As we ramp up our political coverage for our 2012 Election Issue in October, we were frustrated there was not one place you could go to find all the candidates. …
A few months ago, we had the curious idea of having a community issue. The talk ranged from a BEST OF issue to a community guide. Then we had this amazing thought: what if for August, our community issue wasn’t told by us but by you. What if the community stages a revolt and talked about building a better community in PULP?
Despite another late night, I meet a friend for lunch ontime at 11:30 in the morning for more amazing tacos (and melon juice!). On the drive home, I listen to the convention’s official keynote address by Bruce Springsteen that is being broadcast on a local radio station.
Carl doesn’t work until 7 pm, so I drag him to see Girls at another free showcase. We park the car (for free this time!) on a side street and bike over to the same area as the previous night. The showcase is in an airplane hanger and it’s hotter than hell in the metal can. For the very first time, I’m thankful that the sets are only 45 minutes long during SouthBy. Showcases have 5 bands on average, and most venues host 2 showcases a day. With setup time and sound checking, musicians only have time for about 6-8 songs.
I’ve seen Girls before at FunFunFunFest in November, but I’m more familiar with their music now, and I’m relieved when they encore with my favorite song “Hellhole Ratrace.” The band sounds like a mix of Buddy Holly’s vocals, beach-y guitar tremolo and the self-deprecation of Weezer. One of the 3 ladies from the backing choir belts out an earth-moving solo and the signature flowers on the mic stand get thrown out into the crowd. We’re by the soundbooth watching our friend run sound, and I’m telling Carl about the lyrics, prompting him to pull out his journal. We hang around the venue, cooling off outside, more free stuff to be had. We try to make plans with the friend (a former Puebloan, incidentally) who is in town for one day only with the band , but he’s hard at work so we leave in search of dinner.
The food truck industry gets noticeably bigger every time I’m in Austin. Carl says there wasn’t a single one when he arrived 5 years ago, now there’s parking lots full of them. I look around the loop of trailers for something unusual on the menus, but the fish and chips and malt vinegar are calling my name. Carl has an hour before he has to report to the coffee shop, so we stop by the convention center for Flatstock, an exhibit of graphic artists, mostly featuring posters made for well-known touring bands. The exhibit has just shut down for the day so he heads into work early and I head south over the Congress Street bridge.
Auditorium Shores is a great outdoor venue that can hold thousands of people. It backs to Town Lake (newly renamed LadyBird Lake, but no one calls it that, only maps) and downtown Austin. The tall buildings provide a stunning backdrop to the stage in various lighting situations throughout the day. During SX, free concerts showcase popular notable acts, and tonight, The Shins are headlining. The locals talk about the year prior when the Strokes were playing and people were trampled when the gates were closed to more entrants. Luckily, the amount of people avoiding the venue makes for a mellower experience that night.
James Mercer and crew play plenty of old sing-along favorites: “Phantom Limb”, “Red Rabbits”, “Young Pimgrims”, “New Slang”, “Saint Simon” returning to the stage for an encore with just-released “Port of Morrow”, and closing out with the one I’m waiting for: “Sleeping Lessons”. My life feels complete at that moment.
The bike ride back downtown is frustrating and I’m mostly walking it through the crowds, until a line of jaywalkers shut down car traffic and I break on through (to the other side), and about 5 other cyclists follow me, one who is yelling to me, “WE OWN THE BRIDGE!” over and over. I make it back to home base sweaty and grinning for another shot of espresso. Glancing at the daily Chronicle’s event listings, I find a show nearby, another official showcase and walk over.
I arrive at Frank to a VERY long line that nearly scares me away, but it’s for next door where Jack Black’s Tenacious D is playing, and I walk right in to a nearly empty venue. I take a seat on the balcony and fall in love with yet another band. Southeast Engine sounds very slow, country and folky at first, but the pace picks up to upbeat, clean and bright melodies that remind me of Band of Horses, and local Americana band The Broken Spoke. “Preparing for the Flood” ends in epic fashion, with a driving piano and organ.
The next band in Misra Record’s (also home to Great Lake Swimmers, Destroyer and Shearwater) showcase is R. Ring. I’m not so into their sound, so I make friends with the girl sitting alone next to me. However, half of the two-piece on stage is power woman Kelley Deal of The Breeders, and that’s pretty cool. Even if I don’t like their style, it’s easy to see that they’re good at what they do, like everyone at SX. The final band is Seryn, who played 2 nights in Pueblo and 1 in Colorado Springs to rave reviews.
By the time they start their set, the venue is completely packed full of people, all there specifically to see Seryn. There’s 5 people on stage, and throughout the set, they each play several instuments, drums, violins, banjos, guitars, a xylophone, trumpet, and 4 part vocal harmonies. At one point, the members are using bows on all of the instruments. The easiest band comparison is to the Local Natives, and I’m completely blown away by the energy and emotion, just like I was when I saw the Local Natives open for Arcade Fire. Yet another total score for last minute ideas.
I walk back to the coffee shop in time for the 3 am closing time freak show. People are begging to be let in to use the bathroom or charge their phone, as Carl and Daniel are ushering people out the door. This is one of the times that I see how much people in the service industry hate this week, and I make a mental note to try to be nice and patient to everyone I buy something from. The boys get the door locked and invite me to join them up on the roof while they have a smoke break. It’s a secret world up there, surrounded by beautiful, ornate buildings that used to be the heart of downtown. Back inside, I lay down on a couch and stay out of their way while they go about their routine. All the while I’m having a nostalgic moment, thinking a year back in time to when Carl and I tried to buy this place, realizing this place was almost mine. Passersby are pounding on the door numerous times, 2 girls decide to pop a squat on the offset threshold, drawing Daniel’s ire. It’s 4 am before we leave, nearly an hour late when we get home (frozen pizza and cereal in hand) to the 8 people who are sleeping over and 8 am before we all are calmed down enough for sleep.
We don’t awake until after noon. After reviewing my schedule for the day and a map, I make a plan for where to look for parking. We get up and run out the door in record time, covered in sunscreen and wearing comfortable shoes, packing a small backpack with snacks, money, id, sunglasses, camera. Bikes are loaded in the car and we’re off, Carl to work, and me to my first venue, La Zona Rosa to see the band fun. It’s a day party- free, unofficial, and free food and drinks. I arrive on foot, as I’ve scored a $20 parking space 2 blocks away. The line stretches a block long, I can’t hear the current band, but there’s 5 on the listing. An hour in line and closer to the entrance, the two girls behind me start asking themselves if they should just leave. One calls off work. And then, free steak queso over chips gets passed out along the line, and everyone is happy again. Free shampoo samples, beer koozies and several fliers follow. I’m pretty intrigued by the band that’s playing inside: poppy and synth-heavy Geographer, sounding similar to Passion Pit. Another half hour and the line moves quickly, Geographer finishes, and a whole group of people leave. At capacity, one-in/one-out means a bunch of people can finally go in now.
These are the true fans, my fellow music addicts. We’re all here for the same reason. Numerous people look like someone else I know. Many look like they could be famous musicians or producers, and probably are. People watching becomes overwhelming in short time- dizzying array of colors and graphics. Bodies are canvased with badges, wristbands, camera straps. Everyone is beautiful and enthusiastic, despite the muggy heat and traffic. They end with the popular catchy tune “We Are Young.” The 45 minute set is only marginally worth the double wait time, as I’m pretty worn out. If everything I want to see goes like this, there’s no way I’ll have enough energy to see 6 sets a day at different locations.
I walk back to the car and unload my bike for the downhill jaunt to the next venue on my schedule, a mile away. I’m excited to see inside all of these memorably-named venues. I lock up my bike across the street, arriving at the time Poli
SXSW is one of most well-known indie music festivals held in Austin, Texas. It grows larger every year, with more rules and restrictions. An all access writstband was $750 in 2012 for the 5-day music portion. Some argue that all of the rules are just to keep money in the hands of the organizers. Some bands who play at an Official SXSW event were made to agree to only play one other event, making it prohibitively costly for musicians. There’s probably not much money to be made on only 2 gigs. But it could also be the big break they’ve been waiting for, with coverage by every major music media outlet.
My plan: go unofficial. It’s my first SXSW, but I’ve been to Austin numerous times, so I have a few ideas of what to expect- lots of walking, stand-still traffic jams, and as much music as I can handle. Numerous websites have databases of events, day parties and unofficial showcases, many offering free food and drinks-while they last. I prepare before the trip by finding bands I want to see, rsvping to as many shows as I can reasonably get to, up to 6 a day. I know rsvp-ing doesn’t mean I’ll get in, but I use it to keep organized with Facebook events and emails for reference. On day 1, the road trip begins at o’ dark thirty along with 2 people I’ve selected from respondants to my Craigslist rideshare posting. We take turns driving, dj-ing and napping through 3 states, stopping only for gas and potty breaks. My intent is to do it on the cheap, packing my car full of the makings for pb&j’s, fruit, snacks and water. Gas for the entire trip will be less than a single plane ticket. We reach Amarillo, Texas, the halfway point, right as the sun is coming up, perfectly timed to see sunlight reflecting off mirrored highrise buildings downtown. It’s going to be a good trip, I can already tell.
We arrive at 2:30 pm, local time, for a total of 14 hours on the road including stops. We’ve taken to running the air conditioner, mostly to clear up the foggy windows. The temperature is perfect, but the change in humidity is noticeable. One of my carpool mates, red-headed Cameron, is a former Austonian, and he takes us on a little tour when we arrive. First stop, Barton Springs/Zilker Park to strectch our legs. The park is full of people, despite it being a weekday, and parking is non-existant. Welcome to Austin. We drive to the nearest Chuy’s restaurant for happy hour, a place I’ve been once before. Purchase of a drink gives us access to the nacho bar, with delicious queso, beans, meat and 4 kinds of salsa. I fall in love with the kitschy wall art, and the PacMan themed t-shirts the servers are wearing. We gourge ourselves and then head to the greenbelt. We hike muddy trails to arrive at the Landbridge- a natural rock formation suspended 60-80 feet above the creek below. For the rest of my time there, the locals are buzzing at the fact that there’s any water at all at the greenbelt, something of a rarity. We make friends with some other people on the Landbridge, and I think to myself that people are more outgoing here. It’s nearly sundown, so we leave with plans to return and jump off on a hot day.
I drop off Cameron at the Alamo Drafthouse to meet a friend, not to see him again until the end of the week. Nathan comes back with me to the apartment I will be staying at for the week, the home of a friend since high school and former Puebloan. We take turns showering and we both sleep off the day’s long drive and hike, waking up after midnight. I drop Nathan off downtown to catch up with a friend’s band from Austrailia, his home. I don’t see him again for the week either. I return to the apartment, Carl is on his way home from work along with another friend, and they’re bringing tacos, a daily must-have in my book. This is one of the things I always miss most when I leave Austin, they’re nothing like any tacos in Pueblo. The three of us decide to take a stroll around the neighborhood, getting lost trying to find the trains we hear nearby. Is getting lost really possible though, in the day of the gps-enabled smartphone? The temperature is still perfect even though we don’t get back until late in the morning. The schedule is pretty typical for the week, good thing I’m on vacation.
See the photos from day 1 here.
Listen to my SXSW2012 mix on Spotify here.