South by Southwest

Posted on March 25th, 2009

I didn't have to travel very far to experience South by Southwest, but I definitely felt transported to a worldly cosmopolitan locale. The annual Austin music festival draws nearly 10,000 people from across the globe--bands, critics, business reps, and fans like me--for the music industry's version of Spring Break, complete with ideal weather, ice cold beer, barbecue, and every kind of music under the warm Texas sun.

In years past, I was fully absorbed in all aspects of the festival as a media member, volunteer, ticket buyer, and party crasher. This year, I experienced the excitement on a more low-key level. Fortunately, there are hundreds of fun, worthwhile, and free music options during SXSW week--mostly daytime parties featuring bands playing anywhere possible to maximize exposure.
Since I'm no longer careening on the cutting edge of the hipster indie rock scene, my musical destinations were determined primarily by venue rather than the band lineup. With its freshly blooming lush grounds and easy parking, the French Legation Museum was especially appealing, and fortunately, the bands were just as accommodating. Scotland's Camera Obscura (pictured) was the highlight, with their jangly pop and pleasant melodies providing an ideal accompaniment to the sunny spring afternoon. Danish band Efterklang was entertaining too, but I'll remember them more for their unconventional appearance (fuzzy moustaches, bad '80s haircuts, and European shirts) than their offbeat electro-folk music.
Another festival highlight was soaking up the action on South Congress Avenue, where trendy businesses transform into music venues with stages set up in parking lots, back alleys, and pizza parlor patios. The free beer was flowing, the roots music was rocking, and the scenesters were out in full force as we absorbed the culture with our eyes as much as our ears.

On a final note, I was a bit disappointed at my lack of celebrity interaction this year. In the past, I've met legends like Mick Jones (The Clash), Alex Chilton (Big Star), and Robyn Hitchcock, but my sole "celebrity" conversation was with Efterklang pianist/singer Heather Broderick. That ranks right up there with the times I met Billy Joe Shaver and Beatle Bob.


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