Since the late 1990s, when I first started attending South by Southwest, I’ve complained so much about the annual music festival and conference that you’d think I was talking about some family reunion I’d been forced to go to every spring. And, in a way, I’m right.
My main gripe is that SXSW has lost sight of its mission: to expose independent artists to industry movers and shakers (and fans).
Instead, year after year, the festival concentrates on bands that are already signed either to major or major indie labels. The past couple of years haven’t been so bad, but I still can’t remember the last time some unknown band got signed after appearing at South-by. That shit just doesn’t happen anymore, and I wish it would.
Granted, the industry has changed –– an artist no longer has to sign to a major label or get his face on the cover of Rolling Stone to earn a decent living making music. He won’t be a millionaire, but at least he might be able to generate enough scratch to buy a dependable car or move out of his parents’ basement. And major labels aren’t all bad –– they function as gatekeepers, keeping out the junk and giving us the good stuff. (They brought us Arcade Fire, Radiohead, and The Black Keys, right?)
I also understand that the South-by honchos need to generate foot traffic –– getting big-name acts to perform is undoubtedly the best way to attract casual music fans.
Despite all that, South-by is still missing the point. And though things have improved, the evidence suggests that festival organizers still are spending too much time being awestruck and not enough time promoting the little guys who are the future of independent music.
My favorite case in point, of course, is the lack of Fort Worth-area artists offered sanctioned showcases. Every year, several weeks before the festival, South-by booking agents present me with a list of Fort Worth artists on the bubble for sanctioned showcases, soliciting my insurmountable, massive, muscular knowledge. Last year, the list was about a dozen names long. This year it was only three, each as relatively dubious as the next: novelty metalheads Complete (see: “Completely SXSW,” Feb. 8), neo-punks Mind Spiders (a fantastic band but one that is partially Denton-based and that until a couple of weeks ago hadn’t even played Fort Worth in over a decade), and Hudson Moore, a John Mayer-ish singer-songwriter who’s from Fort Worth but is a UT student and hasn’t lived here in a long time. Every name on the 2011 list was legit. Well, except for Complete, three misguided but seemingly sweet middle-aged dudes who’d played the festival the previous two years. There’s little doubt in my mind that Complete’s internet notoriety –– Google “Complete ‘Hot as Hell’ YouTube” –– is the only thing that explains why the band keeps getting invited to play the festival. But the three-names-long list? Eh. Might as well have slapped me in the face.
So some whiny e-mails were sent South-by’s way, and the list of three magically turned into five –– Burning Hotels and Calhoun were promptly added. All five were given sanctioned South-by gigs. A short while later, three other 817 acts –– psychedelic surf-punks Fungi Girls, rapper Snow Tha Product, and the heavy jam-band-y Spoonfed Tribe –– were also added, bringing the grand total of F-Dub artists playing sanctioned 2012 South-by showcases to eight. Not bad — the same number of 817 artists that played sanctioned showcases last year.
This year, most of the sanctioned locals will play additional, non-sanctioned shows, just for fun (and vast riches and glory). Calhoun will perform on Saturday, Mar. 17, at 5 p.m. at Doc’s Motorworks on South Congress on the second of a two-day showcase put on by Fort Worth booking agency Blackbox with The Local Edge with Mark. On Friday, the event will include more Fort Worth acts than anything else at the festival: Josh Weathers & The True+Endeavors (noon), The Hanna Barbarians (1 p.m.), and EPIC RUINS (3 p.m.), whose last show was last July as part of our annual Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards Festival. (The band can get together only so often because drummer/co-songwriter Jordan Richardson has a full-time gig out in L.A. in the backing band of major-label superstar Ben Harper.)
Richardson is important here for other reasons. A while back, the basher introduced one of his L.A. friends, moody singer-songwriter Jenny O., to the music of Fort Worth swamp-blues masters Quaker City Night Hawks. Not long ago, Jenny O. was offered a sanctioned South-by gig, but she didn’t want to schlep her whole L.A. band to Texas, thinking that maybe a killer Texas band would be able to back her on short notice. Enter: Quaker City. The band recently backed her during her inaugural Texas show, Monday night at Magnolia Motor Lounge. With Quaker City behind her, Jenny O. will play several Austin shows during South-by, including her sanctioned showcase Saturday at 10 p.m. at 512 Rooftop (408 E. 6th St.). Jenny O./Quaker City also have written more than a dozen new songs together during her brief period in town.
Headed to Austin? Be sure to support your friends and neighbors from the 817. Here’s where you’ll find your ever-lovin’ spicy a-meat-a-ball.
By the time I get down there, the festival will have already kicked off, with Tuesday shows by the Hotels, Calhoun, and alt-Americana singer-songwriter Kevin Aldridge.
Aldridge also will play at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar (506 West Ave.). He’ll be followed by two other crazy Fort Worth bands: the dusty-Americana Whiskey Folk Ramblers (11 p.m.) and Spoonfed Tribe (12:30 a.m.). (Spoonfed’s sanctioned showcase is Thursday at 10:50 p.m. at the patio of Hotel Vegas, 1500 E. 6th St..)
At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Stella Rose will perform at Stephen F. Austin Hotel (701 Congress), and Fungi Girls will play their sanctioned showcase at Valhalla at 7:30 p.m.
But the one Wednesday show that no self-respecting Fort Worth homer should miss is at 7:20 p.m. (yep, 7:20) at Bernadette’s Bar (2039 Airport Blvd.), when one-man-R&B-band Nathan Brown, a.k.a. Browningham, plays the second day of a two-day showcase called Indie Radio Rocks the World 2.
The place to be on Thursday for some sweet, sweet Fort Worth action will be The Highball (1142 S. Lamar Blvd.), when Fort Worth arty-indies Skeleton Coast join Burning Hotels and Dallas’ Ishi on a bill headlined by Oklahoma’s Stardeath & White Dwarfs. At 10:30 p.m. that night, Texas RockFest’s main stage will be trod upon by the hard-rocking Triple SP, and at 9:45 p.m. rapper Snow Tha Product will take the stage at La Zona Rosa (612 W. 4th St.) –– she has another sanctioned gig, Saturday, at 12:25 a.m. on the patio at Barbarella (615 Red River St.).
Fort Worth-related stuff going down on Friday includes a show by ska-rockers Sally Majestic at 6 p.m. on the second outdoor stage as part of the Texas RockFest. Soulful singer-songwriter Hudson Moore will play at 8 p.m. at Maggie Mae’s (323 E. 6th St.), and The Theater Fire’s Sean French will perform as part of his other band, the indie-electro duo Eyes Wings & Many Other Things, at 9:15 p.m. at Dominican Joe (515 S. Congress, Ste. 108). I’ll get into town on Friday just in time to catch EPIC RUINS at 7 p.m. at Shiner’s Saloon (422 Congress, Ste. D).
Your Friday evening will end with a giggle and whimper. At 10 p.m. at B.D. Riley’s (204 E. 6th St.), Complete will whisk you, me, and the three other idiots in attendance into the night on gossamer wings of poop. At a reasonable hour. Saturday is going to be busy.
The day starts at 1 p.m. at The Aquarium (403 E. 6th St.) for a show by Fort Worth/Austin hard-rock trio Stella Rose. The band will no doubt finish in time for you to scurry to Fricano’s Deli: West Campus (2405 Nueces) for a 3 p.m. set by two members of the rustic indie-experimental Fort Worth sextet The Theater Fire, Don Feagin and Curtis Heath, as part of a showcase by New Media Recordings. Hang around for the following set, by The Migrant, a Dane who collaborates with James Talambas, TTF multi-instrumentalist and the main man behind New Media Recordings, a Fort Worth-based boutique studio.
Fort Worth singer-songwriter Clint Niosi is also on the bill (and also collaborates with Talambas), playing at 5 p.m. At the same time, The Brew Exchange (706 W. 6th St.) will feature Jenny O./Quaker City.
Jenny O.’s/Quaker City’s 512 Rooftop show will be the next-to-last Fort Worth-related gig of the evening and the entire festival. If you’re still of sound mind and spirit, stay up late enough to catch Mind Spiders’ officially sanctioned showcase, at 1 a.m. at Valhalla (710 Red River St.).
Most of the aforementioned shows are free.
For folks to whom a sea of hipsters sounds about as unappealing as a tobacco taco, take heart: Lots of cool out-of-town bands will be stopping by the Fort over the next several days. On Sunday at Caves Lounge (900 W. Division St., Arlington), Stardeath & White Dwarfs will be joined by New Fumes, Skeleton Coast, and Today the Moon Tomorrow the Sun. On Monday 1919 Hemphill will be taken over by a bunch of Brooklyn punks –– Japanther, Filthy Savage, and Ken South Rock –– plus Fort Worth’s Nitch Pickens.
When he’s in A-town, will The A-Train see any non-local bands? Eh, probably not. Life’s too short to waste time on acts that the whole world’s written about a million times already and that other than as commodities have absolutely no bearing on Fort Worth Weekly readers. If our publisher would give us a little more space (hint, hint), then maybe I’d consider out-of-town stuff. But until that faraway point, expect nothing but all Fort Worth all the time from yours truly.
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