Published on April 14th, 2013 | by gatsbyadmin0
South by Southwest
Austin is touted as the live music capital of America. With approximately 250 venues–one for nearly each square mile— and several massive music festivals each year Austin proves that everything, even live music, is bigger in Texas. Austin is often cited as a cultural oasis within the otherwise mundane and commercialized expanse of Texas. In addition to the bustling music world, there’s the city’s vibrant young population bristling with creative culture, a food scene not to be scoffed at, and eclectic neighborhoods that harbor small business and strong communities. South by Southwest, a yearly showcase of upcoming talent as well as big name acts, takes Austin by storm each spring, and every aspect of this extravaganza shows off Austin to the extreme.
If you’re reading this, you obviously know that Grimey Gatsby has a finger on the pulse of creative culture nationwide, so obviously GG was all over the ATX for SXSW. Is that enough acronyms for you hipsters, or should we throw in some hashtags? One more for good measure: KT, as in Ms. Biaz the media maven of Grimey Gatsby and KBS Photography, and GG’s eyes and ears at one of the nation’s biggest music showcases. You can follow KT Biaz on instagram to keep up with the lady’s lens onmusic, travel and counter-culture. Check out a few of KBS Photography’s highlighted shots here, and follow the link below to the full album from the SXSW Adventures of KT Biaz.
Our journey to Texas began in Howie, the trusty vehicle of GG CEO Hunt. Aboard were Congo Sanchez, vocalist Haile Supreme and MC Flex Mathews. We were along capturing photos and video of Congo’s debut tour. Keep your eyes peeled on the GG site for a recap video, plus music videos from the tour! A marathon drive down from 4 consecutive dates in Colorado landed us in ATX on Tuesday. The city already bustled, but it was just a ripple of the human and musical tidal wave to come.
Congo and crew did a marathon run of SXSW. Barbecue and tacos fueled a mad dash of 4 shows in two days. A pair of hip-hop showcases on Wednesday, then a completely bungled sound set-up that forced a free-style and acoustic improv set on Thursday night, all closed out with a DJ set by Congo at a silent disco….just prior to heading to the airport to head to Ultra in Miami. These days were on the schedule of the artists…coordinating with buddies to borrow gear, linking up with the folks good enough to house us those nights, finding time to chow down on Peruvian food from a street cart before a performance, descending into a humid basement to catch Caspa slaying the end of Sub.Mission’s showcase. Lugging drums up parking garage steps and hustling artists down a crowded street, sending gear in a pedicab and licking the wounds after a less than ideal show. These were the moments, this the lens of the first half of SXSW.
Once Congo and Haile had boarded their flight, and Flex gone on his own way, we were on our own to explore the grand and varied terrain of SXSW. The beauty of a festival like this is that if you’re willing to go with the flow and keep your eyes and ears peeled, you can 1. do the festival virtually cost-free and 2. discover hidden gems you never expected. We spotted a poster for an exclusive listen party for Empire of the Sun‘s new release Ice on the Dune and decided to pop in and check it out. Patron cocktails and AC cooled the crowds who donned headphones to catch a ten-minute preview loop of the album. It was just the taste to get us itching for the full album, due out this June….look for a review here. Another lucky find was an intimate barroom set by Fort Collins indie-folk troubadours Fierce Bad Rabbit. With a gal on a fiddle and some foot-stomping catchy tunes, this group sounds close on the heels of the explosively successful Colorado act The Lumineers. Be sure to keep an eye on this fierce unit to hit some big stages soon. Pound the pavement to meet up with a friend, get rewarded with an All-American healthy dose of Rock N’ Roll. On Friday evening we hit the Skype Mobile Lounge, and after a quick trip to the photo booth with a pal we got the pleasant surprise that we had arrived just in time to catch The Eagles of Death Metal ….these fellas don’t just throw a concert. They throw a revival, and the word is Rock N’ Roll. Praise music!
Late night on the streets of Austin were nearly as entertaining as the shows. Trash can percussionists drawing giant crowds of dancers, pedicabs pedaled by all sorts of costumed cyclists, buskers of all shapes and sizes, and serpentine lines coiled around any food source. Late on Saturday night, we trekked back to the residential area where we’d stashed the ride. GoPro footage throughout the week reveals just a glimpse of the gonzo experience of those late night treks. Finally reaching Howie, the big black beast that brought us here a few long days ago, we pried off the cowboy boots and set about preparing for the ride ahead. Phone battery low, and no answer from friends, we resigned to starting our long trek home at below-peak conditions. Fortunately just then the universe delivered a slightly discombobulated local who offered a smoke down for a ride home. Always the good Samaritan, we took this fella home, wisely opting to follow GPS instead of his directions once it became clear his “South” was North. Upon arrival we were treated to a friendly pup, a helix bong and some chocolate covered espresso beans. Duly recharged, we hit the road early in the morning, making it as far as Texas’ panhandle before pulling off to sleep in the daybreak hours.
Unlike the many summer festivals far-flung in open fields and wooded areas where cell-phone service is often spotty and many participants go off the grid for the course of the event, SXSW is an extremely digitally integrated event. Many shows and showcases utilize online RSVP systems, and certain shows were only marketed through social media. One clever and exclusive event was accessible only by the first 100 people that spotted posters and used a QR Code to RSVP. In an urban area so overrun with young hip digitally minded folk, there is of course the pitfall of connection overloads. Dropped calls and untimely Instagram uploads? #SXSWproblems. Nonetheless, social media feeds were aflurry with stage shots and quippy tweets about the people of South By. It was through Instagram that we first heard about Thrasher’s Death Match, held at the iconic Scoot Inn. This week long skate jam was accompanied by some of the heavier sounds of our weekend. Clutch on Saturday afternoon gave way to the Thrasher Closing Party with Sailor Jerry at Gypsy Lounge (where GG Fam Terry Brown was tatting up cats with the very same anchor that GG CEO Hunt rocks). We caught Mondo Generator, featuring Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age, at Gypsy Lounge later that night. From hard rock to easy skankin, another beauty of SXSW is the diversity of offerings. When we left the Gypsy Lounge is was but a few blocks to Stage on Sixth to catch the close out set by The Skatalites. A good friend plays the keys for this legendary group, and we just had to make it to the set. It felt oddly appropriate to end our Texan adventure skankin in Cowboy boots.
Note for next time: don’t plan a drive through this neck of the woods on a Sunday again. Pulling into Amarillo around 4pm, we barely missed Wheels, home of the best Chicken and Waffles in the North of Texas….alas, we settled for a hearty plate of ribs down the road….and somehow managed to avoid a food coma. We trucked on through the wide open plains, and endless seas of wind turbines. It was heartening to see these almost as populous upon the horizon as oil wells. The sun setting on renewable energy efforts, and then the moon rising over the stunning mesas of New Mexico made for quite the American landscape.
Everything may be bigger in Texas, and Austin may have more music venues than anywhere else, and SXSW may be the nation’s most massive showcase of new talent…but when it comes down to it, experiences like these aren’t about the big stuff. They are about the little things. The unique moments. The banter between artists hauling gear through the streets between gigs, the stray melodies gleaned as you pass a harpist on a street corner, the smoky anticipation in line for a pulled pork sandwich at 2 AM, the explanation of banjo modifications by a man who calls himself Dragon. This is South by Southwest