If you didn’t make it to Austin last week for South By Southwest, you’re not alone. While Milwaukee Magazine couldn’t get to Texas for the behemoth festival (and even larger marketing event), we asked five local musicians to sum up their SXSW experiences to let those of us who couldn’t make it know what we missed.
With thousands of bands playing and probably hundreds of thousands of people attending, SXSW this year proved to be a close to unbearably overwhelming experience for me. Here are some things I learned.
- I saw a doppelganger of almost everyone I know.
- I would have liked to see more bands either dazzle me or be complete and utter fingers-in-your-ears garbage. Most bands are pretty average, and that's a snooze.
- Dudes love to button their shirts up all the way to the top.
- Seeing Ludacris walk into a Whole Foods as you're leaving will really get your blood pumping.
- Being drunk for four days straight is really hard, but necessary if you want to avoid boredom, foot pain and panic attacks.
- [Boredom] could have probably been avoided if we didn't have such a big gap in our shows. I recommend bands have at least one show every day they are there or you'll get “over it” pretty dang fast.
- Sleeping in your van in a Wal-Mart parking lot is pretty fun for one night, but too smelly after three.
- I realized I am not a "festival" person.
SXSW can really run you through a gauntlet of highs and lows of emotions, especially when you find out – on the second day you're there – just blocks from where you're watching The Hold Steady, a police chase has ended with someone barreling through a crowded street, injuring 22 and killing three. I've been coming to SX for 11 years and things have changed considerably since 2003: More parking lots have become venues; the people of Austin have (rightfully) become less tolerant of the shenanigans; streets and venues are over max capacity with the mass of festival goers now in attendance; and the staggering amount of "up and coming" hip-hop acts and singer/songwriters trying to "make it" or get discovered have littered 6th St. with literally thousands of homemade demos. I’m not against this; I think everyone has a right to be heard, but the amount of shameless self-promotion that goes on at SX has become comical to an extent.
Going to SX is a great opportunity to see many of your favorite bands in one general location in the span of five short days, meet like-minded industry folks to talk shop, eat great Southern food (including Austin's new In-N-Out Burger), and beat the tail end of the Midwest's awful winter by soaking up the sun in 70 degree weather. Some of my personal highlights were: Enjoying Lydia Loveless' blistering set at the Hole in the Wall's Grand Champeens opening night romp and later that night being in attendance for the Felice Brothers with Deertick at Cedar Courtyard. I had wanted to see Deertick for close to five years, always missing them, and they played every song I wanted hear. Ending their set with a full band rendition of Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" followed by "La Bamba," they drove the crowd absolutely insane! This was also the year my partners (Andrew Wieland & Ben Perlstein) and I threw the first day party for our record label, Good Land Records, which in my eyes was a complete success. An inch from being rained out, the weather thankfully cleared for the 80 or so people who came by to catch some of the acts we had assembled at Freedmen's BBQ (which has the best ribs I've ever had!). One of the bands I managed to sign on for the event (a personal favorite) was Two Cow Garage, whom I had the distinct honor and privilege of attending three performances.
I can honestly say that even with the excessive crowds, endless days and nights, and the tragedy of losing three dedicated music fans in attendance, this was still one of my favorite SXs to date.
Jonny P noted this SXSW as his favorite so far. Good Land Records’ party was a big success. So much unity. People I met around the fest are starting to recognize that Milwaukee is an underrated city with a thriving music scene.
I think the schmooze can get pretty old by day four. It becomes about having a great hang with buddies and new genuine folks. There were a lot of hugs kisses and raunchy jokes going on among the Good Land Records bands. In all seriousness, dick jokes can really bring people together. I am honored to be a part of Good Land Records. I will go to SXSW any chance I get.
Photo of WebsterX by Michael Goelzer
SXSW was the most gratifying experience in the worst and best ways. It was so bad because I felt like a little guy, but I was nowhere prepared in merch or any other thing to be like "YO, YOU GUYS SHOULD LISTEN TO MY MUSIC." People can do that without physically saying it you know? But it was awesome because I realized how my performance carries in energy outside of state, the response I got from Austin locals and Milwaukee [visitors] was the most stimulating thing about the trip, also being able to take my good friends and my girlfriend was truly awesome. I'm excited to bust out some crazy moves this year, I was going to already but SXSW opened up a new level of readiness for me.
Jamie Yanda, Temple
We arrived a day earlier than our scheduled set to catch the Texas is Funny Records and Better Days Will Haunt You Showcase at the Spider House Ballroom. We were exhausted from the drive – we drove 26 hours non-stop through the night! – but we were excited to get there just as the showcase began. My favorite bands were: Honey and Salt! BOYTOY! And Cloakroom!
The next day we played the Milwaukee Home Stage. We were scheduled between some R&B and hip-hop stuff which I thought was sort of awkward for us to follow, stylistically speaking, but once we got jammin’ I did not care. At that point, I was just happy to be rocking with my bandmates. We rocked the hizzie to the best of our abilities, however I am honestly not sure if very many people liked the set. But, what can you do? After that, I left temporarily to check out the rest of the festival.
Later that night was perhaps the best of all! Our dear friend Brian Cruz set up a last-minute show at a park in the suburbs for us and two other bands from Mexico City called No Somos Marineros and Joliette. Both bands ripped! We started the show at about 2 a.m., I believe. Right when we finished our set the cops showed up. “You guys gotta stop. We’ve gotten calls from everyone within a 3-mile radius.” Needless to say, we kept on “rockin’ the suburbs” until the last band was finished. No cops showed up again, luckily. I really hope that footage of this show surfaces. It was one of those shows that, as a member of the band, you will never forget.
Then we drove back another 26 hours straight and played a show the next night in Milwaukee with Northless.