's Banquet.
An exclusive, invite-only event with fashion elements, food trucks (a pair of Fort Worthians were on hand: Fred's Texas Cafe and Tim Love's Big Purple Truck) and a general sense of relaxation, the Banquet unfolded on two stages, one of which was set up in a chapel that holds roughly 50 people. It was, frankly, a lovely respite from all the chaos, and yet another unique setting in which to hear live music.
Riley Downing and the Tumbleweeds
But, the idyll could not last, and it was back into the madness of sanctioned showcases. Fortunately, I began my third night with a one-two North Texas punch that left me dazed and thrilled. Fort Worth's the Longshots are one of the most impressive local acts I've seen in a while, ripping through one punk-stained rave-up after another. Likewise, Cleburne's Fungi Girls bashed out frenetic rock songs that pulled the room towards them like a magnet.
Elsewhere, British songbird Lianne La Havas was downright charming, and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell displayed the easy chemistry found all over the pair's new LP, Old Yellow Moon. City & Colour's melodic rock was a fine appetizer for Tegan and Sara's sparkling synth-pop, taken from Heartthrob, one of the best albums I've heard this year. A long day -- and late night -- that was full of fresh ways to hear a variety of sounds.
Lianne La Havas
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
City & Colour
Tegan and Sara