Monday, March 19, 2012

Nurse the Hate: South By Southwest

Last week I participated in and attended the South By Southwest music festival. This is the second time I have done so, the first being in 1999 with the Cowslingers. There have been plenty of changes to the festival since my original visit there, but the concept remains the same. A kazillion unsigned and independent bands converge in the uber hip city of Austin to chase the dream. In 1999 the dream was to get signed to some bigger record label and then become as popular as Bon Jovi. Now the dream is to find somebody to give you a bunch of money to use one of your songs in a Taco Bell commercial. The ends justify the means Comrade.

When we arrived in Austin we pulled up outside the Austin Convention Center to check in and get our registration materials. The Convention Center is a huge fucking building that hosts trade shows and God knows what else, but today it was like a thrift store exploded and everyone that worked in a coffee shop in a thousand mile radius had on the clothes. Literally everyone in the place had on their "Special South By Southwest Outfit". Thousands of staunch individuals all dressed vaguely the same in skinny pants rolled up like Billy Budd style capris. Almost every wispy male had an ironic mustache and white Ray-Ban wayfarer sunglasses on, leaving the unsettling impression that the area was filled with James Taylor clones circa 1972. Women all had magic gypsy sundresses and special boots. Everyone looked like that they had tried really hard to look like they were not trying at all.

I was handed a directory to the festival listing the 2000 bands and 90 venues. Try to wrap your head around that. It was so overwhelming, I opened it for a quick scan and closed it. It's too much. I have no idea how you could even get your arms around the event. I have a hard time thinking of 100 bands I like in the history of recorded music. Even if the exhumed corpse of Howlin Wolf was doing a set this year, I have no idea how I could even find him in the overkill of it all. How in the world would anyone come to see us? How would you decide, "You know, there are 1999 other bands, but this fucked up cowboy punk rock thing looks pretty cool. Let's make sure to not miss that show upstairs at that weird dance club that normally never holds live music events on Tuesday at 11:00 p.m."? I don't know how people found us, but they did.

So Austin is this town with a bunch of great live music clubs, and a ton of awesome bands that base out of it. It also has every affected dude from your high school that had a journal, got Cs in art class, and started smoking non filtered cigarettes because it made him think he looked like Jack Kerouac. That guy will probably slowly bring you your plate of bar-b-que and Shiner Bock as you roast in the Texas sun until he gets off work and his shitty band has a gig at a "performance space" in a basement that smells strongly of cat urine. His girlfriend is off from her 20 hour a week gig at the used book store, and she is home making poor quality costume jewelry she will try to sell from a shabby card table on the street this weekend. One of the girls I saw earlier in a magic gypsy sundress will remark how "amazing" one of the necklaces are, and offer her three dollars and a puppy for the $15 marked item. This will be denied, but all will be OK when everyone consuls each other with an "It's cool". Sorry... I was around way too many hipster dudes last week.

The one thing that South By Southwest does show you is that there is no shortage of decent quality bands. Everyone there can play, and most are probably a pretty big deal in whatever little local scene they drove in from. Meanwhile the massive amount of bloggers, web content providers, cable TV reporters, and journalists are all walking around busy chronicling their version of what is going on. You literally can't walk a block without seeing someone do something that someone else feels is worthy of being recorded for posterity. Guys in tight used t-shirts stare into video cameras explaining why the childlike painting they just made on a wall is important. The man holding the camera nods knowingly. Three people stand and watch as if this is being taped, that guy must be somebody. Content being produced to become commentary which is content which will need to be commented on and so on and so on.

I jotted down a complete tour diary of our experience going from Cleveland to Cincinnati to Missouri to Texas and back again. This week I will start to get it down on the Whiskey Daredevils website. I'm still not really sure what the hell happened.


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