The traffic. The lines. The overpriced food-truck fare. The nonstop day-drinking. The huge crowds. The anxiety I feel every year before South By Southwest often unsettles me to the point of nausea. It really is a lot to take in, but when it was all said and done this year, I had a complete blast. As usual.
I’ve been going to South By every year since around ’07, most of the time as a player at nonsanctioned or “unofficial” shows, other times just as a drifter, trying to hustle wristbands for free access to showcases. This year, for the first time, I was in an official showcasing band, with my brothers in Quaker City Night Hawks.
We made South Congress Avenue our homebase, mainly because parking on the south side of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is a little easier to come by (also usually free). One of the coolest stops on South Congress is Doc’s Motorworks, a friendly bar/restaurant with a sweet, partially covered front patio, where Fort Worth booking agency Blackbox Presents throws a very Fort Worth-centric multiday mini-festival every year. My bandmates and I made a point to stop by there for a few sets each day.
The great thing about the Blackbox show is that every year it gets a little better. The little improvements make all the difference. It’s gone from bands playing on the concrete with a tiny sound system to bands playing on a flatbed trailer to, this year, having a super-nice bona fide stage with a legit PA system.
I got to see genuinely kickass sets by locals The Longshots, We the Sea Lions, rapper Doug Funnie, Ice Eater, Larry g(EE), and Son of Stan. All of the sets were pretty well attended, and the crowds were very receptive, showing a lot of love to the Fort Worth scene.
Judging by what I saw over those three days, The Longshots seemed to be a real crowd favorite. Their gritty, fast-paced Southern punk had people stopping on the sidewalk to listen, and many of them came into Doc’s to check out what was going on.
I was sad that I didn’t get to see any of the night sets at Doc’s, but I had my own shows to worry about.
The Night Hawks had two shows this year, the first a nonsanctioned gig on Wednesday night at the Gibson Showroom on the other side of South Congress –– our Fort Worth buddies The Orbans were also on the bill. We were very happy to find out there was an open bar: free Shiner drafts and bottles and free Tito’s vodka –– although none of us is really a vodka fan, free is free, right?
It was kind of a strange show because each set was only 25 minutes long –– while I think we had a great set, it sucked to have to stop playing just when I was getting warmed up. One of our songs was filmed by the Gibson crew, so watch for it online in the next few weeks.
Thursday morning, my QCNH bandmate Pat Adams and I went to the Austin Convention Center to catch this year’s keynote address, by one of my rock heroes, Dave Grohl. In a truly inspiring speech geared toward young musicians, Grohl’s theme was that the musician comes first. You don’t have to do what record label people say you’re supposed to do, he insisted — you can do it all yourself.
Thursday afternoon we bumped into another local buddy, Larry g(EE) drummer Aaron Haynes. He told us about a nearby day party that had an open bar, so naturally we went. At this British Music Showcase, we had the pleasant surprise of catching Wet Nuns: a two-piece sludge-metal band that was loud, hilarious, and heavy. In yet another pleasant surprise, the event was emceed by one of my modern drumming heroes, Matt Helders from Britain’s Arctic Monkeys. During a break, I went up, shook his hand, and said hello. He was a super-nice dude, which is always good to see in someone that you respect as a musician.
Thursday night was QCNH’s first-ever official SXSW showcase. We kicked off at The White Horse on the trendy East Side at 8 p.m., and we had one of our best sets ever. The crowd was wild, with everyone dancing, singing, yelling, and drinking. The sound was perfect, and there were no hiccups, no broken strings, and only one broken drumstick (my bad). It truly could not have gone any better for us.
Later, after some (OK, many) celebratory shots, I wandered off from the band to catch a show at Valhalla on Red River Street by Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow (killer name, right?). The psych-punk fourpiece (female drummer, female bassist/singer, and two male guitarists) had the crowd going. I fought my way to the front of the tiny club and got to watch them kick some serious ass. I eventually got a little overheated and had to go up to the balcony to catch their last few songs while seated.
After our Thursday night showcase, we were done with gigs for the week, so we had all Friday to just wander around and do whatever. This is when I made my favorite discovery of the whole festival: Luella and the Sun from Nashville at The Continental Club.
My jaw dropped at the ferocity of lead singer Luella. Many times during the set, the songs would break down to her alone, singing a capella and then bringing the band back in with her chaotic howl. Guitarist Joe McMahan would change from bluesy, open-tuned riffs to dissonant, almost Ornette Coleman-like jazz breaks.
I know very little about this band and can’t find much about them on the web. But after their SXSW showing, I think they’ll be written about on tons of blogs and in the music rags. You can get their music only via luellaandthesun.com, where they are selling a 10-inch single, which I bought and can’t wait to hear. We were so blown away by them that we caught them again on Saturday. Twice.
After that, we decided to beat the horrible Sunday traffic on I-35 and head for Fort Worth. My feet hurt. My hips hurt. My legs were sore. My liver was hating me. But getting to walk around a great city where music is happening all around you is always quite a beautiful thing.
For me, SXSW ’13 was the best one yet.