CJ's Take: A music fan's view of SXSW

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by C.J. Geoffroy / Special contributor to KVUE.com

kvue.com

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 6:35 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 10:23 AM

SXSW 2012 March 16    You're Going to Need a Bigger Venue

SXSW does two things for artists: It allows bigger bands to play smaller venues and it allows smaller bands to play larger venues.  Festivals do the same thing for the smaller bands, but the larger bands rarely have the opportunity to play intimate settings. I mean, you'll never see U2 play Peckerheads.  It's a shame because based on the number of big name bands that play SXSW they seem to enjoy it. I know that they're using it as an opportunity to fine tune and play their new music live before kicking off a tour, but behind that corporate answer these bands do enjoy it.  If people actually bought music then these big artists would be able to play smaller venues and not worry about money, but since no one buys music these artists have to make their money on the road. And we should all be glad, and take advantage of the fact, that once a year they all come to us instead of us going to them.

I have been attending SXSW for a long time and have yet to been able to attend the annual Spin party at SXSW.  In a digital world where anyone can write about music and post horribly shot one-handed videos of their attended concerts, Spin magazine still continues to not only be the best music publication in the U.S. (sorry, but Europe has Q Magazine), but also the most relevant.  I read it religiously and am a little upset that I was only able to see five of their "40 Must See Acts of SXSW 2012: Alabama Shakes, The Big Pink, Fiona Apple, Santigold and Youth Lagoon (I will be seeing Bear in Heaven at The Parish in April.  Don't miss it).   Two of those acts I happened to catch at the Spin party at Stubb's and, again, Spin was right.  Santigold headlined the event but all of the bands were headliners in their own right.  Chairlift took the stage in support of their new cd, "Something", and will be back at Mohawk in April.  "Sidewalk Safari is the first single off of the cd and it doesn't have even half of the catchiness of their breakout hit "Bruises," which they didn't even play.  I am not quite sure why they didn't play it, but it must have inspired a friend of ours because during Best Coast she kept yelling "Play the Hits."  She had also made buttons that said the exact same thing so maybe it may have been premeditated.  Her yelling prompted lead singer, Bethany Cosentino, to comment with an expletive filled retort. It even made the Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/music/143050476.html. Oh, and the expletive that the Tribune said that she said....well, that wasn't exactly it. Let's just say it was four letters as well, but a little more harsh.  The Big Pink had a tough job ahead of them, being the band that would play before Santigold.  They definitely delivered.  Santigold was up next.  For someone who is out promoting only her second cd she commands the stage and audience like a veteran.  I could go grab a thesaurus and list off a bunch of adjectives trying to describe her show, but I'd rather not as I could never do it justice. It's a show that ou absolutely have to see to believe. She's one I'll be seeing again.  She's on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (yes, they're still alive), but don't be surprised if you see her on the ACL Festival line-up this year.  Moving on from the Spin party was hard to do, but necessary (especially since it was over). 

The Clive Bar was our next and final destination.  I mean, Tycho, MNDR, Grimes, New Build and Yacht? Since we only had wristbands we got there at 6:30 and were not the first ones in line.  This was an in demand showcase and one that never be assembled again due to how big these bands will become.  Grimes is on the hot list right now and since New Build is comprised of the members of Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem they have no choice except to blow up.  It was a show that started with intensity and never let up.  If you are able to see any of these bands (of course in a much larger venue) do it.

SXSW 2012      March 15           Day Parties

I am not quite sure when this happened, but somewhere along the line SXSW became known for free day parties. This makes recovery from the night before a difficult thing to accomplish.  Coffee, coconut water and vodka quickly become the breakfast of champions (go away Wheaties...you would not be helpful at this juncture).  Doors open early, the weather is nice, everyone smells the same, music is far too loud, everyone looks as if they have just escaped from "The Walking Dead" make-up trailer and most of your day is free. I actually prefer day parties. Being in advertising, I am not quite sure what the premise is behind giving people a lot of free booze and food, but now I remember how much I like Taco Bell Burritos.  Wait, now I get it.

We started our day at The Parish where NPR was throwing a party. "Ain't no party like an NPR party..." Sorry. Anyway, it wasn't as bad as it sounds on paper.  In fact, we were able to see Polica, who Time Magazine named one of the top five bands to see at SXSW. And it there's one thing Time Magazine knows it’s their, uh, music? We first had to sit through La Vida Boheme, who had thrown paint all over themselves for some inexplicable reason and the rapper Sugar Tongue Slim.  He got me thinking: "How good is your street cred as a rapper if you're playing the NPR party?"  He did sample Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" so his street cred in the East Village might actually be pretty good.  Polica actually lived up to the hype. The Parish, which is the absolute best live music venue in Austin, was the perfect setting for them.  This will be the last time you'll be able to see Polica in a venue of this size. I imagine that they'll be at La Zona Rosa on their next go round. Led by Channy Moon Casselle, who is definitely not comfortable in her own skin on stage yet, Polica is one to watch.

For some reason we moved on to the Hype Hotel (could it be the call of the Bean Burrito?) where we were greeted with free drinks and food.  We came for Youth Lagoon, but stayed for Alabama Shakes.  Their album is expected to drop (drop...I'm so cool) on April 3 and it sounded as if it is going to end up in my year end top 10 for 2012. Several vodkas later we decided that it was time to cross under I-35 to go pick up our Rachael Ray passes *(Note to Rachael:  You are one of only two people that I would cross I-35 for). Before we made it there we heard what sounded like Fun. (the band, not actual fun).  It was Fun. They were playing the Woody Awards stage.  My inner 12 year old self wants to make a joke right now, but I will restrain him. We had to stay and listen to them so we get our 4 free drink tickets and headed in. Unfortunately the only thing that they were serving was sake.  Now don't get me wrong, I love sake. It's how I get all of my grains, but it just wasn't cold enough to drink under the hot Austin sun. And seriously....sake? Really? We couldn't even pay for a real drink.  Anyway, we continue on our trek and once we get to the Rachael Ray pickup my current girlfriend and see My Ex-Friend (not a band). We exchange awkwardness and move on to Lustre Pearl for the Dickie's Party.  Every year this event gets bigger and better. It is almost known for booking artists that will soon blow up.  The daytime lineup is as strong as the nighttime lineup and it's all free. Get there early enough and you'll see better acts than we had 2 ACL's ago. We went for Miike Snow, but it was Yacht that takes the award for best show I saw at SXSW 2012.  The energy that this band has is infectiously electric.  See them by any means necessary.  That sounded like an order, but it was more of a suggestion.

So to sum up:
Day parties= FREE
Day parties= LONG DAYS
We saw:
La Vida Boheme
Sugar Tongue Slim
Polica
Youth lagoon
Alabama Shakes
Fun.
Ex-Girlfriend (not a band)
Miike Snow
Yacht

All in all, not a bad day.  Just two more to go. 

*Yes Lauren, the other one is you.

March 14, 2012 -- Size Does Matter

It was only Day 2 of music, but tempers seemed to be a little high.  I'm not talking traffic type tempers.  It was more like Dirty Sixth type tempers where fights break out over a Jello shot.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Dirty Sixth, it's the area of Sixth Street from IH-35 to Congress.  If you can't walk two feet without hearing “No Cover! Ladies Drink Free!" then you know you're there.  The reason for this sentiment, and temper flare-ups, has to be because of the size that SXSW has grown to.

The most frequently overheard comment at SXSW this year had to be "this just seems to get bigger every year." I pondered that thought (which really isn't saying much since I also ponder how anyone can watch "The Big Bang Theory"), and I really had no answer.  That is, until I saw all of the make shift stages that had been erected all over downtown. From rooftops to parking lots, stages were everywhere. Sure, these stages allowed people to watch free music, but they also substantially cut the parking down as well as increased the number of attendees.  More music equals more people and since there weren't any hotels built in 2011 these people were locals. So, a quick recap: more people, yet the same amount of officers on the Austin Police Department. I was never very good at math, but this equation seems wrong to me. We were at Fiona Apple when someone exclaimed “There’s a brawl outside of the Hype Hotel!” Yes, he was reading that on Twitter. How can the APD possibly be expected to handle crowds of this size? It’s like “The Birds...” there are just too many attendees per officer.  On Monday night there was an incident at The Parish where 4,000 people had RSVP’d to a party that would only accommodate 300-400 people so, again, APD had to step in. One of these years at SXSW we will see an incident like we did years ago here in Austin when Mardi Gras got out of control. Trust me, I go every year to SXSW and it is building.    

Anyway, I don’t want to focus on something that I can’t control. I’d much rather discuss what I can control and that is my SXSW schedule.  We started our day watching Fun. play an acoustic set in the Waterloo Records parking lot.  Unreal.  To see the band that has the #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 with "We Are Young" at the best record store in the world (sorry Amoeba) was pretty special. They are in elite company since they are the first rock band to top that chart since Coldplay in 2008.  Before that it was Nickelback in 2001.  Ok, so maybe it’s not so elite. We were on a mission to see Fiona Apple and, since we only had wristbands, we needed to move quickly so that we could stand in line at Stubb’s.  We finally made it inside just as she was taking the stage. At least, I think it was her… we were very far back. She delivered a knock out performance.  Her set list blended perfectly (with the exception of the acquired taste of “Extraordinary Machine”) and it’s nice to have her back.  I hope she stays.  Not here in Austin though. The APD can’t handle it.

March 13, 2012 -- Day 5: Lines

[Author's note: It is Wednesday afternoon and I am recapping my Tuesday experience.  If this entry seems a little off it's because I am standing in the Waterloo Records parking lot writing this on my iPhone while listening to the worst metal band ever.  At least Fun. is up next.]

I don't understand lines. I mean, I understand line dancing, but not lines like I saw yesterday. Ok, in the spirit of full disclosure I really don't understand line dancing. I was just trying to be cool.  At any rate, apparently this year is all about standing in lines: wristband lines, free party lines, bar lines...

My girlfriend and I thought it would be a good idea to get a jump on things and pick up our music wristbands early this year.  We get downtown around 11:30am and to no surprise, if you read yesterday's entry, couldn't find parking. Brilliant idea: valet at Moonshine for $10.  Don't judge me just yet Judgey McJudgerson, we did end up eating at Moonshine so we didn't just use it for it's valet services.  Anyway, we arrived at the Austin Convention Center and were pleasantly greeted by a short line. Five minutes in line tops. Since the Convention Center is only slightly smaller than the Death Star it took 15 minutes to walk through the convention center, but it was worth it. By far the best SXSW wristband line I have ever waited in. I didn't have time to complain or anything. They really had their stuff together so I have to commend them on that. I don't commend often so, uh, you're welcome Convention Center. I only wish that you had been in charge of the line at the Hype Hotel presented by Taco Bell.

The Hype Hotel line was a different story all together.  You would think that after 100+ days of 100 degree weather last year that my armpits and back would be acclimated to heat. Not the case.  Wearing work clothes while waiting  an hour and a half in balmy, humid 80 degree weather? I felt like a swamp thing of some kind.  I did notice one thing while looking at the line.  There is a major difference between a long "badge" line and a long "free party" line.  The people, the attitude...everything is just a little different. and by a little, I mean a lot. People who RSVP for free shows feel  entitled. Like the Wayne Wright commercials, "they deserve respect and justice so they demand it." At least that's their mentality. And rightfully so. I mean, they ARE getting in for free. 
Anyway, slowly the line moved and we received our wristband and "hotel"  key. Would it be worth it? Would Oberhofer, Miniature Tigers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Delta Spirit deliver? Would it live up to the "Hype?" I wouldn't find out until later.

Fast forward to later. We arrive at the Hype Hotel at 6:40pm and (spoiler alert) wait in line. We wait for an hour and a half. So for those of you keeping score at home, that is 3 hours and 5 minutes (can't forget the music wristband line) of waiting in line.  I'm sure those of you at home find this line waiting silly and I couldn't agree more.   There has to be a more productive use of our time.  And they say humans are evolved. Once inside the Hype Hotel (which is the converted Coppertank) we are handed drink tickets. Note to self: if someone hands you drink tickets when you walk into a venue they are doing so as an apology for making you wait. Remember, nothing is free. Just saying. The bar lines move quickly since the options (vodka and beer) were pretty much limited. 

Me:                                                      "I'll have a Forty Creek and Coke."
Bartender:                                           "Yeah, we don't have that."
Me:                                                      "Ok, I'll have a Crown and Coke."
Bartender:                                           "Me too! but, we don't have that."
Me:                                                       "Well, what do you have?"
Bartender (handing me a vodka):       "This."

No options=fast lines.  If only more places had limited options this world would be a much faster place. Overall the evening was perfect. Great music, "free" drinks, and Dorito tacos presented by Taco Bell. Ok, the night was almost perfect...

 

 

March 12, 2012 -- The hipsters are out, there's no where to park and I have two cases of Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager at home...yes, SXSW 2012 is in full swing. Yes, I did just name drop a seasonal beer and, yes, that is something a hipster would do. Anyway, I refer to it as "SXSW 2012" because each year there are differences in the conference. Some are big, some are impossible to spot with the untrained eye, but they're there. Parking (the lack thereof), Hipsters (their attire) and the commercialization (from a local stand point) changes each year. I am a devoted music fan through and through and SXSW is my Mecca. Not that I'd bow to it or anything. In fact, if you do see me doubled over at any point during SXSW, please....call for help. 

Speaking of calling, if the afternoon parking on a Sunday afternoon is ANY indication as to what this upcoming week will be like I would highly suggest calling a cab. However, cabs take hours to arrive and if you use your phone the battery will die and you will spend your afternoon at a recharging station. No, you have to pay to park. All garages take cash, most take cards and some are even now taking first borns. $20 to park? I expect that from Chicago, but this is Austin and $20 can get you pretty far. The parking lots and garages are only able to charge these asinine amounts because of the lack of street parking. The "Valet Parking Only from 3pm-Forever" signs have been replaced with "Special Event Parking-Permit Required" signs. There is very little street parking, but don't worry, if there is a spot available there will be some nice transient that will point out the spot to you and expect you to give them money for their highly evolved pointing skills. And what happens if you don't tip them? Well that I do not know because I wouldn't dream of not tipping and leaving my car for them to "watch over." So, expect to pay a lot more for your parking spot than you did last month. Honestly, I don’t know how hipsters can afford it.

I attend the Music conference of SXSW every year, but it has been some time since I've attended the Interac tive conference. I'm here to tell you, there is a great difference between Music Hipsters and Interactive Hipsters. For one, Interactive Hipsters have more Apps than Tats. This causes them to have their noses buried in their iPhones and iPads instead of a Chronicle. The clothing is a little different as well. There are more button downs at the Interactive conference than there are at the Music conference, and none of those buttons are pearl snaps. There is also a difference in Interactive vs. Music facial hair. There is much more product in a Music mustache than in an Interactive mustache. The Interactive parties are a little different as well. For example, when entering the Conduit party I was greeted by a HUGE statue of an Oreo cookie in celebration of its 100 year Anniversary. Yes, Oreos and beer…that’s Interactive.

If Oreo has somehow made their way into SXSW then you know that the c ompetition to have your product and/or service in front of the masses has become fierce. Every year local businesses are confronted with how they are going to market their themselves to those who will never be repeat customers. I understand maximizing profits while there is a storm of out-of-towners, but it seems as if these businesses advertise/market more during SXSW than they do throughout the ret of the year. I take it personally that they only want my money for 1 week out of the year. Talk to me year-round and I may be more willing to patron your establishment.

That is enough observation for one day. Now, how do I sneak into the Jay-Z show....

 

 

March 9, 2012 -- Today starts the best week of the year in Austin, Texas. If you don't believe me then ask yourself any of the following questions:
What city are you able to see surprise (and I use that term loosely) shows by Bruce Springsteen, The Shins, Jay-Z and Mumford and Sons?
What city would even attempt to bring you these shows while also having countless movie premieres and the unveiling of new technology?
And in what city could you possibly be wearing shorts one day and a winter coat the next?
The answer: only in Austin.

SXSW means so much to so many that it is sometimes difficult to get that point across. It is memory building for the individuals that attend, life changing for the artists that perform and critical to the Austin economy.

I have lived in Austin since 1980 so, for me, SXSW brings back nostalgia as I have been attending SXSW for 20 years. While my other friends went to South by South Padre I was here working and discovering new music over my Spring Break. Sure, back then discovering new music meant catching The Reivers at the Cannibal Club or attending a showcase at Liberty Lunch with a lineup of The Old 97's, The Gourds, The Damnations and Kelly Willis.  However, it also meant that you could see Rhett Miller walking around passing out cassettes of music that he recorded in Jr. High. Yes, I said cassettes. 
Recently it means that I have been able to see big names in small venues.  I remember my excitement when I walked through the gates to see Metallica at Stubb’s. I could hardly believe what I was about to witness. Out of my excitement I grabbed my phone and dialed the first person I thought of…my mom?

Me: “Mom, I am about to see Metallica at Stubbs…Stubbs!!”
Mom: “Aren’t they like 60 now?”
Me: “They’re still too loud for you…”

It has also meant a much more commercialized SXSW, which means the actual dollars I spend while downtown has dropped drastically. How is that a bad thing? I mean, Everywhere you turn someone is trying to give you free food and/or drinks.  I was even offered half a sandwich last year by someone I later found out was not affiliated with SXSW at all. I’m glad I passed on that.

I hear people mention that they prefer ACL Festival over SXSW and I think that is because SXSW can be overwhelming. As we go over our schedules to see who’s playing where, what free parties we need to attend, etc. keep in mind how overwhelming it is for the artists (example: I believe The Delta Spirit is playing no less than 73 shows in 7 days). At any rate, this is a week where careers are made and dreams are realized.  In a day and age where most music is torrented, the support of live music has never been more crucial.  You won't see Susan Boyle or Rod Stewart dueting together at The Mohawk while patrons suck down $1 PBR's because their fan base actually buys albums. They don't depend on performing live like the artists that you will see this week slinging their own equipment around while running from venue to venue in an attempt to make it in the increasingly frustrating music industry.  Their talent won't let them sit idly by and allow them to perform desk jobs.  Are they frustrated? You bet, but they are physically incapable of not using their gifts of creating music.  There is no way that anyone would actually choose to enter in to this industry.  Theirs is a calling.  So before you walk around saying things such as " I hate SXSW" or " I avoid downtown at all costs during SXSW," just remember that at one point you too had a dream of some kind.

I don’t know much about the City of Austin’s dreams because I don’t dream of Metrorail, but I would have to assume that their dream would be to keep SXSW here forever. Everyone wins when it comes to SXSW. Money flows through this city as if Bill Clinton were still President.  It is a staple of the Austin economy and one that I’ll gladly support.

So, I challenge you, try SXSW…you’ll be glad that you did.

Check back for more updates throughout the week here on KVUE.com.
 

 

 

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